New Internationalist

A new apartheid

In April 1994, Rwandan radio broadcast daily programmes calling on all Hutus to kill the Tutsis. The broadcasts went like this: 

'Why do we hate the Tutsis? They are cockroaches... is Hutuland. We are the majority. Tutsis are the minority. Hutus must kill all the Tutsis... Stay alert - watch your neighbours.'

In a chilling reminder of those broadcasts, yesterday Rainbow Uganda reported that two Ugandan radio stations had called on Ugandans to kill or attack any known gay person:

Smart & NBS FM Radio Station in Uganda has called up all Ugandans wherever they are to stand up and fight, kill or attack any known gay person in the country. ..... Please this is not good! It can even cause genocide.

If we stand back and reflect on the past three or four years - and in particular the last six months - of the Ugandan anti-homosexuality and transgender campaign, we should not be surprised that we have now reached this point. Only last week, demonstrators marched through the streets carrying 'Kill Gays' placards. In 2005 there was the illegal raid of Victor Mukasa's home following which he chose to sue the Ugandan Attorney General and subsequently spent almost a year in fear of his life and in hiding. He and Kenyan activist Yvonne Oyoo finally won their case after almost 3 years of sheer perseverance on the part of Victor and his supporters. In September 2006 and again in April 2009 the Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper published the names of gays and lesbians. In the April publication a number of Ugandan LGBT activists were also named, including Victor Mukasa, Frank Mugisha and Kasha Jacqueline whose interview I published yesterday. In November 2007, a group of Ugandan LGBTI activists were evicted from the 'People's Forum' and later other activists from East Africa were physically prevented from entering the forum.

During the same period a film discussing homosexuality made by a Ugandan film company, Amakula, was screened and anti-gay religious leaders held a press conference calling on the Commonwealth 'to not legislate for human wrongs. Homosexuality is an evil, which should never be discussed during CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting). "In CHOGM meetings, we should advocate for them to change because the act is unnatural," Bishop Niringiye said. The issue of rights of gays and lesbians was one of the recommendations in the Civil Society Statement to the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting. Bishop Niringire said, "As a church, we are telling Commonwealth heads of governments to formulate value systems to solve the question of lesbianism and homosexuality being a human right."'

Again, the warnings were present but the silence remained.

In September 2008 two activists were arrested, tortured and held for one week without legal representation and later re-arrested. Last year, one of the arrested turned on his friends naming and denouncing them and claiming he was no longer gay. The placards at the time called for gays to be 'kicked out of Uganda'. By this time many members of SMUG and other LGBTI activists were fleeing the country fearing for their lives. At the end of that post, I wrote:

The Ugandan Government is currently considering legislation that may increase already extreme criminal penalties for consensual homosexual relationships and make LGBT organizing and 'recruitment', whatever that might be, illegal.

In October last year, the Ugandan Parliament passed a resolution allowing David Bahati to submit a private member's bill for the purposes of

'strengthening the nation's capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family', saying that 'same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic', and calling for the protection of 'the cherished culture of the people of Uganda, legal, religious, and traditional, against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity'.

In the past six months the campaign has become more hateful and increasingly violent in tone and action as the religious supporters of the Bill, both in Uganda and in the US, become more and more brazen. There will become a point of critical mass when they no longer need to speak, as they will have willfully set in motion the killing spree.

The point of of the above is not to say that the radio broadcasts were inevitable - I don't think they were. But it is to place the calls to kill LGBTI people in a historical context, one that with hindsight could lead in that direction. We need to heed the warnings and put an end to the relative silence before people are murdered. Despite the considerable high profile the Bill has received in the mainstream media and blogosphere, there has been negligible response from human rights organizations and governments. African countries have been silent. Academia has been silent. So called African feminists and women's organizations have been deafeningly silent. Only last week I was at a workshop in Accra when women expressed fear of claiming feminism in case they would be labelled the dreaded L-word - but they were satisfied when reassured that the two could be mutually exclusive. Religious institutions have not been silent. On the contrary - as unbelievable as it is to imagine religious institutions leading a hate campaign and inciting violence - it is they who lead the campaign

As early as 2007, The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission reported on the link between US evangelical churches and the growing homophobia in Uganda. Again in December last year I wrote two posts - here and here - on the US Christian connection. In fact, the only group that have made a statement are the Abahlali Shackdwellers movement in Durban who themselves are under attack from the South African state.

Are all the people that make up these groups and institutions going to remain silent while Ugandan citizens are killed because of their sexuality and sexual preferences? Will they then sit by when the same thing happens in Malawi, Senegal, Kenya and Nigeria? At what point will they begin to see that a pattern called genocide is taking place? A post on World Pulse last week suggested that 'Homosexuality is the new Apartheid: Silence is a global consensus' and points out the need to "elevate the debate to one of personal experience.

The basis of the human rights declaration is that contempt for our rights should not result in barbarous acts which outrage the conscience of mankind. There is far too much evidence of such acts already, so why actively allow more to be perpetrated under rule of law? How are we to evolve and progress society if fear and obstruction is allowed to remain commonplace? If homosexuality is the new apartheid then it is the absolute degradation of a part of society, the clear and conspicuous ostracizing of people based on sexual orientation. It is almost absurd to imagine this could be common place, yet it is. Even across the US, a democratic society, voters have the right to oust minorities from access to legislation and basic rights (such as to be legally married).

But there is more than a will to dominate and oppress [see definition of Apartheid] in the hate campaign being conducted in Uganda - one gets the feeling that other countries like Malawi and Kenya are playing a wait and see game, ready to enact their own hideous laws. The campaign has now moved to legislating murder, whether through the Bill itself or by inciting people on the streets to go out and kill their neighbours. For all of us who actually believe in the concept of inclusive rights, but particularly those of us who are LGBTIQ people, it seems that 'calls for help at best receive tacit, discrete and polite responses, from their so-called allies'. [Dan Moshenberg]. Urgency is now required in Uganda.

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