North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Uganda anti-gay law breathtaking step backward

While the world's attention is on the Ukraine/Russia confrontation, it would be remiss to pass by the recent anti-gay legislation signed into law on February 20, 2014 in Uganda. If ever there was a beam to be removed from one's eye first before addressing a mote, this is probably a leading candidate.

Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa, acting as a "hub" between its 5 neighbors. It is about the size of the US state of Oregon, or the European country of Romania. But with a population slightly more than Canada, 10 times that of Oregon, and 1/3 more than Romania, it is an important East African country. Graphic from

Uganda, as with so many other sub-saharan African countries, has a troubled colonial and post-colonial history. In spite of the challenges left behind by the colonial period and the first few national leaders, the country under the leadership of its current President Museveni, has actually been one of the steadier success stories over the past two decades. Museveni was instrumental in overthrowing the notorious Idi Amin in the late 70s and came to power in the mid 80s.

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President Museveni after voting in a recent election. Photo from the BBC

Over the years of his governance, Uganda has moved forward in terms of internal stability, economic growth, reducing the country's poverty rate, and using its military for regional peacekeeping efforts. To his credit, Museveni was in the forefront of acknowledging the scourge of AIDS/HIV in his country and the continent from the mid 80s on, overseeing the growth of a capable network of health workers and clinics to provide medicines to combat its effects. But as noted last fall in an article in the Irish Times, "For many Ugandans, Yoweri Museveni is the president who brought democracy to a country reeling after decades of dictatorship and went on to steer it towards strong economic growth. For other more critical voices, however, he is the leader who, after almost three decades in power, increasingly looks like Uganda’s president for life...."

The last several years have seen a more mixed record. Uganda has continued to creep up the charts regarding the prevalence of corruption, and reports are plentiful of government elites enriching themselves as a cost of doing business. Uganda was quick to intervene in the recent South Sudan/Sudan conflict, but could find it less easy to disengage.

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The latest placement of Ugandan troops is in South Sudan, to support the government against a rebellion. Photo from

All of this is background to the recent law the Ugandan parliament passed, and Museveni recently signed, even though he reduced or removed some of the very onerous elements.

Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014

Passed in Parliament in late December, it was signed by President Museveni in late February, though only after he negotiated some of the more egregious provisions out of the law, such as the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality." As the BBC summarizes the law, "The new law is blunt and uncompromising. Having spelled out its definition of homosexuality - which includes touching another person "with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality" - the act concludes that convicted offenders will be sentenced "to imprisonment for life." The offence of "aggravated homosexuality" - which includes having sex with "a person living with HIV" or being "a serial offender" - will also lead to life imprisonment.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda (albeit due to laws put in place by colonial powers). ... However the new law makes it a criminal offence to conduct a marriage ceremony between persons of the same sex, or to promote homosexuality in any form. Individuals can be sentenced to seven years in jail."

According to another BBC article, "government spokesman Ofwono Opondo told Reuters news agency Mr Museveni wanted "to demonstrate Uganda's independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation" while the President was also quoted by Time, as editorializing, “What sort of people are they?” he asked in the interview. “I never knew what they were doing. I’ve just been told recently and what they do is terrible. Disgusting.” And within a day, a Ugandan tabloid provided a list of 200 individuals the paper claimed as homosexuals.

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First bit of advice, stop reading tabloids! Photo from

Where does this go from here?

The western world and institutions have been quick to react. The World Bank postponed a loan to Uganda in protest, though ironically, the loan was to cover further health care programs (again the little people bear the brunt ...), and the UN Human Rights Office condemned the measure. The US has announced it is reviewing its relations with Uganda (though ironically, there are reports that a few US evangelical personalities have had much to do with members of Uganda's parliament initiating the measure to begin with.)

Hopefully, in response to this legislation, there will be a similar backlash in the form of some responsible education on the subject, as well as challenges to a variety of prevailing social norms. Photo from

Internally, the country could pursue a witchhunt, or provoke a backlash under the legitimate question, "if that was a list now, who might be on the next list for what new reason."

The larger silence

What has Teatree riled up in addition to the legislation at hand, is that this action comes from a country within a continent where HIV/AIDs has decimated the future of many nations and institutions, all stemming from sexual predation of the young by the adults, to put it bluntly. Despite the millions of deaths from sexually transmitted diseases, there persists beliefs in sleeping with virgins to cure AIDS (of the male), a need to pleasure and satisfy women so they won't get out of hand, and a backroom chortling over conquests and easy liaisons that seems to often be role-modeled by political leaders themselves (thinking South Africa here). The simple fact remains, African countries have done little to question these long held social norms or beliefs, which have indirectly resulted in an explosion of the numbers of orphans and orphanages, and the loss of institutions themselves (for example, more teachers dying in given years than are being trained ...). At the very least, it seems that there are always other issues to garner attention rather than the most far-reaching and devastation. Anti-gay legislation is the most recent case in point.

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The prevalence of AIDS/HIV cases across the continent - each dot representing not only 10,000 people living with AIDS, but futures on hold or in ashes, and often children with dim prospects. Graphic from

Children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. To be fair, Uganda's high numbers may reflect its more accurate and comprehensive surveying ... Graphic from

How can it be that in the 21st century, albinos are being hunted down in Tanzania for body parts that provide "magical powers." But what does come to the surface? A Ugandan (and Nigerian) crackdown on gays.

Teatree can only hope that out of this maddening focus on homosexuals, at least a few African countries decide to make a stand and address not only this injustice, but the larger unspoken issues regarding sexual practices and beliefs in their own societies.

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