It’s Back: What Ugandans Are Saying About The Anti-Gay Bill

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Written by Godfrey Olukya

More than 200 Ugandan members of parliament signed a petition requesting that a anti-gay bill rejected by the court be taken back to parliament and passed into law.

Early this month, Uganda’s constitutional court nullified an anti-gay law saying it was unlawfully passed in December. Proponents of the law say most Ugandan citizens look at homosexuality as satanic.

As nullification of anti-homosexuality act 2014 by the constitution continued
to generate debate among Ugandans, Latif Sebagala, a member of parliament, started mobilizing fellow legislators to take back the bill in parliament and to vote again in its favor.

”Since the act was technically knocked by constitutional court on argument that parliament lacked quorum to pass the bill into a law on that day, I want MPs to back the move so that it’s brought back to parliament,” Sebagala told AFKInsider.

He called on MPs to bring back homosexuality bill 2014 and pass it again.

Uganda’s constitution requires that in order for a petition to be presented, 125 MPs out of the 310 must sign it; 220 signed.

Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of parliament, has said that she expected the bill would be re-introduced when parliament returned from break later this month after two weeks of recess.

”Over 200 members of parliament have signed the petition to re-table the anti-homosexuality bill,” Kadaga said. “That shows that there is enthusiasm among the members of parliament. But a cross section of Ugandans have condemned the parliamentarians for not being in parliament when the bill was being passed (in 2013) which led to lack of required quorum.”

Anne Namuswa, 40, a primary school teacher, expressed frustration with the process. ”Our MPs are fooling us,” she said. “They failed to raise the quorum when the bill was
being passed and now they are fidgeting, trying to take it back to parliament. We are tired of their lack of seriousness.”

Locally popular, the law was passed by parliament in December close to the Christmas holidays when most MPs had already returned to their villages. According to the
constitution, two thirds of the members must be in the house before a law is passed. On that occasion there were about 120 present of the out of 310 but the speaker ignored the fact and passed it anyway.

Many supporters of the the anti-homosexuality law led by the Minister of Justice Peter Nyombi vowed to appeal in the Supreme Court in favor of the law which came into effect in February after President Yoweri Museveni approved it. But because court proceedings might take long, the appeals option has been officially dropped.

Now many Ugandans want to know which of the MPs was not around as the bill was being passed. Some have vowed not to vote for them in the 2016 elections. According to judgement read by acting Chief Justice Steven Kavuma, the bill was passed without the requisite quorum and therefore it is illegal.

After the anti-homosexuality law was struck down, groups of gays and homosexuals sang and drank beers in celebration at Ntinda, a bar on the outskirts of Kampala.

“God is our our side,” said Nelly Namaga. ”We have cause to celebrate. The draconian law is no more.”

Julian Peppe is program director of Sex Minorities Uganda, a gay organization. “I am excited by the court’s decision,” Peppe told AFKInsider. “We have been living in slavery ever since that law was passed and assented by president Museveni five months ago. I am excited and enjoying the moment.”

Although the anti-gays may appeal and win, or parliament might pass the bill again — this time with a quorum — what the court has done is commendable, Peppe said.

Medard Bitekyerezo, an anti-gay MP, told AFKInsider, “We are definitely going to pass the bill soon. This time the quorum must be in place.”

When the court annulled the law, renowned anti-gay pastor Martin Sempa told AFKInsider, ”All the anti gays in Uganda should come together and shed tears collectively. This is unbelievable.”

He said he is happy because MPs have indicated that they are taking the bill back to parliament soon. However he told AFKInsider he wants parliament to investigate the impartiality of the judiciary.

Even if the court rules in favor of gays, the gay community still is not feeling
safe, Peppe said. “Although the court has ruled so, but peoples’ attitude towards us has not changed,” she said. “There is need to sensitize them so that they start looking at us as sisters and brothers.”

The ruling party’s NRM (National Resistance Movement) Parliamentary Caucus met early this week to discuss the recently nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act. With President Museveni as chairman, they all agreed that they should take back the bill to parliament

However Museveni, perhaps to appease the donor community, advised the MPs to go slow on the law. ”This is now an issue of a snake which has entered a cooking pot,” he told  members of parliament of ruling party caucus Aug. 12, according to MP Stanley Tugume. “If we try to kill the snake, we may break the pot. If we don’t break the pot, we won’t kill the snake.”

Bitekyerezo, an MP who attended the meeting, told AFKInsider,”We agreed to come up with a new version of the law that doesn’t hurt our Western friends but also protects Ugandans.”

David Bahati, vice chairman of the NRM Caucus, said the meeting with the president was fruitful. Museveni told members of the caucus to be cautious, he said.

Some Museveni critics say he’s drumming up homophobia to boost his support ahead of 2016 presidential elections.

”Museveni knows that Ugandans hate homosexuality and he is taking the advantage of the anti-gay bill to gain support so that he wins 2016 elections.” said John Okuti, a youth leader in opposition political party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), in an interview with AFKInsider.

Presidential Secretary Tamale Mirundi said it’s not about winning elections. Ugandans, like most Africans, shun homosexuality, Tamale said. It is not President Museveni who moved the anti-gay bill in parliament.