Uganda backs down on anti-gay legislation

After months of resistance against international pressure to overturn Uganda’s now-notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Uganda’s politicians seem to be pulling back. In early January, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni expressed concern that the bill was too harsh and on Jan. 12th noted: "Because it is a foreign policy issue, it is not just our internal politics, and ...

WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images
WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images
WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images

After months of resistance against international pressure to overturn Uganda’s now-notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Uganda’s politicians seem to be pulling back. In early January, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni expressed concern that the bill was too harsh and on Jan. 12th noted:

"Because it is a foreign policy issue, it is not just our internal politics, and we must handle it in a way which does not compromise our principles but also takes into account our foreign policy interests."

The U.N. and the U.S. government, along with countries such as Britain, Canada and Sweden, have expressed their strong disapproval of the bill. Their displeasure has had an effect: during a January 19th cabinet meeting, the Ugandan government agreed to form a committee to amend the bill, with cabinet members citing the possibility of aid cuts by Western governments as a chief reason behind their reservations. The bill’s author, MP David Bahati, held strong for a little longer. That is, until today when he expressed willingness to change some key clauses of the legislation.

Of course, none of this means that gay Ugandans will be getting a fair shake anytime soon — especially when 95 percent of those surveyed in the country believe homosexuality should continue to be criminalized.

Although the U.S. government has condemned the bill, the American evangelical influences behind it are widely known. For example, Rick Warren, who advised most of the bill’s leading supporters (such as Pastor Martin Ssempa), was barely ahead of Museveni in distancing himself from it. Also heavily circulated were the allegations by Jeff Sharlet that President Museveni, his ethics minister Nsamba Buturo and David Bahati, all have ties to U.S. politicians linked to The Family (a secretive evangelical organization with plenty of political influence).

Now, with human rights activists and journalists fully in the mix, friction over the bill has led to a proxy battle over the U.S.’ cultural influence in the region.

Kayvan Farzaneh is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

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