This is the sixth in a series of articles from Uganda by Xtra freelance reporter Kaj Hasselriis.
RIGHT: Makau Mutua, the forum’s keynote speaker, stole the show when he attacked the anti-gay arguments of two politicians. (PHOTO: Benedicte Desrus / Sipa Press)
At a human rights forum held Friday morning in Kampala, a Ugandan Member of Parliament said he would kill his son if he discovered he was gay.
The MP, Otto Odonga, was immediately denounced by the forum’s keynote speaker, Makau Mutua.
“I am baffled by the kind of hatred you spew against gay people,” Mutua said, “including your desire to be a hangman. Would you apply to be a hangman if the person to be hanged were your son?”
When Odonga nodded yes, Mutua said, “There is something deeply wrong with you.”
The forum, titled Human Rights and Sexual Orientation, made it clear that many Ugandans do not yet believe that homos are entitled to human rights. The country’s MPs are getting set to debate a law that would impose the death penalty on people who engage in gay sex more than once.
“Human rights are not sacrosanct,” Odonga said. “Private parts do not belong in the anus. We will not accept this kind of deviant behaviour in our society.”
Another MP, Christopher Kibanzanga, angrily spoke out against the “vice” of homosexuality. He asked, “Who are bisexuals? What do they do? Has it just been imported into Africa?”
Most members of the audience — made up of about 80 students, academics, politicians and NGO leaders — appeared to be of sane mind when it comes to sexuality.
“Anal sex is not only practised by homosexuals but also by heterosexuals,” said Rubaramira Ruranga, the director of NGENT, a local HIV/AIDS organization. He also disputed the fact that homosexuality and bisexuality are somehow un-African. “When I was young,” he told the crowd, “I saw men having sex with men in my small village, out in the bush, as we went hunting.”
One of the morning’s other speakers, Solome Nakawesi-Kimbugwe, said that Uganda — one of the world’s poorest countries — should deal with economic issues. “Let’s put our priorities where our problems are,” she said. “As Ugandans, what we want are laws that are relevant. Homosexuality is not a problem for us.”
Nakawesi-Kimbugwe is the director of Akina Mama wa Africa Foundation, a feminist organization.
But it was her co-presenter, Mutua, who stole the show when he attacked the anti-gay arguments of the two politicians. (Organizers said there were a couple of other MPs in the audience, but they remained quiet.)
Mutua, the chair of Kenya’s Human Rights Commission, tore into the MPs as if he was a judge passing sentence on criminals.
“It’s important that we all try to expose ourselves to knowledge, to keep on growing,” Mutua said. “People who express extremist views are, in my view, always the ones who have read the least.”
The Harvard-educated lawyer went on to liken the MPs’ arguments against human rights to comments made by slave owners in the American Civil War. “The kind of speech you made against gay people was the kind of speech that white segregationists were making all over America. Those arguments are classic. They have been reproduced in every era by every segment of society. You didn’t invent them.”
Mutua went on to say he believes that countries like Canada would be justified in holding back on foreign aid if MPs pass the anti-gay bill. “There are consequences to being a member of the international community,” he said.
The human rights forum, organized by students and staff from a Kampala university, was held at one of the city’s five-star hotels and sponsored by the Ford Foundation. Attendance was by invitation only.
Only a handful of gay rights activists were at the forum, and none of them rose to speak.
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