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Museveni’s balancing act on the anti-homosexuality law

In the aftermath of the donor community insisting Uganda cannot stay on the right trajectory fighting the HIV/Aids pandemic, while at the same time implementing the anti-homosexuality act, President Yoweri Museveni has attempted to walk back his endorsement, even as the Speaker of Parliament pushed in the opposite direction.

During the state of the Nation address, President Museveni listed managing debt, as one of the issues his government is prioritizing, to avoid a scenario, where Uganda ends up like other countries that are spending over 50 per cent of their revenue repaying debt.

As a percentage of the health budget, Uganda’s HIV/Aids treatment and prevention bill is hefty. Donors, who have expressed displeasure that Parliament’s passing and the President’s signing of the anti-homosexuality act, have been underwriting the hefty budget that would be hard of Uganda to maintain.

This appears to have been on the President’s mind, when he claimed the anti-homosexuality law would not target anyone that doesn’t flaunt their sexuality, even as the Speaker of Parliament Anita Among was pushing the opposite view.
Speaker Anita Among took time in her State of the Nation introductory remarks to talk about how Parliament was representing the will of the people when passing the anti-homosexuality bill.

“In protecting the sanctity of the family as a bedrock to our god fearing country, we are legislating the wishes of our people, as envisaged in the constitution of Uganda,” says Among, who also urged government to implement the law she claims is intended to defend our culture, values and tradition.

President Museveni in his address told Parliament the government does not intend to implement the law in its current form.
“In Uganda, sex is confidential. Even heterosexual sex. Therefore if a homosexual keeps his being to himself, or confidentially seeks assistance from the doctors or priests, it will not offend this law,” he says.

The President’s comments contradict the law he signed last month, which among other things requires property owners, employers, doctors and lawyers to snitch on people they know to be homosexuals.

“A person who knows or has a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed or intends to commit the offence of homosexuality or any other offence under this act, shall report the matter to police for appropriate action,” reads a section of the law.

The law goes ahead to absolve professionals such as doctors, priests and lawyers of their responsibilities of confidentiality, when dealing with clients.

“A person who is otherwise prevented by privilege from making a report, shall be immune from any action arising from disclosure of the information without the consent or waiver of privilege first being obtained,” reads another part of the law.

While President Museveni’s view on homosexuality has always been ambiguous, his earlies comments about the 2023 anti-homosexuality law suggested he was on the side of the religious fundamentalists in his government.

However, his insistence, after signing the anti-homosexuality act that the law will be implemented no matter what, no longer hold as strongly, now that he is facing the possibility of Western governments disrupting funding for the prevention and treatment of HIV/Aids.
Despite establishing an HIV/Aids fund in 2015, when Parliament passed the controversial HIV/Aids Control and Prevention Act, donor money is still the main reason Ugandans have access to antiretroviral therapy.

Dr Vincent Bagambe, the Director Planning and Strategic Information at the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) says the country spends Shs2 trillion on HIV/Aids prevention and treatment.
“When it comes to HIV, we (Uganda) are not about to be on own,” he says. According to him, donors contribute 84 per cent of the funding for HIV/Aids activities.

“If donors were to leave, we would not have the money to deal with HIV, because remember it is not the only disease we have to deal with,” he says.

Major donors to Uganda’s HIV/Aids prevention and treatment effort have all expressed displeasure at the passing and signing of the anti-homosexuality act.

“Uganda and President Yoweri Museveni have been leaders in the fight to end AIDS. Progress has been made thanks to the implementation of large-scale prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care programs, all provided on the principle of access to healthcare for all who need it, without stigma or discrimination,” reads part of a joint by the United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) and its partners.

In addition to UNAIDS, other agencies that signed the statement include the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).

According to these three agencies, which together are the biggest contributors to Uganda’s HIV treatment and prevention programme, the anti-homosexuality act is jeopardizing the country progress.

The Americans already announced plans to review PEPFAR. Following a recent meeting with President Museveni, the United States of America embassy in Uganda announced a round of small grants for civil society organisations involved in the fight against HIV/Aids, but the fate of the rest of PEPFAR money is still unknown.

For Asuman Basalirwa, Member of Parliament for Bugiri Municipality and mover of the anti-homosexuality law, the US’s stance suggests the West is supporting Uganda’s HIV/Aids effort for publicity and not philanthropy.

According to Basalirwa, Uganda is better off ignoring the West, and looking to the Arab world for help financing the country’s HIV response.

He says countries like the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar would unconditionally finance Uganda’s HIV/Aids treatment and prevention Programme.

Basilirwa’s beliefs, however, might not be rooted in reality. In the past, Uganda working with the United Nations has attempted to court countries in Asia and in particular the Arab world for funding, but this strategy flopped on the first attempt.

In 2017, Uganda hosted a fundraiser for refugees. Some officials at the United Nations said at the time that the fundraiser would diversify sources of funding for refugees, as Asian countries like China and those in the Arab world were expected to contribute to Uganda’s refugee hosting efforts.

The fundraiser only ended up getting pledges from mostly the North Americans and Europeans, who would have given the same money without the fundraiser.

President Museveni’s understanding that Asia isn’t always the most reliable partner, appears to have prompted his current stance, where implementing the anti-homosexuality act is now no longer that important.

The President has since told Parliamentarians on more than one occasion that he would likely return the law for revision.
Several commentators had predicted the President would sign the law, and then wait for courts to annul it, as it was the case for the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2013.

Yusuf Sserunkuma, a political analyst says the courts annulling the law would have allowed the President to balance politics, since majority of Ugandans support the anti-homosexuality law, while at the same time letting donors save face.

President’s Museveni announcement at the retreat for members of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) in Kyankwanzi and now at the State of the Nation address, all suggest a change of heart.
Whether or not the Anti-Homosexuality law stays on Uganda’s books is no longer just up to the constitutional court.

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