Nicholas Opiyo of Chapter Four Uganda and Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha as they spoke on a panel at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights in Northwest Washington on Tuesday noted President Yoweri Museveni supports a bill that would regulate non-governmental organizations in the country.
Ugandan lawmakers last November approved the Non-Governmental Organizations Bill of 2015 ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the country. Opiyo and Mugisha on Tuesday both noted Museveni’s government backs the measure.
“People are worried that it will be tough times going forward,” said Opiyo, speaking via Skype from San Francisco.
Mugisha was more direct.
“The NGO Act is definitely going to outlaw my organization,” he said.
Presidential candidate pledged to ‘rehabilitate all the homosexuals’
The Uganda Election Commission indicates that Museveni on Feb. 18 defeated his main challenger, Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, by a 61-36 percent margin.
The election took place against the backdrop of reports of hours-long lines at polling places, ballot stuffing and other voting irregularities.
The Ugandan government on Feb. 18 blocked access to social media networks and online money transfer websites. Reports indicate that police placed Besigye under house arrest before arresting him.
“We would encourage anyone who wishes to contest the election results to do so peacefully and in accordance with Uganda’s laws,” said State Department spokesperson Mark Toner on Monday in response to a question from the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “But we also urge the Ugandan government to respect the rights and freedoms of its people and refrain from interference.”
Mugisha said one presidential candidate who he did not identify said before the election that he would “rehabilitate all the homosexuals and Uganda would not be a homosexual country.”
Mugisha on Tuesday said that Ugandan churches engaged in anti-LGBT rhetoric ahead of the election. He said the discourse that came from local officials was more harmful than that from presidential or parliamentary candidates.
“The impact was not as huge as a local councilman who stands in the village and says, ‘If I am elected, I am going to make sure in this area there are no homosexuals,’” said Mugisha. “Some of those have even named the LGBT people they know in those areas, so those LGBT persons in those areas have been violated more than a presidential candidate’s remarks.”
U.S. aid cut after anti-gay law signed
Museveni, who leads the National Resistance Party, has been Uganda’s president since 1986.
He signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts, in 2014.
The Obama administration later that year announced the U.S. had cut aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against officials responsible for anti-LGBT and other human rights abuses. The country’s Constitutional Court in August 2014 struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality.
Sexual Minorities Uganda in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively, an American evangelical who allegedly stoked anti-gay attitudes before MP David Bahati introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2009.
Mugisha on Tuesday said that Martin Ssempa, an anti-LGBT Ugandan pastor with close ties to Lively, was “not very active” ahead of the elections because of his organization’s lawsuit.
Advocates criticize ‘erroneous’ New York Times article
Both Mugisha and Opiyo during the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights panel pushed back against an article the New York Times published late last year that suggested U.S. efforts in support of LGBT rights in Africa have caused a backlash.
The State Department described the article’s claim that the U.S. since 2012 has contributed more than $700 million to global LGBT advocacy efforts as “grossly mischaracterized.” The New York Times in a correction it published on Jan. 16 said that “at least” $41 million has been spent on the aforementioned causes.
“The intervention of the U.S. government in Uganda, in particular, has been extremely useful in claiming spaces for the LGBTI community,” said Opiyo, referring to the New York Times article. “To take a view of one villager in Nigeria and represent that as a view on the African continent is erroneous on the part of the New York Times.”
Opiya said the U.S. Agency for International Development is the American organization with “the widest reach” in Uganda.
He applauded the appointments of USAID Senior LGBT Coordinator Todd Larson and Special U.S. Envoy for the Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry; who works out of the State Department’s Department of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Sexual Minorities Uganda Research and Documentation Director Richard Lusimbo was among the LGBT advocates who met with Berry last July in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Opiyo on Tuesday said the U.S. government needs to “put to action their commitment to the protection and the inclusion of the LGBTI community in the programming of their organization.”
“We need to see that translated into actual activities,” he said, referring to Berry and Larson and their appointments.