How did homophobia become the most important development issue of the day?

Oh Museveni what have you done? Of all the problems that Uganda faces, is the ‘wrong’ kind of sex really the most pressing? (More pressing, say, than having a minister who thinks there is a ‘right’ kind of rape?!?) You state you are concerned that “many of those recruited were doing so for mercenary reasons – to get money – in effect homosexual prostitutes”. So now you are legislating to shut off some people’s route out of poverty? Much better to focus on your implied root cause – poverty – which everyone agrees in a widespread ill in Uganda than to veer off on this sideshow.

But let’s not kid ourselves too much. With his regional (East African Community) leadership ambitions thwarted, M7 wants to be re-elected as Ugandan president for another term (or at least ensure his placeman gets the job). As I understand it (sorry cannot locate link), M7 was under pressure that if he didn’t sign the law then he wouldn’t get the political support he needs, and his veto might have been over-ridden any way, undermining his authority.

The fact that Western leaders then resorted to megaphone diplomacy really didn’t help, instead making M7 out to be ‘a son of the soil’ hero to millions of Africans across the continent. Yes many Africans are also anguishing over the hate-filled bill, but they are the liberal intelligentsia, a tiny minority. Blame it on Western missionaries and evangelicals if you will (I do), but the reality is that most Africans are pretty homophobic. So whilst they may feel free to ignore my advice on such matters, surely Western leaders should listen to those many African voices urging caution (e.g. this).

That all said, however, Museveni and his fellow homophobes’ own standard of debate leaves much to be desired, especially in the framing of the debate in anti-neo-colonialist terms.

“We Africans always keep our opinions to ourselves and never seek to impose our point of view on the others. If only they could let us alone.” [Museveni again]

Leaving aside the ridiculous hypocrisy of this claim (made in the moment that they impose their intolerance on gay people throughout Uganda), I reject the notion that the West is imposing its values on Uganda. Receiving aid is a privilege, not a right. Every day providers of charity across the world choose who should receive their largesse based on a range of issues, many of them ethical. There is a reason why the government of North Korea receives no Western aid (other than emergency food relief in times of famine).

Nonetheless, I am worried by the closing of Western ranks, even in apparently neutral bodies. For instance the reasons given by the World Bank for publicly postponing a $90m loan intended to boost Uganda’s health services do not ring true, but instead strike me as Western liberals seeking inappropriate economic arguments for a fundamentally moral question. Why should Ugandan mothers-to-be and new born babies suffer for their political leader’s ignorance and intolerance?

Uganda has enacted a truly odious bill, but the debate around it on all sides is muddled and dominated by domestic political concerns that do the noble cause of international development a serious injustice.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Cynthia on March 4, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    I’m not sure I agree with everything you stated. But, I do strongly agree that this is a conversation we need to be having. Thanks for writing.


  2. Posted by am on March 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    The gay lobby is discovering that large parts of the world are not going to accept what has happened in the West.

    Also, the strings attached to aid used to be political, but if they are to become moral, then the West will be told to keep its aid. It will then be seen that poor countries would rather be poor than have this ‘moral’ position of the West imposed on them to get the aid. It will be a great shock for the West to be told to keep the aid if that is the condition attached to it.

    As far as the missionaries are concerned they won’t be ashamed if what you suggest above is the reason for the legislation.

    This link,, tries to make the same points as your own: populism and evangelical religion being the source of the legislation. It suggests that modern evangelicalism is responsible for these acts of legislation even in Russia. However they just don’t get the point at all – it is a unacceptable form of sexuality in Africa and elsewhere. The people morally reject it whether Muslim or Christian or Animist. See the comments in this article from Nigerian Muslims, They are quite offended by the argument that this is something to do with the American right and not their own view of moral conduct. It is an entirely patronising view of the liberal left that these people cannot think for themselves and are being manipulated by foreigners.

    Read also Ugandan history. MacKay and the King clashed in the 1800’s over this. The Ugandan’s know their history and don’t need modern evangelicals to inform them of it. It is not a modern thing.

    The fact is that it is the formalisation of a moral reaction against the immoral legislation passed in recent years in the West. They don’t want it here. It nearly broke the Anglican Church in two with Africa against the rest of the Anglican community in the world.


    • Actually I think we can all be guilty of over-crediting ourselves with our own morals and opinions, and thereby denying outside cultural influences. As to where homophobic attitudes came from in Africa, and Uganda in particular, see Richard Dowden’s recent post: the Ugandan martyrs became martyrs for refusing (presumably on religious grounds) to have gay sex with the Bagandan king.


      • Posted by am on March 4, 2014 at 7:21 pm

        It was on religious grounds. Dowden seems to know something of Ugandan history. He did live there for sometime. The point of the paragraph beginning Read also Ugandan History is referring to that time. I don’t need Dowden to tell me – much as I admire his writings. The King wanted to sodomise his pages. Some were Protestant. Some were Roman Catholic. They refused. They were murdered one by one on refusal. This is known by the Ugandans and they are against any form of that act whether it be forced or willing. It is not a new thing from the American right. Why are they called the Ugandan martyrs by Ugandans. It is because they know what happened. It is in the book Mackay of Uganda which was obtainable in many second-hand bookshops for a couple of pounds thirty years ago.

      • Right, so homosexuality was present before the arrival of Westerners; it is not a recent Western import as some African homophobes appear to imply. Furthermore, African governments have had 50 years to legislate on the issue. That they are doing so only now suggests, as does anecdotal evidence I have heard from my friends around here, that many Africans tolerated the odd gay person here and there without getting to het up about the issue. So, at least some of the intolerance seems to be new. (The activities of a few extreme American evangelicals in Uganda has been fairly well documented.) None of which is to say that the West should be in any way smug about some perceived moral authority on the subject; as Dowden reminds us, it is only in the last few decades that widespread acceptance of gay lifestyles has emerged there. But a spade is a spade, and the Ugandan bill is odious; the victims are real people.

  3. […] « How did homophobia become the most important development issue of the day? […]


  4. […] c) How did homophobia become the most important development issue of the day? | Bottom Up Thinking […]


  5. Posted by gavinpandion on May 8, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    The structure of these arguments in favor of homophobia to me brings to mind rape culture. Gay rape is not gay sex – rape is rape and sex is sex. But homophobes imply there is no such thing as rape when they argue that men should not be vulnerable to sexual contact with other men on the grounds that if they were free to have sex with other men, they would be powerless to escape gay rape if persecuted by an assailant.


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