President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has just approved a bill which allows those convicted of homosexuality to be imprisoned for life. Commenting on the new law, he stated that: “No study has shown you can be homosexual by nature. That’s why I have agreed to sign the bill… Outsiders cannot dictate to us. This is our country. I advise friends from the west not to make this an issue, because if they make it an issue the more they will lose. If the west does not want to work with us because of homosexuals, then we have enough space to ourselves here.”
There is no question that Museveni, at the very least, hates gay people and holds them in the lowest and most violent possible contempt, and so there is no need or reason to appeal to any last vestiges of his compassion. If anything, it is probably sensible to anticipate an escalation of his anti-gay rhetoric, given that the next presidential election is in 2016. It would not be too cynical to see this new law as the opening gambit in his campaign.
Why does Museveni hate gay people? Well, it’s hard to know for sure. They may well fill him with revulsion. But there are plenty of people under his rule whom he probably finds similarly revolting, yet whom he has not found it politically useful to isolate and vilify. For example, he is not particularly fond of the Acholi, the tribal group to which I belong and which his party has described as no more than “biological substances”, to be eradicated like germs. Following Museveni’s rise to power in 1986, he orchestrated a persecution of the Acholi so comprehensive in its cruelty that he destroyed a generation. His soldiers hounded one and a half million people into camps in the North. They embarked upon orgies of rape and torture, spreading HIV/AIDS as they went, and skilfully allowed Joseph Kony to take the rap. Their work was so thorough, so methodical, that, to quote from an Acholi Times article of June 2011, “Northern Uganda is the worst place on Earth to be a child today… According to Oxfam, the rate of violent death in northern Uganda is three times worse than Iraq’s.” The article, “Genocide in Uganda: The African Nightmare Christopher Hitchens Missed”, is excellent and can be read in full here.
What does all this mean? And how has this suffering been so effectively concealed from the world’s media? Well, for that we can thank President Museveni’s masterful control of public relations; for, rest assured, whatever most people are thinking about him right now is precisely what he wants them to. Back in the Eighties, when he had come to power and was seeking Western legitimacy and countless millions of investment, it served him well to present himself as the progressive face of East Africa, a man the West could do business with. Now he has taken a careful look at his country’s accounts, and no doubt his own, and realised that he no longer needs the colonial shilling of which he was once so conspicuously fond. Now he is styling himself as the brave liberator, the African Che freeing his continent from the gays. And, as he does so, he can congratulate himself on almost thirty years in power during which his despotism and vast accumulation of wealth attracted remarkably little negative comment. He is settling now into the role of the jovial old dictator, most strikingly depicted by the Economist in their October 2013 profile of “the Gentleman Farmer”. As the newspaper then wrote,
“Comparisons between Mr Museveni and Idi Amin, the Ugandan “president for life” who butchered tens of thousands of his people in the 1970s, have become more common. Mr Museveni is a lot less brutal but shares the same love of power.”
The assessment that President has been “a lot less brutal” is, with reference to his treatment of Acholi, an increasingly generous one. He is unquestionably far more efficient in the disposal of his enemies than Amin, who died in exile in Saudi Arabia, ever was. Most major Western government who are horrified at Museveni’s latest manifestation of his hatred cannot say that they or their predecessors did not see it coming: for, after all, he has terrifying form in this respect. From President Museveni’s contrasting approach to gay people and to the Acholis, we can conclude that he has two types of hate. If he merely despises you, he will tell the world; but, if he thinks you’re truly dangerous, he won’t tell a soul.
This piece originally appeared on Musa Okwonga’s personal blog.