Uganda, which already has a laws concerning gay sex, is planning laws that broaden homosexual illegalization. This has already happened to some degree in Burundi (who previously crimilized gays) and has been introduced in Rwanda, however the law that’s been introduced in Uganda is much harsher.
There’s a debate going on within the ex-pat activist community, beyond the basic outrage at this, as to how this might affect their ability to work here. Some organizations work on gay rights, others support gay rights in their countries of origin, others just work with persecution in all it’s forms, as well as those organizations that have LGBT staff or fund such organizations in and around the region.
In general Kampala was considered stable and safe to work in and from. The hit squads of years ago cleaned out the gangs and crime making it rather safe from thieving and mugging. Similarly the LRA conflict is in the north, and hasn’t entered the city. In this way the number of guns and soliders in Kampala are much more limited then in Bujumbura, Nairobi, or etc. Essentially Kampala an ideal places to base regional organizations out of because it’s relative safety for muzungu and locals, as well as it’s ease of access to other areas in the Great Lakes region of Africa which are far more volitile.
That’s not to say that Rwanda isn’t safe, it’s possibly the safest country to live in within the region, however, that’s only true if you don’t cross the government. It’s this lack of political freedom which might be changing, as the laws passed and introduced are broad enough that anyone advocating on behalf of LBGT could be considered to be violiting the laws and arrestable. This is true even if it’s not a direct correlation, say a person is caught doing business with a gay activist or something equally silly.
It’s a debate, because it’s not clear that this is going to be enforced. (Previous laws were not, there were no convictions in Uganda based on the less strict gay sex laws). These laws could be used as an excused to harass and imped some organizations that Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi feels is counter-government. The backlash involved from the international community is an unknown factor.
What’s pretty clear is that this is a political move based on conservative populations of highly religious peoples (Africa in general is the highest growth rate of all religious groups world wide, as well as being the most conservative) where anti-gay sentiments have been increasing for the last several years. Although sentiment is on the rise, I’m lead to understand that in the case of Burundi it was a leverage issue in political gamesmanship that brought it out rather then outright lobbying.
This in addition to the riots that have shut down the city for the last two days (and are likely to happen tomorrow and perhaps into the future), I’ve arrived in K’la during an interesting time. Given some of my reason for leaving Cape Town was security, it has made interested in politics and culture here in order to assess stability.
To digress for those who are interested Human Rights Watch has a good write up on this. There have been several riots in K’la due to the Buganda king being barred from visiting part of his kingdom. Although it’s part of his kingdom the people within the region want nothing to do with him. There’s more to this background such as the impact of the downturn, long running governmental antagonism to the kingdom, and recent land disputes, but I’ll leave it at this for the moment.
The president and several ministers are apparently sparring with kingdom officals in a reckless disreguard for the rioters. This could be settled peaceably, but rather threats and bravado are being shown in public face offs. Inevitably it’s the poor who are hurt, as 4 were killed yesterday, and more likely were killed today. There are squads of quasi-police/governmental hitters that are beating people on behalf of the police. Earlier tonight, half a kliometer away at the airstrip, I heard gunshots.
As I’ve come to learn, thing here in Africa can go pear shaped far quicker then what westerners are used to. Wednesday there was a few articles about this in the paper, but it was business as usual and no hint of trouble. Today, it’s not a good idea to do much outside. Although I’ve made lots of progress on finding a job, I might even have an offer if I can get a work permit, life has some reconsidering to do…
Let’s hope the new anti-gay laws and this Buganda/Government issue settles.