Ugandan reaction mixed to comments from Obama, Clinton

Yesterday morning at the National Prayer Breakfast, keynote speaker, Hillary Clinton criticized the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and President Barack Obama called the bill “odious.” The reaction from leaders in Uganda and Ugandans attending the National Prayer Breakfast has been mixed.

Immediately Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Buturo reacted with defiance.

Buturo, one of the main Ugandan proponents of the bill which would further criminalise homosexuality and even gay rights advocacy, vowed that Ugandan MPs would not be swayed by US or any outside criticism.

“We cannot tell the Senate what to do. We cannot tell Congress what to do. So why do they feel that they can tell us what we should do in the interest of our people?” he asked.

“It is totally unacceptable,” Buturo added, in reference to any attempt by some of Uganda’s partners to reverse the adoption of the bill.

However, a bit later Minister of Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem said the bill will be changed.

“I am sure the bill will take a different form when it is tabled on the floor in parliament,” Mr Oryem told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

However, he also pointed out that it was a Private Member’s Bill and so the government did not have the powers to alter it at this stage.

“Homosexuality is not a top priority for the people of Uganda,” he deputy minister said.

“Our priority is to make sure there is food on the table of our people – that we deal with the issue of disease.”

Ugandan delegates to the National Prayer Breakfast speaking to me anonymously agreed that the bill would almost certainly be changed, perhaps dramatically. One source told me that the section imposing death on a HIV positive person for “touching” should be changed to reflect an offense of knowingly spreading HIV without the consent of the other person. Others made it clear that they believe the aggravated homosexuality section of the bill should only relate to child abuse and rape of vulnerable people. None of those I spoke with believed that private conduct should be criminalized.

However, the delegates differed on their views of criminalization on public homosexual conduct. Some believed that homosexuality could be spread via societal acceptance, whereas others believed homosexuals should be respected as free agents to choose their own actions, even in public. All agreed that homosexuality is not socially acceptable in Uganda.

Some were concerned that Americans critical of the bill are not respecting the autonomy of Uganda. “You must respect our democratic process,” one delegate said. “The bill is only a proposal at this point, there are many chances for it to be amended,” he added. One delegate said emphatically that all input would be considered but that those who are critical should respect the right of Ugandans to govern themselves.

One Ugandan delegate who would only speak on condition of anonymity said that the rumor that people associated with the Fellowship had any influence on the writing of the bill were “totally untrue.” He said Bahati did not ask for advice on the bill and added, “This is not the kind of thing the Fellowship would support.”