Friday, February 5, 2010

Uganda, Homosexuality, and the Rest of Africa

Early in my writing career, I was contracted to write a book about Uganda by an American publisher. According to the agreement, I would write it and an American academic would then look at the book and have his say (and his name on the cover) and then I would be given the proofs of the final copy with the edits and I could decide if I wanted my name on the cover or not. I was never given the proofs. The book went to publication after the publishers accused me of plagiarising and threatened not to pay me. I didn't plagiarise anything and they never gave me the option to remove my name from the cover. I was not happy with the final book which turned a Uganda I saw as a success story into another African basket case. I try to ignore I was part of the book's propaganda and I often feel ashamed about the whole thing.

Time has passed and things have changed. President Museveni has gone from being the saviour of Uganda to being the chain around its neck. His iron grip on power is killing a country that has had more than its share of suffering. Now thanks to influence from an American Christian cult, The Fellowship, he is attempting to get a bill passed that could give homosexuals the death penalty for loving each other.

One thing you can say about Christians, when it comes to Africa, they have some serious staying power. The seeds they planted have taken root and grown filling the entire space. There is a passion and vehemence about African Christian churches that I've not seen in other places. Perhaps it is some amalgamation of traditional religion with the teachings of Christianity, I don't know. It's funny how the typical response of Africans who are against homosexuality is that it is an imported concept, some Westernised activity imposed on Africans. I wonder why they never see the same thing can be said about Christianity.

The fear now is that Museveni's vehemence against gays will spread. Already a Malawian gay couple who married were arrested in December. Mugabe has not been quiet about his views on gays. Even here in Botswana it is illegal to be gay though no one has been arrested. The non-governmental organisation Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) is unable to operate properly in the country as it is unable to be registered, as such there is no organised way for gays to fight against the unfair and out-of-date legislation.

I sometimes can't quite feel a problem that is far from me, that I have no personal connection to. So when I hear about the terrible, stupid, preventable shortage of food that Zimbabweans will have in the coming months, for example, I don't let the words flow in and out of me. I stop them along the way and think of people I know in Zimbabwe- personally- people who will miss meals to feed their hungry children. Only then does the impact of what is happening find its true space in me.

In 2007 Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko won the Caine Prize for her story Jambula Tree about the two girls Anyango and Sanyu and the forbidden love that they had for each other. It was a painful story to read and it stuck with me. Characters tend to live on in my mind, in some sort of semi-real state. And as I watched Museveni joking on the TV about how overseas leaders were calling him and tell him sending gays to the gallows was not a good move diplomatically, I thought of Anyango and Sanyu.

In this world, where hate is everywhere, how does one's thoughts get so mixed up so as to get to a position where love is wrong? I don't believe Jesus or God would be on Museveni's side; if they are I don't think I can follow along behind them.


Elizabeth Bradley said...

For some reason I have been surrounded by gay people very close to me from a very early age. It permeates everything I write. My nephew (like a son) died of AIDS not a year ago. So many, even those in our very own family made it impossible for him to feel good about who he was.

I am so angered by ignorance. When it's colored as the word of God I get so mad I could spit bullets. It seems the Christians keep spreading the word that gays just have to BELIEVE, and they shall become straight. Here in California, we vote gay marriage into being but it gets squelched. Why? Ignorance, plain and simple.

Helen Ginger said...

I don't understand the fears of gay people. Being "in" the arts, I know quite a few gays and count them as friends. Even here in the States where we claim a government separate from religion, it is not. And it is becoming more rigid.

Straight From Hel

Lauri said...

Imagine in Uganda people may get the death sentence for being gay! It is shocking. We only get one life- everyone should be allowed to live theirs.

Catarina said...

People have a right to make their options, it's terrible thing to use religion to oppress people.

daoine said...

That is just so sad. Illegal to fall in love? Makes no sense to me; never has.

bonita said...

While we don't have a death sentence for gays, we have plenty of unpunished instances of beatings (and killings) of gays by individuals. Many of us are astounded at the Christian right's vehemence—and the extent of their support. In addition, there is still a strong undercurrent against gays in the workplace. I know of a church that hired a gay organist, then the governing committee reviewed his application, and realized he was living with a man. He was asked to leave before he played one note.

Lauri said...

I read in one of the articles that now there is fear that even in countries like South Africa where gay rights are protected, abuse against gays will increase because of the nod given by Museveni and other African leaders. Already people are beaten and killed in SA, esp. women. One of the leading players for their women's football team was killed for being gay.

Lauri said...

Ooops now it looks like even straight people who know gays are going to be put to death-

My gosh!

Not From Lapland said...

it is awful that we live in a world that wants to punish people for finding love. the world can be hard and cruel enough, why do we, as a species, try to make it worse? It all makes me so mad.

Anonymous said...

More born again's and religious wacko's spreading their interpretation of God by rewriting theology. These so called Christians support genocide.

They ARE the same as Hitler and what he did to the Jews and the Muslim extremists and what they did to the WTC on 9/11.

Do NOT get fooled by these born again wacko's taking a trip to Uganda and claiming to spread the word of God. When they are their they are really supporting the execution, torture, and imprisionment of gays. Then these same born again's return back to the US to their $150,000 job, new home, flat screen tv's, and new cars. At least they can pick up their family and move to Uganda to live under what they have influenced!

It is time to stand up to these born again bigots and EXPOSE them in their home town to what they really are. I know of at least two houses that have had human rights activitists and gays demonstrate in front of their homes!

We all will be going to hell in a hand basket if we do not expose these born again hypocraites.