Jailing gays in Uganda's crowded jails. The Bill that gave Uganda a bad name.

The legal and humanitarian canvas in Uganda these days’ bear smudges of the kind that many a human rights activist- or world citizen considers more than blight. This is the country that gave the world Idi Amin, the Northern Uganda war and Joseph Kony or the “Lords Resistance Army”. This morning one of the newspapers is reporting on progress on a government scheme to detain without trial rapists, rioters and economic saboteurs by abolish mandatory bail, a right in the current constitution. Opposition politicians, the leading one being Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye are convinced this is a targeted law meant to lock away critics and throw the key away. Anything is possible in an environment of growing cynicism about the social contract here as in elsewhere in the world. As of this morning Besigye's home was surrounded over concerns regarding the latest episode of uphearval in Uganda otherwise known as Walk to Work protests. However perhaps even matching its own record on the bizarre and grotesque was the so-called “Kill the Gays” Bill that was introduced by arguably one of the more capable Members of Parliament today, the Ndorwa West MP David Bahati. Last time I had a chat with the MP (who I had incidentally advised against the bill precisely because of the storm it may generate and because I considered it a waste of valuable time), he told me the bill would return to the house in November. “ I am winning,” he said.

These days I am sort of resigned to how disagreeable things can become what with an economic storm, a crisis of the Ugandan shilling and real hurt amongst Ugandan families that I consider this bill largely academic. But just like the bail law some people have suggested to me that the bill is intended for political purposes as well. My sources in parliament also add that because of the world wide storm it generated it will come to the House for debate in stealth not reflected in “ the order paper” of the day.

So the odd thing about this bill, which I mentioned to Bahati and another young and eager legislator, is that it is at odds with its purpose. The Ugandan family is in crisis but not because permissive society is whittling it away. After the civil wars, economic crisis and vacuum in national consensus, society has taken its eyes off the family and fastened it on the politics of the country. Indeed Ugandans obsessively analyze the actions of politicians and the newspapers are filled with family advice borrowed liberally from websites.

Consider this I said to David, Ugandan jails are full of young men. The prison authorities are having an uncomfortable debate, which contrasts with Bahati’s public position on “gays”, in that they are asking whether or not to introduce condoms in male wards this according to Dr. Johnson Byabashiajja, the head of the service. Bahati intends to send to jail so-called homosexuals to an environment where sex is non-consensual between men and where because of disease including HIV/AIDS, the prison authorities are aghast. The logic I told him does not add up unless he attaches a financing clause that expands the size of Ugandan prisons whose numbers have risen by over 25 percent.

If rape and disease in prisons does not concern Bahati what else should considering the arguments he has made supporting this bill?

For now however the newspapers are debating the politics of giving away a national forest. The last time this Mabira forest debate came up it opened another can of worms that is very Ugandan- anti-Asian sentiment. So maybe by the time of my next post (which I plan to dedicate to social media and enterprise) I will have another smudge to examine.

Hopefully not.

Posted on August 15, 2011 and filed under The Ugandan Reader.