On Mbeki’s comments and Honouring David Kato

Comments by former South African Present Thabo Mbeki who reportedly told Uganda newspaper, The Daily Monitor, last week that sexual preferences of people were private matters which government should not intervene have left many with tongues wagging, reminding us of what life is like in that country for many homosexuals.

Headlined “Anti-gay Bill doesn’t make sense, Mbeki says” – Mbeki made the comments at the time when he was visiting the country’s Kampala capital city last week [19 January 2012] where he was a guest speaker at Makerere Institute for Social Research (MISR) to “boost the crusaders of gay rights in Uganda”.

The former president was asked by Sylvia Tamale during a three-hour public question and answer session that evening on “debating post-cold warAfrica and why the continent is reliant on external interventions in dealing with local issues”. “I would say to the MP; sexual preferences are a private matter,” said Mbeki, responding to Tamale on what he would say to [Ndorwa West MP David] Bahati about the plight of a lesbian woman seeking recognition of her divergent sexual orientation. “I don’t think it is a matter of the state to intervene”.

He said he was certain that Bahati would disagree with him because African culture does not permit same sex relations, a reason at the heart of the continent’s wide spread antipathy towards homosexuals. “I mean what would you want? It doesn’t make sense at all. That is what I would say to the MP. What two consenting adults do is really not the matter of law”. Mbeki was also responding to the country’s bill, tabled by Bahati.

Bahati told the newspaper late last year that Uganda’s “position as a country is clear”, adding that “our Constitution prohibits homosexuality and we are not in a trade of values”. Responding to Mbeki, he said the Bill – which has since cause international uproar for reportedly having a clause that would hand down death penalty for aggravated homosexuality, including the alleged spread of HIV/Aids – was to “curb a several issues including inducement, recruitment and funding homosexuality”.

“His Excellency [Mbeki] needs to read the Bill and understand the spirit in which it was brought and the context in which we [the Ugandan government] are talking about”, said Bahati. His comments – and probably the Bill too – are based on the country’s Marriage Act of 1904 that does not provide for same-sex marriage.

Mbeki also addressed African intellectuals’ failure to cultivate ideas for progressive movement of change on the continent and African Union’s weakness in defending and promoting the interests of Africans, according to the report. He is further quoted saying a weak and selfish political class, responsible for collaborating with Western imperialists to lead external intervention for selfish end on the continent, had played a leading role in clamping down progressive intellectuals since viewed as opposition to their hold on power.

Aid used as threat

It is not only Bahati and the Ugandagovernment that is against homosexuals. Even some church leaders are against homosexuals, with Born Again Faith Federation urging its fellow clerics not to wed gay couples.

Federation leader Dr Joseph Serwadda claimed it seemed government would be “forced to soften on the demands by the gay movement” due to outside pressure. This after US President Barack Obama reportedly said that his government, the UK and other “conservative countries” might be forced to withdraw foreign aid and asylum conditionalities to push homosexuality to descriminalised in that country.

Last year Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, the retired Catholic Archbishop of Kampala, asked African leaders not to accept overtures from theUnited Kingdom or any other foreign nation in exchange for embracing gay rights. Wamala said althoughUganda needed aid “if it is aid for the wrong reasons, then we should not take it”. He said it would be “wrong for our leaders to kneel before donors to enact laws to promote wrong”.

It is not clear whether or not Uganda would give in to Obama’s threat because the country apparently heavily relies on these countries for aid, and also receives military help to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army and is said to have sent troops to Somalia to fight the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group. In early January this year Ambassador to the US, Perezi Kamunanwire, withdrew as the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King birthday event in Maryland reportedly due to pressure from United Negro College Fund (UNCF) because the bill, if passed, would violate the rights of homosexuals.

David Kato murder and honouring him

In early November 2011 Mukono High Court sentenced Sidney Nsubuga Enoch, 22, to 30 years in prison for the murder of a 46-year-old gay rights activist David Kato in January that year.

Passed by Justice Joseph Mulangira after Nsubuga reportedly admitted to murdering Kato, lead state prosecutor Ms. Loe Karungi led evidence alleging that on 26 January 2012 – my birthday, and what a coincidence that I am writing this on the same day today, just exactly a year after the activist was murdered – Kato demanded sex from the Nsubunga. It was alleged in court that Kato “started kissing Nsubuga and tickling him but in the process, a one Kizza Akram knocked at the door and the deceased stopped what he was doing”.

After breakfast, Kizza allegedly went away to the farm where Kato followed. “Nsubuga prepared lunch for Kizza and the deceased. After lunch the deceased locked the house and informed Nsubuga that it was time for sex”, Karungi told the court, according to The Daily report. This, it is alleged, was at the time Nsubuga told the Kato that he wanted to ease himself in the bathroom after which he would come back and have sex.

While in the bathroom, Nsubuga picked up a hammer, came back to the living room and hit the Kato on the back of the head twice, Karungi narrated reportedly to the court. Kato was then rushed to the hospital but declared dead on the way. A postmortem revealed that he had been seriously hit at the back of the head, according to media reports quoting court proceedings at the time.

Kato’s murder,  said Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – and subsequently the sentencing of his murder – should be a lesson to the world. Pillay described Kato as someone who had dedicated his life to “helping those persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity”.

She reminded the world how – months leading to his death – Kato had been a “target of a hate-campaign mounted” by The Rolling Stone newspaper. The Rolling Stone had printed his name, photograph and address alongside those of dozens of others it claimed were gay or lesbian, and called for them to be hanged, recalled Pillay. Following the publication in January 2011, Kato and two other litigants took the newspaper to court, successfully securing an injunction preventing any publication by The Rolling Stone of future similar stories.

“Kato’s visibility as an openly gay man and an activist for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people has understandably fuelled speculation that he was the victim of a fatal homophobic attack”, said Pillay. She said his murder “stimulates discussion about the violence and discrimination facing people because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity, then his death will not have been completely in vain. That discussion must inevitably address the question of decriminalising homosexuality. Criminal sanctions for homosexuality remain on the statute books in more than 70 countries, including Uganda”.

She said such laws were “an anachronism, in most cases a hangover from the old days of colonial rule”. “They are inherently discriminatory and constitute a violation of the human rights of those whose conduct they seek to sanction. States often justify the existence of these laws with reference to popular opinion”.

Said Pillay:

“Yet popular opinion alone can never justify depriving certain people of their rights. People are entitled to disapprove of homosexuality. They are entitled to express their disapproval. But they are not entitled to harm or inflict violence on their fellow human beings, nor to use the criminal law to have them arrested, imprisoned, even in some cases executed, simply because they disapprove of them.

Decriminalising homosexuality is an essential first step towards establishing genuine equality before the law. But real, lasting progress cannot be achieved by changing laws alone. We must change minds as well. Like racism and misogyny, homophobia is prejudice born of ignorance. And like other forms of prejudice, the most effective long-term response is information and education”.

On my Birthday – today, exactly a year after Kato was brutally murdered and in honour of his life and to quote Pillay:

“Today, we mark the loss of a remarkable man, a remarkable human rights activist. Let us honour Kato’s memory by recommitting to the values he sought to defend: the equal worth and dignity of every human being, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity”.

Related article(s) I wrote before:

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One thought on “On Mbeki’s comments and Honouring David Kato

  1. Pingback: The Funeral « Little Red Shoes

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