Is there a political side to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill?

I am not a political commentator by trade nor do I play one on TV. However, I have dabbled in it as it does not require a license.

Commenting on US politics is difficult enough, but venturing into Ugandan politics is probably more treacherous. While I have frequently criticized Ugandan MP David Bahati’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill on principle, I have infrequently discussed what, if any, political advantages may come from the introduction and support for the bill. At first glance, it seems reasonable that a politician going into an election might seek an issue about which most people agree and make that issue his cause. And indeed, being perceived as a populist may be part of the benefit of the bill for those who support it there. However, there may be broader political motives for the party of Bahati and President Museveni, the National Resistance Movement.

An opposition party (Forum for Democratic Change) leader, Anne Mugisha, speculated in November, 2009 that the bill was introduced in order to take the mind of the public away from government corruption and tinkering with election laws. From her vantage point, the uproar over the bill plays into a pattern, saying

Like all legislative attempts at policing the bedrooms of adults the Bill will have no real impact on our private lifestyles. However, the Bill whether it is passed or not will create a lively debate that will serve a very sinister political purpose. Those who follow Ugandan electoral cycles will not be surprised by this diversion because they would have witnessed the same drama around HIV/AIDS in 2001 and rape in 2006.

She believes this year’s diversion is the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

A good political ploy not only distracts votes but directs their attention toward a specific alternative target. If indeed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has a political side, the target might be another opposition party candidate, Olara Otunnu. Otunnu has been long considered a potential candidate for the presidency. Recently chosen as the standard bearer for the Uganda People’s Congress, Otunnu is a former diplomat to the United Nations with a long resume of advocacy for children and, as the cartoon below indicates, a single man.

The subtitle to the cartoon reads, “A former UN diplomat, Olara Otunnu, on Sunday won the Uganda People’s Congress presidency in a contest that attracted eight candidate.” That’s the news, but I doubt that was the only message. In January, the UPC went on record as being opposed to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Their leader is single. Get it?

According to Ford and Carter administrations official and frequent visitor to Uganda, Bob Hunter, many Ugandans suspect that a single man over the age of 30 could be a homosexual. Hunter emerged as the spokesperson for the Fellowship Foundation on Uganda when it was disclosed last year that the sponsor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, David Bahati, had been closely involved with a parliamentary prayer groups associated with the Fellowship Foundation. The Fellowship Foundation, via Hunter and spiritual leader Doug Coe, strongly denounced the bill and expressed hope for it to be withdrawn. Hunter recently returned from a trip to Uganda where he expressed the Fellowship’s opposition to Ugandan leaders as well as conducted mission work in northern Uganda.

Hunter told me that the March 16 cartoon in the government sponsored paper, New Vision, raises the possibility that the NRM plans to make Otunnu’s singleness an election issue. Speaking directly about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Hunter said, “Some there believe that focusing attention on homosexuality might be a way to indirectly cast aspersions on Otunnu.”

No one can be sure of course. However, suggestions of homosexuality might help weaken a candidate in Uganda, especially during a period of debate over a law that seeks to eliminate it from the nation.

9 thoughts on “Is there a political side to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill?”

  1. Otunnu is a personal friend of a woman formerly from Uganda who is part of my congregation. He has met my pastor and visited here in Mississauga. He is a well educated and passionate follower of Jesus and I hope and pray that he will be successful in the future elections in Uganda.

  2. Yep, bellow about homosexuality and make deals like this in the dark. Spend as much money on military hardware as the US provides in PEPFAR funds. I cannot see why Uganda should have Su30MK2. Something like a slow, all-weather, ground attack plane like the Su39 seems like it would better suit any millitary action Uganda might find itself in.

  3. Meant to add, the info on oil companies in Uganda and Ugandan/Russian deal on jet aircraft was taken from the current issue of the Oil & Gas Journal – 12 April 2010.

  4. While we’re on the politics of Uganda. There is a hold-up in Uganda’s approval of Tullow Oil of Ireland/UK taking over the interests of Heritage Oil of Calgary, AB, Canada, in their shared blocks in the Lake Albert Basin. Heritage is getting ancy over it and Tullow is sallow.

    Tullow wants to bring in the Chinese National Offshore Oil Co. (CNOOC) and Total S.A. (Italy) to help develop the oil in the basin and build a refinery for the high-wax oil that is in the Lake Albert Basin, in which CNOOC is particularly experienced. There may be a reason for this.

    There have been ongoing talks between Uganda and Rosoboronexport, a Russian company which markets Russian space technologies under strict state control, and Sukhoi to purchase 6 Su30MK2 multirole fighter aircraft. But then Uganda doesn’t have the $300 million to buy the aircraft (and does it even need them?). Supposedly the deal is just about fully agreed to. So Uganda is doing possibly something fuzzy to get Lukoil into their oil reserves. Lukoil is the largest oil company in Russia with over 10 trillion barrels in proven reserves, fully integrated from exploration and drilling to distribution and retail.

    As such Museveni has announce a new round of licensing of its lands in the Albertine basin and with even more lucrative rights than given Tullow/Heritage. Guess who gets them…. could it be…. Lukoil? Uganda has many social issues to address from many years in turmoil and yet Museveni wants to buy 6 fighter jet aircraft his country doesn’t need? This is what he is going to waste his petro-shillings on?

    $300 million is about what Uganda got via PEPFAR funding from the US in 2008. Perhaps they don’t need that money if Museveni is going to unChrist-like waste his countries future oil revenues on shiny, fast baubles of war.

  5. That’s the point Benson Obua of UPC a co-sponsor of the bill has to digest. His party’s candidate may have to fight it out in the courts just to get on the ballot or get the distraction of answering charges during the campaign. Wouldn’t be the first time candidate faced trumped up charges during an election.

  6. Hey…

    dropped by, and [tongue in cheek] I kind of missed it.

    Otunnu has beef with Museveni. The anger is personal, very. And, I guess they are going to slog it out.

    Of course the government paper has started it. These days, they dont smile without the govt telling them how wide it should be…

    Actually, it was a good paper. But not now.

    In the last elections, the main opposition candidate was accused of rape. Yes, of RAPE.

    It was a farce. The evidence thin, the allegations outrageous, the witnesses couched. The judge threw it out. Did provide lots of entertainment. And, campaign material. So, why did they do it? I am not sure. The ego of a single man. the possibility of having the opposition candidate unable to campaign because he was on ‘remand’ etc.

    Is Otunnu gay? Does it matter? the govt is going to paint him so. And, it has started….!


  7. Exactly what was meant, that the main premise was an April Fools joke. I knew that, it is why I wondered if the name “Bafokugamba” meant something in the local language. Yes, the whole thing is a farce, and the farce itself is a political barb at Otunnu about possibly being gay. But you can also make other political points inside the farce with coded language. I was just hoping gug would stop by and maybe tell us if there was some in that article.

  8. Wasn’t Otunnu the personal doctor of Museveni during the NRA’s fight to liberate Uganda? Oh, no, just came to me, that was FDC’s Besigye. Anyway…. you missed this article from New Vision:

    UPC boss Olara Otunnu weds

    By Vision Reporter

    UPC presidential flag-bearer Ambassador Olara Otunnu is set to walk down the aisle on Saturday, putting to rest one of Uganda’s most vexing political questions.

    Uganda’s most eligible bachelor is expected to say I do to Ms Jocelyn Bafokugamba at 3:00pm at St Kagwa Parish in Bushenyi. Bafokugamba hails from Kanungu district.

    Details about the relationship are scanty but sources close to the couple say the two met about three years ago in France, but their romance has only assumed a new sense of urgency in recent weeks.

    Bafokugamba, who is described as being in her early 30s, has been living in France for the last seven years. According to sources, she studied social work and administration at Makerere University. It’s not clear what she does for a living in France. A family member who talked to The New Vision on condition of anonymity said Bafokugamba’s maternal grandfather is a Muganda.

    Political watchers will not miss the political overtones that this marriage carries.

    Since Otunnu returned to the country last year, the question of his marital status—or lack of thereof—has hovered over him like a dark cloud. His impending marriage should improve his political fortunes in a country which puts a high premium on the family man.

    The choice of the wedding venue looks curious, but when one remembers that Bushenyi served as the bedrock of UPC’s support in the 1980s, questions fall away.

    However, the choice of a Mukiga bride will come as a surprise because beyond the romance, there seems to be no major political benefit to it. But in January, while on a campaign trail in Kabaale, Otunnu insinuated that Bakiga would be his in-laws.

    Watchers would have been less surprised if he married a Muganda. Central region is an area he badly needs to patch up relations within the context of the historical animosity between the area and his UPC party.

    Otunnu was elected party president last month at Namboole stadium in Kampala.

    Recent polls show he lags behind FDC’s Kizza Besigye and DP’s Norbert Mao as a main challenger to President Yoweri Museveni innext year’s elections.

    For futher details on the wedding arrangement please go to

    And so it begins. I’m sure the name ‘Bafokugamba‘ &/or ‘Kanungu‘ &/or the other highlighted Ugandan words have some particular meaning in a local patois. Though the ersatz bride’s last name might be some sort of dissembled English.

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