Uganda, Uganda, Uganda.
Even up to two decades ago, Uganda was where we looked for shelter and inspiration. Shelter from the worst of the excesses of Daniel arap Moi’s regime. Inspiration from the Movement’s model of democracy and development from the bottom-up.
But it is now 2014. The pendulum has definitively swung. This past week, Amnesty International released a report on Uganda, “Rule by Law.” The “by” in the title is instructive—“rule by law’ as opposed to “rule of law.” Referring to the use of legislative measures that are clearly in contradiction of constitutional provisions.
The Public Order Management Act — impacting negatively on freedom of association by placing restrictions on public gatherings and meetings.
The Anti-Pornography Act — impacting negatively on freedom of expression. Enabling official and public harassment of women because of how they are dressed — despite official clarification that the APA does not give the public the right to undress women.
And the now-infamous Anti-Homosexuality Act — impacting negatively not only on equality and non-discrimination but also on the rights to health and housing. And the possibilities of maintaining a livelihood.
The report documents — painfully—the stories of those who’ve been evicted. Or lost their jobs. Or are now too afraid to stick to treatment regimes. Because of, for example, the police raid on the Walter Reed Health Centre. Or the closure of services offered by the Refugee Law Project.
The AHA has now been overturned by the Constitutional Court — but only on the technical ground of lack of quorum when it was initially passed. No less a personage than Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has now warned against attempts to bring it back — but more on the instrumental basis of what bringing it back will do to investment in and trade with Uganda than on ethics and rights.
Constitutional challenges are still pending against the APA and the POMA. Little has been said by the Ugandan president on these two pieces of legislation.
Why the disproportionate (international and national) focus on the AHA as opposed to the APA and the POMA? Or rather — why the failure to see these three pieces of legislation in terms of their complementary and intended political effects?
The resort to populist measures that resonate with large segments of our populations is a time-tested tactic. Get people all worked up about enemies, existential or otherwise, internal or external.
State repression is one thing. State repression that sets the population off against itself is another. It is, in a sense, easier to address state repression. It is much harder to arrest and contain a population that’s spiralled off — in the belief that not only God but the state is on its side.
State repression and the population spiralling off have real impacts on real people. We are not abstractions on a chessboard. A woman stripped. A gay man rendered jobless, homeless, more ill than he needs to be.
These impacts are surely not the purpose of any law.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, covering East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.