President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed what has been arguably the most controversial law, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. To Ugandans, Museveni is a hero, with analysts saying he is most likely to have a walkover in the next election.
And his declaration of “war” against critics of the law has been very well received by his supporters.
The Ugandan leader on Wednesday told his National Resistance Movement party leaders to be ready for a war.
“You cannot fight a war when you are a pleasure seeker if you like a soft life. So, war is not for soft life,” he said, noting that homosexuality is a serious issue with grave consequences for the human race.
He applauded the legislators for supporting the law. Museveni said he had consulted widely and had been persuaded by experts that homosexuality was "psychological disorientation."
“The problem is that, yes, you are disoriented. You have a problem to yourself. Now, don’t try to recruit others. If you try to recruit people into disorientation, then we go for you. We punish you. But secondly, if you violently grab some children and you rape them and so forth, we kill you. And that one I totally support, and I will support.”
The law imposes a life sentence for same-sex intercourse and a 20-year sentence for the promotion of homosexuality.
Organisations and groups promoting homosexuality will face penalties under the law, but it is highly anticipated that now that there are petitions in court against the law, the courts will again annul the new law as it did in 2014.
If there was any rallying moment Mr Museveni needed mid-term, this law provides it, even if it will just stay on the shelves. Ugandans will probably never ask for prosecuted cases according to the anti-gay Act.
Starting from the unanimity in Parliament, with the leader of the opposition making a case for the bill, to the common Ugandan on the streets, some moving in droves and carrying placards to express support for the President and Parliament, the law has received outpouring support.
Mr Museveni, expected to seek another term of office in 2026, made political capital at a time when the country is faced with the harsh realities of increasing poverty, , rising cost of living and untamed unemployment and corruption, which his government has promised to fight in the past 37 years.
Analysts believe Museveni partly needed to rally Ugandans for the grand project which they believe is bringing his son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba as a crown prince.
Indeed, in the ongoing retreat of the ruling party leaders, Mr Museveni blamed the National Resistance Movement (his party) leaders for disorganisation and praised Gen Muhoozi for his great work in weeding out corruption in the Army.
Veteran politician, Col Dr Kizza Besigye, believes Museveni wants the leaders to realise that he had anointed his son to succeed him to avoid any competition among them for the top seat.
But other analysts believe the President could have wanted to hit out at the US after an attack on Uganda’s army in Somalia, in which many soldiers lost their lives.
Addressing his party faithful this week, Mr Museveni said the US has drones in Somalia, which would have helped, but they did not deploy them.
“If they were all co-coordinating, there would be no problem.
‘‘If the Turks and Americans do not want to support our ground forces, we shall find a way of intervening more decisively,” he said.
Analysts believe this was a way of expressing his disappointment at the US presence in Somalia, but keeping to themselves when Ugandans faced the terrorists. So, by signing the bill, he was sending a message to them.
The US was one of the first countries to respond to the new law.
President Joe Biden on Monday described it as a grave human rights violation and threatened to cut aid and investment in the country.
Mr Biden called for the immediate repeal of the measures, which state among other things that engaging in acts of homosexuality would be an offence punishable by life imprisonment.
“The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights.
‘‘No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or be subjected to violence and discrimination. It is wrong,” the US leader said.
He added that he had asked his National Security Council to assess what the law means for aspects of Washington’s engagement with Kampala, including services providing HIV/Aids relief, and other assistance and investments.
But Uganda’s Health ministry officials on Tuesday said Biden’s claims that HIV-positive gay people in Uganda are now at greater risk is false, adding that no medical practitioners inquire into the sexual orientation of a person before they attend to him or her.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the Global Fund, UNAids and Pepfar expressed concern over the impact of the law on Uganda’s HIV/Aids response, but Sophie Barton-Knott, the UNAids communications manager, told local media in Kampala that UNAids remains committed to supporting the people of Uganda in their efforts to end HIV/ Aids, adding that UNAids had not spoken of withdrawing aid.
Biden also said his administration would also consider slapping sanctions on Uganda and restricting the entry into the US of people engaging in human-rights abuses or corruption.
And the country went ahead to revoke the visas of Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament Anita Among and MP Asuman Basalirwa who sponsored the bill, and the Speaker says she was unfairly targeted because she was only representing the views of the Ugandan people.
“As Parliament of Uganda, we have heeded the concerns of our people and legislated to protect the sanctity of the family, as per Article 31 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda,” she said.
The World Bank, one of Uganda’s main lenders, said if implemented, the law would endanger people by placing an added barrier to vital medical care, disease screening, and precautions.
And Finance ministry spokesperson Jim Mugunga said they would “plan and adjust to the current demands within available resources and legal environment.”
“As valued members of the World Bank Group, we remain committed to continuing mutual engagements aimed at resolving misunderstandings, if any,” he said.
Billions of dollars
Uganda has different loans with the World Bank worth billions of dollars, including $217 million for Generating Growth Opportunities and Productivity for Women Enterprises Project, the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area Urban Development Programme worth $566 million and the Electricity Access Scale-up Project worth $568 million.
When President Museveni signed the initial version of the anti-gay law in 2014, the World Bank postponed a $90 million loan intended for health sector support.
In 2016, then World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said the law was “quite a bit more draconian than a lot of the laws that exist”, adding that it could lead to “not only to discrimination but endangerment”.
Julius Mukunda of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) says the law could impact the economy, given that nearly half of the budget depends on foreign cash, especially from the European Union and the United States.
According to the 2023/24 budget estimates, Uganda plans to borrow about Ush6.16 trillion ($1.58 million) to fund its Ush52 trillion ($13.78 million) budget. About 50 percent of the country’s health budget is funded by the EU and the US. The US contributes about 32 per cent of total health spending and 76 per cent of all foreign contributions to Uganda’s health sector.
Uganda also exports its biggest foreign export earner, coffee, to these countries and any disruption in this trade could cripple the country. For example, the EU is the leading buyer of coffee worth $800 million.
Another sector that is worrying Ugandans is the tourism industry which is the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner. Tour operators are worried that the law was signed as they entered their peak season, June to September which would have culminated into the main season of September to December where they have the biggest number of visitors from abroad.
But Museveni hit back at threats saying even with the threat of sanctions and travel bans, Uganda had the right to protect its cultural sovereignty. He said even if the donors close the taps, the government will find another way of filling the gap.
“One of the things they’re (donors) threatening is to kill our 1.2 million people who have been surviving on Pepfar funds to buy drugs for HIV/Aids, so that we don’t buy the drugs for our people, and they die. This is a simple matter which we can fight but parasites can’t fight. If you fear to sacrifice, you cannot fight. Europe is lost and they also want us to be lost,” Museveni said.
The US supports about 1.2 million Ugandans living with HIV with free drugs from Pepfar, which on average most Ugandans cannot afford.