Exporting Homophobia: American far-right conservative churches establish influence on anti-gay policy in Africa
Gay Ugandans face daily fear for their lives
By Jody May-Chang
Peter Yiga is a Ugandan born-again Christian with a degree in computer engineering. He is the father of a young child and is also a known gay activist in a country that is on a witch hunt.
In February, Yiga attended a human rights conference in the capital city of Kampala.
“I saw a member of parliament who attended, talking very bitter and vowing to kill everyone–including their sons and daughters–if they were proved homosexuals,” he told BW by Internet video conference from Uganda.
Yiga described how he and his friends are psychologically tortured and forced to endure daily warnings and promises of being hunted down and killed.
“The church and other leaders have done a lot to brainwash people, and all the community now is readily spitting fire against homosexuality. They are planning to kill or panga [machete] us. We have been running from house to house because when a neighborhood learns about your orientation, then you should expect mob justice anytime,” he said.
Although homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda since the colonial era, there has been an unprecedented escalation of hatred fueled by Uganda’s pending Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009. If passed in its present form, the wide-ranging legislation calls for the death penalty for gays and lesbians who engage in sex and are HIV positive, have committed the offense of homosexuality more than once, have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol during a sexual encounter or one partner has a disability. For other, less “aggravated” offenses, they face life in prison.
The bill also affects heterosexuals. Nongovernmental organizations including human rights, advocacy or aid organizations will be prosecuted if any material or advocacy support is provided to or on behalf of LGBT people. This includes family members, friends, medical professionals and clergy. There will be nowhere to run for Yiga or his friends.
While the issues facing Yiga and other homosexuals in Uganda seem a world away, the situation has direct ties to the United States through a combination of social pressures and monetary funding from a select group of powerful conservative Christian groups.
In the midst of the controversy, some have gone so far as to say the American groups had a direct hand in drafting the Ugandan legislation and lent the anti-gay movement a mainstream appearance.
Big names like Kenneth Starr, former White House investigator and president of Baylor University; Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church; Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; and Stephen Noll of the American Anglican Council and vice chancellor of Ugandan Christian University, have all played a role on the African stage.
Victor Mukasa, a Ugandan in self-imposed exile in South Africa working with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, told BW there were struggles for LGBT people in Uganda before, but it was not until American evangelicals came to Uganda that things took a turn for the worse.
Seminar Stokes the Fires
America’s influence in African politics goes back centuries, but this most recent anti-homosexual movement can be traced, in part, to a three-day seminar in Kampala in March 2009 called “Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda.” It was led by Scott Lively–a conservative known for his Holocaust revisionist book, The Pink Swastika, which claims homosexuals founded the Nazi party and were responsible for many death camp atrocities–and fellow evangelicals Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer.
According to sources who attended the conference, Lively told his Kampala audience, “I know more about this [homosexuality] than almost anyone in the world … The gay movement is an evil institution. The goal of the gay movement is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”
Lively acknowledged, “I am not a medical doctor. I am not a psychiatrist. I am a pastor and an attorney. I don’t have any special training to treat homosexual dysfunction. But I am an attorney and a scholar; I am very capable, more than capable, of being able to analyze professional documents, scientific data, etc.”
Lively went on to outline what he believes are the three causes of homosexuality: “sexual abuse, gender identity confusion or rebellion against authority.”
The effects of the seminar were immediate.
“The community has become very hostile now,” Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, told BW. “We have to watch our backs very much more than before because the community thinks if the Ugandan government is not passing the law, they will deal with people on their own.”
As a prominent transgender activist, Victor Mukasa battled the Ugandan courts for three years, claiming his rights were violated by a warrantless raid on his home in 2005 when he and a Kenyan friend were arrested without cause. Mukasa ultimately prevailed in 2008, but with a cost: He was forced to go into hiding to escape harassment and death threats.
“I think when these evangelicals from the United States came in, of course that struggle took a different turn,” Mukasa explained. “They came in very tactically, the message that they had, a very tricky one, I mean. Any Ugandan could fall for it. I could fall for it if it were not about homosexuality.
“The seminar defiantly escalated hatred toward gays,” said Mukasa. “It incited a lot of violence in various parts of Uganda and people started attacking homosexuals and breaking into their houses and handing them over to the police as homosexuals.”
Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian Anglican priest and project director at Political Research Associates who authored the 2009 report, “Globalizing the Culture Wars, U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia,” attended the Kampala seminar undercover, documenting many of Lively’s statements on video. Kaoma believes Lively helped author portions of the first draft of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Kaoma said that on March 9, 2009, Lively met with the Ugandan Parliament in a four-hour closed session. By Lively’s own account, “50 to 100 persons [were] in attendance, including numerous legislators and the minister of ethics and integrity [with] whom I enjoyed a personal chat.”
After Lively left Uganda, Kaoma attended a “strategic meeting” on March 15, 2009, in which participants were informed that the Parliament felt they needed a new law to address the international homosexual agenda.
In his report, Kaoma said the Western gay equality movement has caused a “kind of invisible collateral damage” for gays in Africa. In January, Kaoma told BW about the use of homophobia as a tool.
“Any victory in America means more suffering for our brothers and sisters in Africa,” Kaoma explained. “That is why I call the report the ‘Globalizing of the Culture Wars.’ They have taken the war global; it is time for us to take the war global.”
The first draft of the bill was introduced to Parliament on April 29, 2009, by its sponsor, member of Parliament David Bahati.
After seeing the bill for the first time, Kaoma said he thought, “This bill [should] be called the Lively Bill … in that bill you are going to find the talking points of Lively.”
The danger is not just that the bill might pass, it’s that the majority of Ugandans already believe it is law, or it should be. Kaoma, Yiga and other sources in Uganda fear vigilante mob justice will break out at any moment.
But neither American evangelicals nor Lively claim responsibility for the bill.
In December 2009, Lively wrote on his website, “All of my suggestions were ignored, despite which fact I am being blamed for the proposed law … Let me be absolutely clear. I do not support the proposed anti-homosexuality law as written. It does not emphasize rehabilitation over punishment, and the punishment that it calls for is unacceptably harsh.”
On March 11, 2010, Lively told ABC News about his 2009 trip. In his trip report, he wrote about being told “his campaign” was “like a nuclear bomb against the ‘gay’ agenda in Uganda” and that he prayed that was true. When pressed further, Lively responded, “I hope the nuclear bombs spread across the whole world against the gay movement!”
Phone messages left for Lively at his Family Law Center and e-mails sent to him at Abiding Truth Ministries were not returned.
The powerful American far-right Christian think tank, Institute on Religion and Democracy, is known for its abject opposition to gay rights. But when asked by BW about the Ugandan bill, IRD President Mark Tooley said, “No … I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to it, but it sounds extreme.”
Questioned why homosexuality was so much a part of IRD’s focus, Tooley replied, “Well, it would have been preferable if the orthodox side, 40 and 50 and 60 years ago and more, had fought battles over biblical authority and the identity of Jesus Christ rather than waiting around ’til the debate disintegrated down to sexual addicts ethics*. But that did not happen, so we’re stuck with the battles we’re stuck with.”
Tooley, who became IRD president in April 2009, has been the chief architect and director of the UMAction program since 1994. Prior to joining IRD, he spent eight years as an East Africa CIA analyst.
With Lively at the Kampala seminar was Don Schmierer, board member of the American ex-gay advocacy group Exodus International, which claims through Jesus Christ, homosexuals can become heterosexual.
According to New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman, Schmierer advocated rehabilitation of homosexuals but said he didn’t know that some Ugandans were contemplating the death penalty for homosexuality.
“I felt duped … That’s horrible, absolutely horrible,” Schmierer said. “Some of the nicest people I have ever met are gay people.”
Tensions Rise Between UltraConservative and Mainstream Churches
But the fight is not just on the ground in Africa. IRD and the American Anglican Council–a network of Christian renewal groups– are at odds with their mainline counterparts, specifically the American Episcopal, United Methodist and Presbyterian Churches.
An internal IRD document obtained by Kaoma, “Reforming America’s Churches Project 2001-2004,” calls for building direct connections with orthodox churches in Africa, pushing for the dismantling of the National Council of Churches and “[exposing] pro-homosexual bias of mainline church agencies.”
IRD’s campaign was so divisive, the April 2007 Desert Southwest Conference of the UMC enacted a resolution calling on United Methodists to consider withdrawing all support from IRD because of its efforts.
Although strife between conservative and progressive factions of the Anglican Communion began years earlier over issues like the role of women in the church, abortion and homosexuality, it reached a flash point in June 2003 when Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Shortly after, the American Episcopal Church began offering blessings for gay and lesbian couples.
This enraged conservative Anglicans. American Christian Right groups asserted to African leaders that Western homosexual activists, as part of the Western “gay agenda,” would be spreading homosexuality to Africa, posing a threat to their society.
As a way to build support, many conservative groups have looked to African religious leaders, encouraging them to cut ties with more progressive, mainstream churches.
In order to recruit key African religious leaders, Kaoma reported, “U.S. religious conservatives warn of the dangers of homosexuals and present themselves as the true representatives of U.S. evangelicalism.”
Financial funding plays a major role in cementing that support.
Kaoma said African religious leaders have “been in the forefront of severing relationships with mainline denominations or threatening to do so if denominations refuse to drop their social witness.”
An unnamed Kenyan professor told Kaoma, “American conservatives have been in my office several times requesting that we cut ties with [the Episcopal Church] and other progressive funders in exchange for their funds.”
Confirmed by the Uganda Church’s providential secretary Rev. Aaron Mwesigye, a retired bishop told Kaoma, “Americans send money to the archbishops office, who later distributes [it] to dioceses … contributing towards remuneration and salaries of the provincial staff since 1998 … American conservatives provide money to Africans not as donors, but as development partners in mission.”
U.S. Money Brings Power and Influence
Jeff Sharlet, author of the book The Family; The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, told BW that in the past several decades–especially during the Cold War–“Uganda has been essentially an American proxy. We’ve given them billions of dollars of aid … it is fair to say probably [President] Museveni wouldn’t be in power without The Family.”
Sharlet describes The Family as a secret religious society, “a 70-year-old movement of elite fundamentalism bent not on salvation for all but on the cultivation of the powerful, ‘key men’ chosen by God to direct the affairs of the nation.” The Family claims not to have a membership, but Sharlet asserts otherwise. In his book, he reveals a network of powerful business and political elites that include key members of Congress, most notably, anti-gay Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, who has deep connections in Uganda.
Sharlet broke news Jan. 7 on The Rachel Maddow Show revealing just how deep Inhofe is in The Family and Uganda. Sharlet has also written extensively on the issue in his soon-to-be-released book, C Street, an excerpt of which recently ran in Harper’s Magazine.
“I obtained a budget for The Family’s work in Africa identifying Inhofe as the designated point man selected to work with 11 African leaders, most of them presidents– including the President of Uganda, Museveni, President of Rwanda, Kagame–and to work with them to help set their nations on sort of a Jesus footing on every level from economy to morals to everything. There’s a budget. There’s money. There’s support staff. It’s a very formal effort that he’s undertaking.”
Core members of The Family in Uganda include author of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill David Bahati and Minister of Ethics and Integrity James Buturo.
In February 2007, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., put out the report, “Following the Money.” Author Jim Naughton laid out the complicated flow of millions from American conservative donors and foundations to African church coffers, facilitated by IRD and its affiliates.
“Millions of dollars contributed by a handful of donors have allowed a small network of theologically conservative individuals and organizations to mount a global campaign that has destabilized the Episcopal Church and may break up the Anglican Communion,” Naughton wrote.
His examination of tax records and donor statements revealed that funds originated from savings-and-loan heir Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation–which, according to Andrew J. Weaver of Talk 2 Action, has long-time ties to the radical-right John Birch Society–the Adolf Coors Foundation, the Smith-Richardson Trust, the Scaife Family Foundations and John M. Olin, all of which, Naughton said, “[have] frequently accounted for more than half of the operating budgets of the American Anglican Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy; both groups are major Christian Right players in Africa.”
After Robinson’s election as an openly gay bishop, the African independent news agency, Afrol, reported Ugandan Archbishop Mpalanyi-Nkoyoyo asking “Ugandans to reject gays and lesbians,” stating homosexuality and lesbianism was slowly taking root.
The Church of Uganda joined President Yoweri Museveni in asserting that homosexuality was a “foreign” or “non-African practice.” The Anglican Church of Uganda and the Episcopal Churches of Nigeria and Rwanda severed ties with the American Episcopal Church. When Robinson was officially consecrated in November 2003, the Church of Tanzania also severed ties, and the Kenyan church refused to recognize Robinson.
Cultural Differences, History Come Into Play
But the influence of African churches goes beyond money to core cultural differences, including how Americans and Africans interpret the terms “family values” and “evangelical,” words regularly brandished by the U.S. Christian right in Africa.
In America, “family values” is often synonymous with anything conforming to the 1950s version of the ideal family.
In Africa, Kaoma said, “‘family’ expresses the idea that to be human is to be embedded in community, a concept called ‘ubuntu.'”
In a 2009 interview with U.S. Catholic, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “‘Ubuntu’ is the African view that a person is a person through other persons. My humanity is caught up in your humanity, and when your humanity is enhanced, whether I like it or not, mine is enhanced as well. Likewise, when you are dehumanized, inexorably, I am dehumanized as well.”
Tutu added that African society has a “deep yearning” for “communal peace and harmony” and what is best for the “greatest good.”
For Bahati and his supporters, the bill has become the remedy to eradicate homosexuality, which is portrayed as harmful and destructive to African society
While in the United States “evangelical” is understood as being both religiously and politically conservative, Africans have traditionally been theologically conservative but have largely remained socially progressive on social welfare and economic justice issues.
Kaoma pointed out Africans don’t make the distinction between progressive and conservative churches, and therefore American Christians who identify as “evangelical” are automatically granted religious credibility.
The impact of Christian missionaries and British colonial rule has had a profound effect on the African psyche over time. Kenyan journalist Edwin Okong’o summed this up in his op-ed, “Why Ugandans Embrace U.S. Christian Right’s Anti-Gay Agenda.”
“There is a joke among Africans about how colonialism began,” Okong’o wrote. “A Christian missionary came with a Bible in hand, told our ancestors to bow their heads in prayer, and when they opened their eyes their land was gone. Today, the same can be said about African constitutions.”
This demonstrates the legacy of African resistance to the “foreign influence” of Western culture and how well-documented, peer-reviewed Western science on sexual orientation and gender identity can be flatly disregarded.
Okong’o offers a provocative explanation for why Africans accept anti-gay rhetoric. “Africans take such filth without questions because they suffer from a severe case of inferiority complex. Even worse, they staunchly believe in the supremacy of the white man … Adding ill-informed Christians places the white man below the holy trinity, a belief with roots in the colonial era.”
According to Kaoma, IRD and other renewal movements attacked mainline churches for their fight against apartheid in South Africa and the subsequent building of schools and hospitals.
“Despite such attacks, U.S. mainline churches enjoyed warm relations until recently when conservatives used these churches’ social witness on LGBT issues to encourage African churches to reject their aid,” Kaoma wrote to BW. “It is one of the renewal movement’s key tactics to use a variety of wedge issues, such as accusations that mainline churches support homosexuality or terrorism, to separate African churches from their international partnerships and to realign them with conservative replacements.
“IRD and other U.S. conservatives present mainline denominations’ commitments to human rights as imperialistic attempts to manipulate Africans into accepting homosexuality, which they characterize as a purely Western phenomenon,” Kaoma wrote.
“This campaign is part of a long-term deliberate and successful strategy to weaken and split U.S. mainline denominations, block their powerful progressive social witness promoting social and economic justice, and promote political and social conservatism in the United States. Using African leaders as a wedge in U.S. conflicts is only its latest and perhaps most effective tactic,” Kaoma continued.
IRD and other conservative groups don’t apologize for their stance against homosexuality.
Heralding earlier successes in combating Marxism and radical feminist theology, former IRD President Jim Tonkowich admits his organization is “deeply engaged on issues of homosexuality” and “beginning a project to research how the action of the Episcopal Church promoting homosexuality is negatively impacting Christians in Africa.”
Since IRD and others present themselves as experts on homosexuality and the “gay agenda,” they are regularly sought out.
In renewal scholar Miranda K. Hassett’s book Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism, Hassett describes a 1999 Kampala “secret meeting to consider the fate of the Episcopal Church,” where AAC associate, Rev. Geoff Chapman, requested from high-ranking African bishops “a new jurisdiction on American soil, under temporary oversight of an overseas province” in Africa.
After Robinson’s consecration, angry conservative churches looked to move out from under U.S. regional church jurisdictions. Many sought to be placed under African churches instead.
Rev. Eric Dudley of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Tallahassee, Fla., was featured in a July 2008 PBS episode of Religion and Ethics News Weekly. Dudley was rector at the St. John’s Episcopal Church for 10 years, but became increasingly upset about the liberal theological direction the national denomination was heading in, particularly on gay issues.
In 2005, Dudley left the Episcopal Church and started a new congregation, St. Peter’s, placing it under the authority of the Anglican Church of Uganda, where St. Peter’s American bishop, John Guernsey, was consecrated. Today several U.S. conservative churches operate under the Churches of Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria.
Political Connections in Africa Run Deep
Connections between American conservative Christian groups and African leaders expand beyond the confines of the church. Following the trail in the labyrinth of associations, well-known names occasionally turn up, like Rick Warren, pastor of the Southern California Saddleback mega church and author of the book Purpose Driven Life.
Warren has been a high-profile supporter of California’s Yes on Prop 8, and according to Kaoma, Warren established “particularly influential” partnerships with Anglican churches in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. In mid-2005, Warren met with Rwandan cabinet ministers, governors, clergy and entrepreneurs. “One dinner was attended by one-third of the Parliament,” Kaoma said.
During Warren’s many East African trips promoting his “purpose-driven nations,” a 2005 project started with Rwanda, Warren established relationships with many powerful anti-gay African religious leaders like archbishops Henry Orombi of the Church of Uganda, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, Peter Akinola of Nigeria and Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya.
Warren’s closest ally in Uganda was Rev. Martin Ssempa, one of the most outspoken anti-gay extremists in the country. Ssempa is best known for staging condom burnings for Jesus, publishing gay-hunting guides in Uganda newspapers that listed activists’ names, addresses and photos, showing gay pornography in churches and staging mass protests in several areas of the country where marchers chant “Arrest all Homos” and “Kill the Gays.”
Warren and Ssempa’s relationship is well documented by thedailybeast.com’s Max Blumenthal in his Jan. 7, 2009, piece, “Rick Warren’s African Problem.” Blumenthal refers to Ssempa as “Warren’s man in Uganda” and characterizes the relationship as having “almost grown familial.”
Blumenthal also said Ssempa “enjoyed close ties with Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni” and was “a favorite in the Bush White House.”
But after two months of silence on the Anti-Homosexuality bill, Warren issued a statement on Dec. 10, 2009, repudiating the bill and enraging Ssempa.
Ssempa publicly responded to Warren, “Your letter has caused great distress and the pastors are demanding that you issue a formal apology for insulting the people of Africa by your very inappropriate bully use of your church and purpose-driven pulpits to coerce us into the evil of Sodomy and Gaymorrah.”
But Kaoma asked, “Ugandans are demanding an apology from Warren, the question is why are they demanding an apology?
“Warren misrepresented what he said in Uganda, and [it] is very different from what he is saying now.”
Kenneth W. Starr, former dean of law at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., is famous for championing conservative causes, like during his role as special prosecutor in the Clinton/Lewinsky investigations. In March 2009, representing Protect Marriage, a Christian conservative nonprofit, Starr argued the validity of Proposition 8 before the California Supreme Court.
BW left several messages for Starr at his office at Pepperdine, but neither calls nor e-mails were returned.
Starr is a long-time board member of Advocates International Inc., a group of conservative nonprofit Christian lawyers whose vision is to create “a worldwide fellowship of advocates bearing witness of Jesus Christ through the legal profession.” AI links Christian lawyers across the globe, placing special emphasis on Africa.
Starr’s associations as Pepperdine’s dean of law includes one with the Ugandan Christian University, which is owned by the Church of Uganda. Although Archbishop Orombi is the “chancellor,” the man who ran the show was Vice Chancellor, Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll, who after 10 years retired in August and returned home to Pittsburgh.
UCU is proud of its relationship with Starr. “Renowned American lawyer, Kenneth Starr, has praised the context in which Uganda Christian University provides education, saying it offers complete guidance for human behavior,” states a UCU story.
Pepperdine’s fall 2009 issue of Law Magazine reported that during Starr’s last trip to Uganda, “Together with members of the Ugandan judiciary, Dean Starr signed a memorandum of understanding, a document that made official Pepperdine’s clerkship program with the Ugandan judiciary. Starr committed Pepperdine would work collaboratively with the Ugandan judiciary to develop academic and legal reform measures.”
Many are troubled by the mix of Starr’s ideology and his power and influence within the Uganda judiciary, AI’s Ugandan Christian Lawyers Fellowship and the students and educators at UCU he rubs elbows with.
Starr left Pepperdine in June to become president of Baylor University, the largest Baptist educational institution in the world.
Now retired, Noll was with Uganda Christian University from 2000 until 2010. He is still active in AAC with close ties to major players of the U.S. renewal movement. When Noll spoke to BW, he didn’t directly answer questions about his position on the bill.
“[The bill] has been one of those matters where I don’t think, on the whole, the Ugandan leadership is particularly open to advice from people overseas … I have not been directly involved in much of that affair.”
Noll went on to talk about several aspects of the legislation. “[Ugandans] look out at the rest of the world and the Western world, and they see all of this promotion of the homosexual agenda and legislation that makes homosexuality a virtual right, they are afraid that will come to Uganda.”
Kaoma said about one-quarter of the UCU’s funding comes from the American nonprofit Uganda Partners. Noll disputes that, saying 95 percent of his $10 million operating budget comes from student fees. Tax records show Uganda Partners gave UCU about $6.2 million between 2002 and 2008; of that amount, $2 million came from the U.S. Agency for International Development between 2005 and 2008.
On Jan. 21, in Washington, D.C., before the nonpartisan Lantos Human Rights Commission, Kaoma testified at a hearing on the Ugandan bill that, “We need to review U.S. aid policies to avoid supporting African institutions like Uganda Christian University that diminish human rights.”
Kaoma told BW: “The basis of that statement is that the University discriminates against unmarried persons, only employs persons who are married under ‘Christian marriage,’ discriminates against sexual minorities and hinders religious freedom by forcing students and the staff to accept, believe and sign conservative creeds.”
Students, faculty and staff are required to uphold UCU’s “Rules of Life, faith and prayer,” which include “We shall shun all sexual immorality, polygamy, adultery, fornication and homosexual practice … Jesus Christ is Lord and has received all authority in heaven and Earth … Old and New Testaments, is God’s Word written … We expect all full-time staff members to affirm this rule without reservation. We encourage other staff and students to agree with this rule and expect them to refrain from denying it.”
“How do you expect a Muslim to refrain from denying the rule of life, prayer and faith? If homosexuality is a sin, how can you accept students who identify as homosexuals?” Kaoma asked.
Fear Permeates Daily Life for Gays in Uganda
But the broader, society-wide impacts for gay Ugandans are more daunting.
“What is being overlooked here is the idea of genocide,” Sharlet told BW. “It’s simmering below the surface. Genocide in Uganda is very much a reality for them, they think about it, they worry about it … It’s within their memory.”
If genocide were to take place in Uganda, Sharlet believes it will be anti-gay but not necessarily targeted strictly at homosexuals. He suggests it will be used for achieving other political ends.
Sharlet tells a story, confirmed by news reports, about how churches in Uganda are fighting each other, competing for American funding. Allegations of homosexual rape have been levied against prominent pastors in order to discredit and eliminate the competition. Last year several pastors, including Ssempa, accused Pastor Robert Kayanja–Uganda’s equivalent to Rev. Billy Graham–of sodomizing several young boys. Kayanja was ultimately cleared when his accusers retracted their statements, but not until after a media frenzy. Police shifted the investigation toward the accusers for making false statements to police amidst allegations Ssempa and the others had paid the boys to accuse Kayanja. The status of the investigation is not clear.
When pastors from America come to Uganda, Sharlet said there is “big money to be made.” Competition is fierce to attract American pastors to come to their church or revivals. Often providing huge offerings, Ugandan pastors gain access to the money-making American Christian speaking circuit.
In the case of Kayanja, he was targeted “because he’s got all the money,” said Sharlet. “So what’s the best way to stop him? You say that he’s gay. So they hire a bunch of guys to say Kayanja raped me … What you need is a category, you need them to be Jews, you need them to be Tutsis.” Right now in Uganda, it’s homosexuals.
Sharlet laid out a potential scenario in which homosexuality may be used as a political tool for genocide. Like Saddam Hussein did in Iraq, Museveni has kept the peace between various ethnic groups that do not like each other. If Museveni were to die, ethnic conflict is likely to break out. For example, Sharlet suggests that if a particular tribe is said to be tolerant of homosexuals, the tribe could be wiped out in the name of protecting society.
Pressure by the Obama administration has been helpful in trying to stop the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Along with several countries threatening to withhold aid, allafrican.com reported in January that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a 45-minute conversation with Museveni about the bill. In February, a bipartisan resolution was introduced into the U.S. Senate condemning the bill and calling for the Uganda Parliament to reject it. In March, two diplomats from the U.S. Bureau of African Affairs met with gay-rights leaders in Uganda at the American embassy in Kampala. As of May, a Uganda government cabinet committee recommended withdrawing the bill.
Still, the fear is very real.
“I cannot stand by and watch as my community is being exterminated,” declared Unitarian minister Pastor Mark Kiyimba. “[Nelson] Mandela identified South Africa as a vulnerable nation because there are so many different people, and now all of them live side by side. That is what I would like to see in Uganda.”
Whether the bill passes, is watered down, or is stopped, many believe the damage has been done. Long after the Americans that stoked this fire are gone, Peter Yiga and his friends will still endure the day-to-day fear that at any moment, their government or an angry mob will come for them.
Yiga said he has been getting more threats.
“I got lots of threatening sms [text messages] and calls threatening to kill us one by one if Museveni isn’t ready to wipe us out of Uganda,” he said. “Most of them are saying [that] if Museveni has coiled back by allowing us to be free. When someone tells you how you were dressed and what you did and what taxi you took to town, you realize how close they are. Sincerely, I don’t know what can befall us any time.”