An article by Bana Mwesige, Programs Manager Lifeline Empowerment Center.
Over a decade has passed since this narrative began playing out in the dusty streets of Kampala. Money, deceit, the police, the Ugandan government, and LGBTQ people are all involved. It speaks of the many lives that have been turned upside down; the scandals and embarrassments; the loss of jobs and livelihoods; and the betrayal of family and friends. This is the account of the ex-gay movement in Uganda and the numerous lives it destroyed in its wake (from my point of view).
My earliest memory of the “gay sin,” which I had while growing up in church circles, came exactly one year after the Ugandan parliament’s introduction of the Anti Homosexuality Bill. A group of pastors, Michael Kyazze, Martin Ssempa, and Solomon Male (who would later go on to be instrumental in the shaping and promotion of the Anti-Homosexuality Act) claimed that their fellow pastor, Robert Kayanja, was involved in “homosexual acts”, some of which were not consensual.
However, numerous accusers retracted their testimony, said they had made a mistake, and claimed they had been bribed to make up their stories before the case even went to trial. The saga dragged on for a few years, with counter accusations, payouts, and a defamation case which Kayanja promptly won. Fast forward Seven years later, the one holdout among the accusers “confesses” to having been paid a hefty sum in order to accuse the pastor of these acts. The Kayanja case drew the Ugandan public’s attention to the issue of homosexuality and the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which by this point was not well understood by the masses. However, this case taught anti-gay campaigners principles that they would utilize, with varied degrees of success in later years. One, they had to employ real gay people or former gay people for their message and actions to stick. The second requirement was that they had to completely fund their actions and make payments to the “victim” of their choice. Last but not least, they required a backup plan in case things did not go as expected.
One of the first ex-gay Ugandans to come out of the woodwork was George Oundo (alias Georgina), claiming to be a former transgender woman. George did receive considerable attention and promotion from anti gay activists who ended up giving him financing for a book. George’s angle was twisting and conflating the provision of HIV services to queer people as some sort of “homosexual recruitment. “However, while the success was quite blinding for George, it would only be momentary as the anti-gay movement would move on to the next victim a few short years later.
Everyone was taken aback when Val Kalende, one of the first LGBTQ activists in Uganda, made the decision to come out and oppose the gay rights movement. Nonetheless, in a narcissistic twist, that did not stop her from participating in a one-hour “confession” at a nearby Kampala church, writing for numerous local and international publications, and appearing as a guest on Tuwaye, NTV’s top Luganda talk show (more on this later). All this came with some financial gain, but while the ex-gay movement and their supporters did not directly facilitate Kalende, the talking points seemed to be picked from the same book. For those who claim that the LGBT movement has a lot of money, they sure have a lot more to give out to those who denounce it. In fact, one could claim that it’s more profitable to be ex-gay than gay. Oooh, and Kalende’s story did not end there. She came out recently in an article apologising for the harm she caused and claiming she was misled. Remember that church confession she made? The pastor there is not so keen anymore on having ex-gay people at his church.
Earlier this year, Stephen Langa (an anti gay activist who was instrumental in crafting the Anti homosexuality Act) decided to recruit someone new into his ex-gay ranks; a one Mukisa Elisha.
Mukisa, unlike George or Kalende, did not have that much significance within the LGBTQ community in Uganda. An ex-convict and former asylum seeker, his life journey has mostly been that of an opportunist and rubble rouser. For starters, he has been linked to blackmail and extortion schemes, outings of LGBTQ people, and numerous claims of sexual assault. But all this did not move Langa, who needed a face for the next phase of his vendetta against the LGBT movement in Uganda.
Langa did employ Mukisa to submit a citizen complaint (that was filled with demonstrable falsehoods) to the Uganda NGO Bureau, which ultimately resulted in the closure of SMUG. Mukisa is still being used by Langa as an anti-gay voice to oppose the planned SRHR bill for the East African Community (that has protections for women seeking abortions and basic protections for LGBTQ people).
While Mukisa is the new face of the ex-gay movement, the liars and grifters behind him are the same as with all the ex-gays that have come before him. Oh, and here’s a fun fact: Langa did not raise an eyebrow when Mukisa, in a desperate cry for attention, posted some nudity and pornography of himself on Twitter the day before giving a press conference about the dangers of the SRHR law. His Twitter page has since been suspended.
There is a sort of understanding among media houses in Uganda to not broadcast content/ information, whether positive or negative, about the LGBT community. But weirdly, when it comes to the ex-gay movement, it’s a free for all. Case in point NTV Uganda One of the most trusted independent news sources. That Tuwaye interview with Val, with the presenter (who claims to be an impartial and trusted journalist) goading her on with no fact checks whatsoever. Remember the George Oundo claims about recruitment? It was also broadcast on NTV with no disclaimer or fact check. As for Stephen Langa; he was hosted countless times on NTV shows like MEN, GXP etc to share his unique brand of misogyny with no pushback. Martin Ssempa; also hosted on NTV for various shows. One that sticks with me to this day was a Morning at NTV segment where Martin and Solomon Male were in a contentious argument on whether gay people should be either murdered or left to rot in jail till they die.
They’ll argue that opinion shows are distinct from news programs. Although they will claim that we have disclaimers at the end of each program, Ugandans are unable to distinguish between them. Families, relationships, and livelihoods are destroyed for ratings. These stories often make LGBTQ individuals the focus of attack and violence.
Not to pick on NTV , but this segment could be about any other TV station in Uganda. The media needs to do better.
Does Hillary Ayesiga (who did the NTV story on George Oundo) know where Oundo is right now? Where is that Tuwaye follow-up interview with Kalende on her re-transformation? Where those tough questions by UBC on Mukisa are’s messy past? Who is asking Langa to verify his protégé’s claims about gay porn? Anyone? UBC? NBS? Ooh, and next time NTV hosts Langa on GXP, can they ask him what he thinks about Mukisa’s naked buttocks trending on Twitter? To go even further back, despite losing the defamation suit against Kayanja, NBS and NTV have been fine with shamelessly having a discredited Ssempa to talk about everything else apart from the fact that he paid off people to spread sensational stories.
I think it’s safe to say that, with the help of Uganda’s media, the ex-gay movement is not going anywhere anytime soon. I also think, in my opinion that it is currently the biggest and most existential threat to the human rights and freedoms of LGBTQ people in Uganda.
But regardless, we move!