Opinion Piece

Honestly, why should we be bothered by your personal sanctions? – Bana Mwesige

From time immemorial, homosexuals have been blamed for a myriad of things, both in Uganda and worldwide. The conspiracy is usually such that they are powerful enough to cause everything like floods, earthquakes and natural disasters. They are influential enough to cause changes in the whole government’s policies, create sanctions and play with the purse strings of entire nations. These conspiracies, like many others before them, come with a cognitive dissonance. Because whilehomosexuals are purpotedly “powerful” like this, these same homosexuals are also very weak and can be targeted, murdered and legislated against.

For anyone who knows their history, this is pretty much the same playbook antisemites have used for ages. Simultaneously creating fear and hatred of Jews by claiming they are all powerful and cunning while at the same time raining violence, targeted legislation, discrimination and murder onto them.

Which brings me to the Uganda of today, particularly last week. It’s no secret that LGBTQ Ugandans have been used as scapegoats by politicians and religious folk for years. But this last week took a somewhat hilarious and frankly ridiculous turn.

My first interaction with the news that Uganda’s speaker and two other ministers had been sanctioned by the UK government over corruption was actually through the response letter from the Ugandan Parliament spokesperson. I kid you not, I didn’t read much of the letter but knew immediately they would invoke the Anti Homosexuality Act. I skimmed through and there it was. It’s honestly becoming predictable at this point.

There were a lot of talking heads during the time around the passage of the Anti Homosexuality Act saying that the law was going to be used as a political tool. But I never thought once that it would reach this level of hysteria.

For starters, the claim that the speaker and ministers are being targeted because of their stance on the bill is without merit. The UK government does not need to “hide” behind apparent corruption to impose sanctions on government officials. In fact, their position on the Anti-Homosexuality Act is well-documented and clear. They do not need the pretext of corruption to sanction specific individuals. In fact, The speaker has previously been sanctioned in several forms because of the law.

Secondly, the speaker and her counterparts, while very vocal on the law, are hardly the only ones actively putting the lives of LGBT persons in Uganda at risk. In fact, you could argue that there are even “worse” perpetrators.

I could go on and on about the ridiculous nature of the Parliament’s position on these sanctions but the people most at risk, LGBT Ugandans happen to be the proverbial grass on which these giant elephants are fighting. While the Speaker and her cronies blame the somehow all-powerful homosexuals and “bum shafters” for every single problem in their lives (they will soon be blamed for the traffic on Kampala’s roads or the speaker having a bad hair day), LGBT Ugandans are still being harassed, doxxed, murdered, arrested and evicted because of the bad law they orchestrated.

This does not mean that sanctions are ineffective. As with my previous piece on the World Bank financing halt, I believe foreign governments have the right to decide who can work, do business, or travel to their countries, whether they are anti-gay or not. Despite all the rhetoric about pan-Africanism and neocolonialism, sanctions do work. They are an effective instrument for sending a message not only to those who pass hateful legislation, but also to their supporters. They convey a statement about a country’s ideals and what it is willing to do to uphold those principles.

In that vein, I’d like to conclude with an interesting viewpoint I saw on Twitter/X: “Instead of chest thumping and sending letters on sovereignty, the Ugandan government could collectively sanction UK leaders they think are too gay.”
That will definitely send a message to them.

Note: I don’t have time today to go into the power dynamics between the two countries or the convoluted legacy of colonialism, but sanctions are enforced because they work.