Homosexuality in Uganda
A banana and fresh mango juice was a relief after such a below per meal. Food is like medicine. A great meal usually equates to a great prescription in the medicine world. A bad one on the other hand is as good as a failed prescription.
My Monday afternoon could thus be anything but slow. I sat back at my cubicle trying to look for inspiration from the different social media platforms. Kenya for example was trending on twitter with the hashtag #Primitiveenergy (derogatory line in an online Korea Air advert, announcing their entry in the Kenyan aviation market)
But before I would scroll through all the #Primitiveenergy tweets, a call came from a colleague at 1400hrs.
“Edward, where are you?” In town (Kampala) I responded. “Please find your way to Najjera (Kampala Suburb) now. A source has just called me claiming an LGBT ( Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) meeting at Esella Hotel is about to be stormed by police.”
In a flash, I was on a boda boda (Motor Cycle) to Najjera, some 8.6km north of Kampala, Uganda’s capital from my location. On arrival, it was extremely calm, quite the opposite of my expectation.
There were already a couple of journalists waiting for the police to arrive. Meanwhile, the LGBT participants who were having a workshop on human rights had just finished lunch and were preparing for an afternoon session.
“As far as I am concerned, we are continuing with our workshop. I’ve not heard anything like that (Police coming to stop the meeting). Besides the constitution provides for freedom of expression and assembly. We are law abiding citizens simply having a workshop on human rights,” One gay participant said on the way back to the conference hall
It was now 1530hrs and still no sign of police except a couple of plain clothed men we suspected to be from the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) department of police who were clearly trying to playing proxy to the whole situation.
With my colleague, we made a call to The Right Reverend Father Simon Lokodo ,Uganda’s State Minister for Ethics & Integrity. “I am not able to come over there personally because am going for a caucus meeting but I have dispatched my men (Police) who will be there shortly.”
Lokodo recently made world headlines when he stormed and stopped an LGBT meeting in Entebbe claiming the participants were planning violence.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and is punishable under the Penal Code by life sentence. On the African continent, it’s considered a taboo, evident in its illegally in 37 countries on the African continent, including Uganda.
Since 2009 a controversial bill has been before parliament that would impose the death penalty for certain homosexual acts.
We (journalists) were getting a little frustrated. The LGBT participants were also beginning to worry about a potential police arrest. Some indeed started leaving the venue.
Amidst our frustration, a big number of journalists who had spent a whole day at Esella Hotel decided to depart the venue for the newsroom. I hang in there for a few more minutes with my colleague.
On realization of the police’s presence, nearly all the remaining LGBT’s who were still within the hotel premises jumped over the fence in fear and took off. The workshop was comprised of 70 participants.
A handful of Policemen entered the hotel premises and arrested three human rights officials.They were put inside a waiting police bus that arrived a few minutes later.
One of them was a Canadian national, Blazevic Neil (@neilblazevic), a Research Officer at East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project. Another was Njoroge Njenga,a Kenyan human rights activist plus a third unknown Kenyan woman.
After spending close to an hour in holding as Police searched the hotel rooms, the three were peacefully released before being asked to write statements with the police.
The question of LGBT rights in Uganda remains a very sensitive topic. Many journalists have shied away from covering LGBT events for fear of being judged by those around them. Whether for the right or wrong reasons, LGBT activists continue to fight for indentify in a society where culture supersedes anything else.