Uganda’s government on Tuesday defended its decision to push through tough anti-homosexuality laws, saying it was determined to protect the country’s “morals” even if that meant losing international aid.
The comments came after President Yoweri Museveni announced he would sign into law a controversial bill that will see homosexuals jailed for life, despite warnings from key allies including the United States.
Officials also announced that Museveni had last week signed into law anti-pornography and dress code legislation which outlaws “provocative” clothing, bans scantily-clad performers from Ugandan television and closely monitors what individuals watch on the Internet.
“We shall not care losing the financial support from our partners if only we are left alone,” Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo told reporters, saying Ugandans would rather “die poor than live in an immoral nation”.
“For donors to say they will not give us aid because of the anti-homosexuality bill and the anti-porno law, that is blackmail and unacceptable, they can rather stay with their aid,” he said.
“If tomorrow, the president signs the anti-homosexuality bill and the outside world say they are not coming to Uganda, let them remain there, we dont care.”
The anti-gay bill cruised through parliament in December after its architects agreed to drop an extremely controversial death penalty clause.
However the legislation still stipulates that repeat homosexuals should be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires people to denounce gays.
Museveni, a key African ally of the United States and the European Union, has already come under fire from key Western donors over alleged rampant corruption, and had been under pressure from diplomats and rights groups to block the legislation.
Last month a spokesman for Museveni said the president believed that gays were “sick” and “abnormal”, but felt that sending them to prison was not the right solution.
– People ‘should dress decently’ –
But another presidential spokesman said Monday that Muzeveni had decided to support the bill after seeking advice from a team of domestic scientists who were asked to “study homosexuality and genetics in human beings”.
The spokesman said the scientists concluded that “there is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality”, meaning that “homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behaviour” that needed to be banned.
On the anti-pornography law, Lokodo said the aim was to “curb pornographic practices”.
“It will change a lot. It’s is going to curb media houses, broadcasting corporations, from being obscene and indecent,” he said.
“We shall go to the common understanding of decency and we know everybody knows what is decent. The police, a special anti-pornography enforcement team, will enforce it,” he said.
“What it is saying is that one should dress decently. In any public environment, are you in the market, are you in the street, are you on the podium?”
On Sunday, US President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” in the Ugandan leader’s plans to move forward with the anti-gay bill and said it would complicate relations between Washington and Kampala.
“We believe that people everywhere should be treated equally, with dignity and respect, and that they should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, no matter who they are or whom they love,” Obama said in a statement.
Homophobia is widespread in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is on the rise. Gay men and women in the country face frequent harassment and threats of violence, and rights activists have reported cases of lesbians being subjected to “corrective” rapes.
In 2011, prominent Ugandan gay rights campaigner David Kato was bludgeoned to death at his home after a newspaper splashed photos, names and addresses of gays in Uganda on its front page along with a yellow banner reading “Hang Them”.