Uganda has not enjoyed an easy independence. Following a hurried British exit in 1962, the country suffered under the vicious regime of Idi Amin, whose berserk dictates and rulings terrorized a population already beaten by economic and political failure. Uganda remains so poor and broken that today 31 percent of its population is below the poverty line and its gross domestic product per capita is a paltry $460. As a result of the brutality of the Lord’s Resistance Army, 1.8 million Ugandans lived in internally displaced persons camps until 2006. At 75 percent, the literacy rate is too low. Neighboring Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania face similar difficulties. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi to the west are disasters. Yet things are changing. Georgetown graduate Aimee Mullins (SFS ’98) spoke at the Class of 2010 commencement about her work in Uganda, where the city of Kampala has become more of a home than Geneva or New York.
Uganda re-entered British consciousness two years ago when Uganda’s parliament considered a bill to ratchet up the punishment for homosexuality from imprisonment for 18 years to the death penalty. Amazingly, in the 21st century, David Bahati, a member of the Ugandan Parliament, happily signed his name to the document and the anti-homosexuality bill quickly dominated headlines. After furious international condemnation, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni decided to form a committee investigating the bill. The original laws are vestiges of absurd colonial British laws, which also wreak havoc in India and across sub-Saharan Africa. They are incredibly antiquated — Britain itself long abandoned such vile policies.
These laws survive in Africa today and even attract American evangelicals to their cause. Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer all journeyed to Kampala and presided over sessions regarding the ‘gay agenda.’ Thought to be a world system itself, akin to communism but less atheist, the gay agenda that these Ugandans and Americans suspect includes some sort of world domination through recruitment.
In October, Giles Muhame, editor of Rolling Stone — a prominent Ugandan daily not to be confused with the American magazine — commissioned a feature in his paper that brandished the names of 100 top homosexuals in Uganda, including Sexual Minorities Uganda’s David Kato and Julian Pepe. Kato and Pepe have said that the people on that list now live in total fear and attacks are increasing. Most jarring about the paper’s actions was the choice of headline: “Hang Them.” The international response was overwhelming — from AIDS campaigners to the Roman Catholic Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury, a plethora of governments and various development organizations engaged in a full-throated assault on the proposed law.
Kato faced death everyday. Targeting him — the leading gay rights activist in Uganda — was easy, and Muhame’s choice to call for his hanging was a calculated and cold-blooded death sentence. Kato’s death at the end of January was tragically unsurprising. The brutality of his death — his skull was smashed in with a hammer — showed the same vile brutishness as Muhame’s call to murder. With James Buturo, the Ugandan minister of state for ethics and integrity, having declared that “homosexuals can forget about human rights,” the situation is dire and it is only a matter of time until more school teachers like Kato die.
This Valentine’s Day it would indeed be heartening if our great Jesuit university took it upon itself to condemn this chilling murder. Uganda’s 43 percent Roman Catholic population may even take notice. Love takes many forms. Kato died because his idea of love was different, but his love was just as fundamentally human as yours and mine. His death is a humiliation to absolutely all of us.
Udayan Tripathi is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at [email protected] The Internationalist appears every other Monday.
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