Uganda – Museveni intensifies control

Yoweri Museveni was sworn in for a fourth term as President of Uganda, in an official ceremony in front of invited heads of state including Robert Mugabe. But despite being credited with 68% of the popular vote, or because of that unfeasibly high figure, his Presidency remains contested. While a 21-gun salute fired out to greet the ‘new’ president, elsewhere in the city teargas, water-cannon and heavy sticks were used on opponents.

 

The main opposition leader, Kizza Bessigye, was arrested a fortnight ago in spectacular and very public circumstances (police using a hammer to smash through a side window of the vehicle he was travelling in, then using pepper-spray to blind him to facilitate his arrest). After receiving treatment in Nairobi for his injuries, he has returned to Kampala and a popular welcome.

 

Opposition to Museveni has bee growing increasingly urgent, and retaliation has increased in proportion. We should not be surprised then, that the Anti-homosexuality Bill and the similarly draconian HIV Control Bill should both be revived now. Both seek to control the population through a juridical response to biological factors and both enlist the wider population in a policing role worthy of Foucault’s panopticism; clauses in the Anti-homosexuality Bill make it a crime not to inform the authorities that a person is gay or lesbian.

 

Both of these Bills play on public ignorance and prejudices, in particular the homophobia that has been whipped up by visiting American evangelical Christian conservatives and Uganda pastors, and both (but particularly the anti-gay Bill) have been vigorously opposed outside Uganda by foreign governments, civil society and LGBT members of the African Diaspora. It is because of this foreign opposition that the Bill has been put on hold for over a year; it appears that domestic strife and opposition to Museveni, perhaps in the light of current popular movements in several Arab states, may be the reason for its revival.

 

How successful its revival may be is hard to quantify – Warren Throckmorton comments that it may have stalled ‘on a technicality’. Essentially, in the febrile atmosphere that is Kampala right now, we do not know the fate of these two Bills; all we can say with certainty is what the state of each is at any given moment.

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