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Column Uganda’s anti-gay law… what can you do?

The bloated Ugandan political class and their evangelical puppet masters respond to one thing only: money. If they see aid being withdrawn from their country, they might repeal this horrendous law, writes Paul O’Keeffe.

FRIDAY 20th OF DECEMBER felt more like a 13th for many Ugandans. The country has finally passed its notorious anti-gay bill. The bill makes it a crime to be gay, to ‘promote homosexuality’ and not to report someone who is gay to the authorities. So far so very 1930s Germany . After years of fear instilling promises to codify the death penalty for being gay, the evangelical Christian backed, state sponsored holocaust has been somewhat tempered down to a severe jail sentence of up to 18 years. This giant step backwards for Uganda is a giant step backwards for all of humankind.

David Behati, the Member of Parliament who first proposed the private members’ bill, may not have had his blood lust satiated but the passed bill is still one of the most anti-human laws in the world. Prime Minister Amama Mbabzi opposed the bill and as yet president Museveni has not yet ratified it. The death knell is yet to toll. The only hope for Uganda’s gay, lesbian, transgender and queer communities, as well as their families and friends, is a massive outcry from the rest of the world.

What can we do? The threat of withholding development aid is one of the most powerful tools that we have at our disposals. For all the problems international development aid agencies are plagued with they do sometimes get it right. Sometimes they even do what’s right. I urge everyone to write to our government and demand that all aid to Uganda is suspended if president Museveni signs this bill into place.

Human rights are universal

It is unconscionable that such an abhorrent sentence be imposed on anyone who dares to be themselves and dares to love who they want to love. Ethnocentric worries about imposing Western moral belief systems fall out the window when human rights come into play. Respect for humanity is not the sole preserve of Western minds. Gay rights are human rights. Human rights are universal.

To those who say that withholding aid from Uganda will only punish those who need it most, I do see your reasoning but I believe it is flawed. It is true that those who need aid most in Uganda are not served sufficiently by their government. There are millions of people in Uganda dependent on international development through no fault of their own. The West owes a huge debt to the Ugandan people for years of colonial and post-colonial exploitation. Their extreme poverty has its roots in our historical and present day lust for Africa’s wealth. This needs to be addressed, acknowledged and rectified – but sacrificing and ignoring the rights of LGBTQ Ugandans, their families, friends and communities is not the way to go about it.

The bloated Ugandan political class and their evangelical puppet masters respond to one thing and one thing only: money. If they see aid being withdrawn from their country they just might decide that this divide and conquer strategy is not the best way to line their bank accounts. The threat of ceasing aid from the United States and the United Kingdom has worked in the past to delay the bill until now. Ireland currently doesn’t send aid directly to the government, due to misappropriation of funds in the past, but we do support other aid programmes in the country. Sadly it would seem that the best hand to play is the threat of withholding all aid until the Ugandan president is forced to shoot down this most abhorrent law.

Time is running out for Uganda’s LGBTQ communities and their families and friends. Until it does there is a still a little hope left. Please take a moment to stand up for the rights of the millions of people whose lives will be destroyed if president Museveni does toll the death knell. Write to your TD, your senators, Irish Aid, our president. If you care about human rights then write to whomever you think might have a little influence and tell them what you think. Just maybe they will do what’s right if enough of us implore them to.

Paul O’Keeffe is a Research Fellow at La Sapienza University of Rome. He specialises in international development through education with a focus on Ethiopian university development. Previously he has worked with Burmese exiles and human rights activists in Asia and as a Sociology lecturer in Prague and Dublin. He occasionally writes for and

A version of the article originally appeared on

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