SCHOLL: Battleground: Uganda

June 27, 2014 

I found Uganda to be a beautiful country when I was there a couple summers ago. Winston Churchhill called Uganda the “pearl of Africa.” Indeed, it is. Outside the capital city of Kampala, the vast numbers of wild African animals run freely. As we reached a hilltop, we were overwhelmed by several huge extinct volcanoes before us. A spotted hyena studied us as we drove by; it is a rare sighting I’m told. Mountain gorillas occupy the edge of a jungle which begins in the far west of Uganda extending into the Congo. I’ve never seen a jungle during my several trips to the huge continent.

Though a land of incredible beauty, Uganda has fought ugliness. Idi Amin usually comes to mind when Uganda is mentioned. He was an incredibly barbaric tyrant. In recent times, Joseph Kony competed with Amin for the title of “most barbaric” when he mustered an army of 20,000 stolen children who committed unspeakable acts of torture. Ugandan forces chased Kony, who left the country with a much smaller brigade of 200 children.

Ugandans recovered from both Amin and Kony to become one of the most open and democratic countries in Africa. Newspapers could praise or condemn anything. Politicians could speak their minds on any subject. Citizens freely voted.

But then democracy revealed its ugly side. Conservative, very conservative, American clergy brought a gospel of hate to the country. Having lost the battle against homosexuality in the U.S., they found their new battleground in today’s peaceful Uganda. Many African countries have laws against homosexuality, but they were not being enforced. Christian ministers rallied Christian citizens against a little understood sexuality in Africa, which the religious found sinful and repulsive.

In the U.S., ultra-conservative pastors have long since learned it is far easier to rally troops against something than for something. What better target than a “sin” most Ugandans do not commit. Even in the U.S., other people’s “sins” are far worse than one’s own lapse of morality. Bible-believing, but less educated, Ugandans lined up behind the American pastors.

A handful of politicians found a place in the line as well. As the Americans preached, voters listened and numbers swelled enough to catch the attention of politicians who albeit were less motivated to the cause. Finally, the swell of God-fearing Ugandans landed the issue at President Yoweri Museveni’s doorstep.

Museveni hadn’t made homosexuality his cause, but he and other political leaders chose to sacrifice gay Ugandans rather than risk a defeat at the polls. I think we have seen American political leaders employ these strategies a time or two. It’s one of the ugly uses/abuses of a democratic society.

At first, the newly posed law included a death penalty clause; the American Christian clergy remained silent on the idea of killing lawbreakers. Despite the clergy’s unspoken advocacy of death to gay men and women, the death penalty was removed. The final wording, still much too harsh in places, read like laws in the U.S. banning homosexual sex (in the U.S. “any” sex) with a minor, as well as sexual contact by someone infected by AIDS.

So now we have the war. The U.S. has reallocated millions of dollars in foreign aid, once earmarked to Uganda, now distributed to other African countries. A planned public health institution is being moved to South Africa.

Serious political interferences by conservative American Christian clergy versus serious political interferences from the American human rights policies protecting gay men and women everywhere, but today in Uganda. It is not exactly a war this African country needs -- serious penalties await Uganda no matter who wins. And it’s an American battle on Ugandan soil.

Of course, no matter the final decisions, we find pandering politics from all sides. Perhaps the cure for the “warring madness” will be the armies remembering “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This thought is found in the Bible, as well.

Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. His email address is tomscholl2@hotmail.com.

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