Ugandan reaction mixed to comments from Obama, Clinton

Yesterday morning at the National Prayer Breakfast, keynote speaker, Hillary Clinton criticized the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and President Barack Obama called the bill “odious.” The reaction from leaders in Uganda and Ugandans attending the National Prayer Breakfast has been mixed.

Immediately Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Buturo reacted with defiance.

Buturo, one of the main Ugandan proponents of the bill which would further criminalise homosexuality and even gay rights advocacy, vowed that Ugandan MPs would not be swayed by US or any outside criticism.

“We cannot tell the Senate what to do. We cannot tell Congress what to do. So why do they feel that they can tell us what we should do in the interest of our people?” he asked.

“It is totally unacceptable,” Buturo added, in reference to any attempt by some of Uganda’s partners to reverse the adoption of the bill.

However, a bit later Minister of Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem said the bill will be changed.

“I am sure the bill will take a different form when it is tabled on the floor in parliament,” Mr Oryem told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

However, he also pointed out that it was a Private Member’s Bill and so the government did not have the powers to alter it at this stage.

“Homosexuality is not a top priority for the people of Uganda,” he deputy minister said.

“Our priority is to make sure there is food on the table of our people – that we deal with the issue of disease.”

Ugandan delegates to the National Prayer Breakfast speaking to me anonymously agreed that the bill would almost certainly be changed, perhaps dramatically. One source told me that the section imposing death on a HIV positive person for “touching” should be changed to reflect an offense of knowingly spreading HIV without the consent of the other person. Others made it clear that they believe the aggravated homosexuality section of the bill should only relate to child abuse and rape of vulnerable people. None of those I spoke with believed that private conduct should be criminalized.

However, the delegates differed on their views of criminalization on public homosexual conduct. Some believed that homosexuality could be spread via societal acceptance, whereas others believed homosexuals should be respected as free agents to choose their own actions, even in public. All agreed that homosexuality is not socially acceptable in Uganda.

Some were concerned that Americans critical of the bill are not respecting the autonomy of Uganda. “You must respect our democratic process,” one delegate said. “The bill is only a proposal at this point, there are many chances for it to be amended,” he added. One delegate said emphatically that all input would be considered but that those who are critical should respect the right of Ugandans to govern themselves.

One Ugandan delegate who would only speak on condition of anonymity said that the rumor that people associated with the Fellowship had any influence on the writing of the bill were “totally untrue.” He said Bahati did not ask for advice on the bill and added, “This is not the kind of thing the Fellowship would support.”

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  • Jeff Sharlet

    In several conversations, Bahati confirmed to me that he did not ask for any advice, from anybody at all, in writing the bill. But he did insist, emphatically, that he shared his ideas with his Fellowship brothers, to whom he says he’s close. He says that they expressed absolutely no opposition. They say they did. So is somebody not telling the truth? Perhaps. After the Breakfast yesterday, I asked Bahati how I could believe him — how to reconcile these two, apparently sincere accounts — especially given that none of the parties involved have a particularly good record on transparency? Bahati suggested that some Americans involved with the Fellowship are bowing to “gay pressure,” which, he says, he understands and for which he forgives them.

    But then he said something that may be more insightful. Speaking of a Fellowship associate who claims to have expressed real opposition when Bahati brought up the bill at a private Fellowship dinner last October, Bahati says: “I don’t know the reasons why he’s saying he told me that when he didn’t tell me that unless he says he’s telling me now.”

    That seems possible. As opposition grows, people “remember” their earlier opposition. This wouldn’t be lying, exactly; it’s akin to the way, as a politician’s popularity plummets, people “remember” their opposition all along.

    But there’s another possibility. Bob Hunter says he expressed his opposition to Bahati directly. Bahati says yes, he and Hunter talked; but Hunter only told him about how embarrassing this was for some of their American friends. ” I do not know his personal views on the bill,” Bahati said.

    Both these things may be true. Having spoken to Bob several times now, I know that (when he’s not angry!) he’s a gentle speaker who tries to find common ground from which he can make his case. I have no doubt he opposes the bill, and no doubt he expressed that to Bahati in his way; at the same time, having spoken to Bahati several times, understanding a bit about his conversational style — it’s direct — I can believe that he didn’t “hear” Bob saying that.

    Of course, Bob has been direct in other forums, including the New York Times. Not that Bahati should be required to read American papers! But the statement is there.

    Still, I think this miscommunication — and the potential comfort it inadvertently gives the bill — reveals the flaw in the Fellowship strategy of what George H.W. Bush, praising the group, called “quiet diplomacy.” The wonky way of saying this is to call for greater transparency — open books from the beginning would have prevented Bahati from ever believing that he had a green light from his Fellowship friends in America. He might have proceeded anyway, but we would have been able to cut right to the Ugandan-international coalition building necessary to take a stand against the bill, instead of wasting a lot of time figuring out what people really believe.

    That’s the wonky response. The more meaningful one, I believe, and one that Hunter and I have discussed, is the difference between pragmatic speech and prophetic speech. You don’t have to be a prophet to aspire to a prophetic response. “To prophesy,” theologian Cornel West reminds us, “is not to predict an outcome but rather to identify concrete evils.” Here’s another insight from West, writing on his African-American Christian tradition, that I think speaks to all parties here: “The dignity of persons is their ability to contradict what is, to change and be changed, and to act in the light of that which is not-yet. The depravity of persons is their proclivity to cling to the moment.”

    I love that: “contradict what is.” Not tinker, not murmur, not even, as President Obama said — mischaracterizing those prophetically bold heroes Lincoln, King, and Wilberforce — civility. Let’s remember that the true opposite of civility isn’t vulgarity; it’s candor, about both what is and “that which is not-yet,”

  • David Blakeselee

    Thanks for returning to comment Jeff.

    It seems to me you are taking the word of Bahati over a group of people who now openly oppose the bill…

    Is Bahati a “whistle blower” of a sort for the Fellowship? Is that why your rely on his account in the face of numerous contradictions?

    In a previous post I asked you a question that you have yet to respond to:

    To Repeat:

    Jeff Sharlet: could you comment on this:

    His second book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, which was written with support from The Nation Institute Investigative Fund, is just out from Harper.

    How does such funding work and is there the possibility the funding drives the kind of inquiry you engage in?

    Warren, do you have any thoughts on this and is Mr. Sharlet still welcome to comment on this post?

    I ask this, because the false link of endorsement of the Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill was repeated again yesterday by Bahar on her daily radio show…citing your book.

    The Link between Lively, Cohen is very real to the proposed law.

    The Fellowship link is supported, it seems, by only one person, Bahati. He never says they supported it, only that they never openly opposed it…and even that is contradicted by your own interviews with other members.

    ?

  • David Blakeselee

    From the Investigative Fund Website:

    Two years later, with generous support from Lannan Foundation and the Puffin Foundation, among others, the Investigative Fund grew to its current size, collaborating with multiple print, online, and broadcast media partners and producing several dozen original investigations each year.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    No, I don’t take Bahati’s word over the Fellowship’s, and I didn’t in that post. I’d respectfully ask you to re-read what I wrote before I waste my time and yours repeating myself.

    As for The Nation Institute Investigative Fund: Yes, that drove a small portion of my research. There’s absolutely nothing shameful in that, and it’s acknowledged elsewhere, too. But I bet the research it drove will surprise you: An investigation of Democrats. The Nation Institute approached me after my 2005 Harper’s article about New Life Megachurch, asking if I could use support for my work on the role of conservative religion in American politics. Could I! Contrary to the suspicions of my critics, you don’t get rich doing this work. It’s extremely expensive; most independent investigative journalists are always close to the brink. That’s the result of the decline of the news industry. There’s simply no money for it anymore. Now we have pundits instead of investigators.

    Anyway, the Nation Institute said we’ll support you. They gave me a $10,000 grant with the expectation that I would publish at least one major feature article — my choice of where — that would cite their support. I proposed that they support my research on Chuck Colson; they weren’t interested. So I proposed a more mainstream subject: the religious life of Hillary Clinton, who, as the most theologically literate major politician in American life, has intrigued me ever since David Kelley’s 1993 NYT Magazine profile, in which her faith figured. I was surprised to learn that her faith was more conservative than I anticipated, informed by late, conservative Niebuhr and by a neo-orthodox reading of Tillich. It was also linked to the Fellowship, as she told us the other day at the Breakfast (in a woefully incomplete and misleading account, I should add). Joyce and I wrote the article with The Nation in mind. But, after the 2006 Democratic victories, perhaps the mood there was less inclined to challenge Democrats; whatever the case, they decided to pass. Mother Jones, meanwhile, a liberal magazine primarily dedicated to investigative journalism (as opposed to The Nation, a liberal magazine dedicated to political analysis with some investigative journalism), was interested, so the article appeared there, with credit to the Nation Institute. I decided to use portions of that article and that research in the book as a contrast to my portrait of Senator Sam Brownback. Hence, my credit.

    How’s that for transparency? I take it you think you’d found something out on me. I’ll make it a little easier for you: I’m a lefty. And how’s this to muddy the water: AFTER I wrote the critical Hillary article, I voted for Hillary over Obama in the New York primary, the first time I’ve voted for president since I voted for Clinton in 1992, a vote I’ve always regretted. I did not vote in the general election, for a variety of reasons. But my politics are skeptically left, anti-authoritarian, mildly anti-establishmentarian, sympathetic but not lockstep with local control, inflected by liberation theology and Yiddishkeit. I’m a fan, but not a devotee, of Debs, Day, King — the real King — Fanny Lou Hamer, Big Jim Folsom, and the early Bryan, and even moreso — much moreso — of the movements behind them. I like and argue with West, Milbank, and Heschel. I like long walks on the beach and pina coladas; my turn-offs include politicians with secrets. I don’t hide my views; but I back them up with facts. My favorite journalists, on the left and the right, do the same.

  • David Blakeslee

    Jeff,

    You jump to many conclusions…

    I found out only what you readily disclosed and asked what the origin of that funding was and how it might have informed your perceptions…a reasonable question, which you were not aware of, or overlooked entirely…

    Thanks for addressing it now.

    Your sarcasm and humor suggest a sting that I didn’t mean to inflict…

    I have found, as I am sure you have found, that worldviews and theories tend to inform the way we look at things.

    It remains that transparency is a value we all hold dear…and at times we are reluctant to engage in it….non-reactively.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Apologies, then, David. My motives and intentions have been so often challenged by Christian conservatives — as I imagine most readers of Warren’s Christian conservative blog to be — that I have become, I admit, a little defensive. Never a good policy. Transparency is the way to go.

    Who is Bahar?

  • Lynn David

    Joy Bahar, the comedian?

  • Lynn David

    Mr Sharlet,

    Was Senator James Inhofe at that October Prayer Breakfast in Uganda when Bahati introduced the bill? I saw no mention of any Americans there in the Ugandan press at the time, so as for transparency, any such American must have been invisible!

  • Lynn David

    Ugandan delegates to the National Prayer Breakfast speaking to me anonymously agreed that the bill would almost certainly be changed, perhaps dramatically.

    Warren, you continually lighten my heart. Thanks again.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    I don’t believe Inhofe was at this ones. But there were Americans there. At least one later expressed opposition. Either Bahati didn’t hear it as such, or he’s not telling the truth. My money is on the former, based on how he tells the story.

    Don’t get your hopes too high — short of a miracle or an intervention by Museveni, there’s going to be some kind of law. It might not include death, but it’ll be draconian.

  • Lynn David

    I would be happy if they would realize that they should separate pedophilia from homosexuality. Unfortunately, I know even Museveni is so indurated with hatred that he won’t worry about that.

    Still, what Warren has brought to us is more hope than we have had in quite a while.

  • Lynn David

    And to add, that the sections in the law limiting free speech be revoked. Reading Warren’s “perhaps dramatically” brought to my mind the speech provision.

  • David Blakeselee

    Jeff,

    Thanks for the apology…it was more than I needed.

    I am very capable of the things you assumed…but I really believe that gets me nowhere.

    I don’t mind bias, it seems unavoidable and my wish is that we can all help eachother know what our biases are as they shape any discussion.

    I am not sure you are biased in this book…but I need to know certain things as I process the information you provide…it helps me think clearer and trust you more.

    I don’t read the Nation…much.

    I am a National Review guy.

  • David Blakeselee

    I was wrong…it wasn’t Joy Bahar…

    It was Randi Rhodes’ radio show.

  • David Blakeselee

    If we start at the theology…and work our way back, I think we can dismantle this thing together…

    and finally move forward.

    Thankfully.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Don’t listen to Rhodes — I’m a music-on-the-radio guy. I read The Nation and National Review, but, yes, my sympathies tend toward more toward The Nation. That doesn’t mean NR doesn’t do good reporting from time to time, just as it doesn’t mean I don’t. And yes: start with the theology. That’s what I tried to do, embedding in the experience of lived religion. Doctrinal statements aren’t enough to explain lived religion, especially when they begin by declaring an aversion to doctrine. This whole project began — and ended — for me with language: the puzzle of “Jesus plus nothing” from the mouths of the powerful, the meaning of “love” in the Family (hint: it’s not like love in my family), even the seemingly throw-away words, such as “just” — as in “just please let us pray,” a word that intrigued me so much that I went across the country to talk to evangelical scholars at Westmont College about it. The book ends with language and theology, too — the distinctions and overlaps between “salvation” and “deliverance,” “revelation” and “exodus.”


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