Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s documentary film, Call Me Kuchu, which portrays the plight of Uganda’s LGBTQ community focuses on activist David Kato, and his leadership of the underground activist group, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). The film immediately endears its major personages to the audience, detailing their struggle to reveal (and sometimes conceal) their sexual identity and to strive for equal rights in the face of so much oppression.
Having spent 4 months in Jinja, Uganda as a development worker this year, I maintain a palpable personal connection with the country and its culture, which is rich and beautiful. While in Uganda, I was advised by my employers not to discuss the ongoing anti-homosexuality legislation as it could undermine the organization’s progress in other areas of social and economic development. I did, however, manage to have a few brief conversations with my native co-workers and host family, in which it was made very clear to me that homosexuality was simply not accepted as a norm in Uganda. What I found most contradictory and ironic was that while Ugandan media continues to skew the issue to paint homosexuality as a “Western plague,” introduced to Africa by liberal atheists from the United States and other developed nations, the anti-gay movement in Uganda draws most of its support and funding from American Evangelical Christians. This, more than anything, is the true mark of a misinformed and underdeveloped nation with a history of colonial dependency.
In the face of the rapidly changing age of information technology, Uganda has found itself marginalized and on the defensive for its slow social and economic growth. Seeking to protect themselves from continued political upheaval and retain the few values intrinsic to their nature as East Africans, Ugandans fearfully cling to their colonial history as Christians and condemn the liberal rights movements in the west. Without meaning to seem condescending, I believe that the issue comes down to the simple fact that African nations have not been afforded the same political and economic tools to adapt to the changing nature of social understandings as have more developed countries. This lends itself to a sort of fear-driven cultural backlash on which minority religious groups such as conservative Evangelicals prey.
Having read a few articles on David Kato’s murder and the ongoing struggle for gay rights in Uganda, the conversations I did manage to have with Ugandans brought an even more saddening reality to light. The primary reason that many (less educated) Ugandans believe homosexuality to be against the law of nature lies in the African traditional belief in the obligation of families to bear children. In February of this year, 2014, Ugandan scientists officially reported that homosexuality was a behavioral choice and not inborn—inciting more uproar from the international community. (However, the condemnation of a punitive Anti-Homosexuality Act did not deter President Museveni’s from signing it into law.) The ‘reproduction issue’ and the view of homosexuality as a ‘plague’ (something contagious) perpetuates the notion among a majority of Ugandans that gayness ‘spreads’ and that an increase in gay couples will lead to less births and, eventually, the extinction of tribal groups. The lack of quantitative or factual consideration attached to this idea—namely that there are thousands of orphaned children in Uganda, and that it is actually home to one of the youngest populations in the world—renders this fear pointless.
While the misinformed nature of the aforementioned belief is laughable, it speaks to the knowledge/information gap of developing nations and the effect this has on their ability to evolve within an increasingly globalized world. It helps explain African nations’ vulnerability to the influence of extremist groups and opinions.
In my next post, I'll be discussing Call Me Kuchu in detail.
-- Atosa Ghasripoor