Last week the First Lady of Uganda (who is also Minister of State for Karamoja) was officiating at the National Youth Convention at Makerere University. The event attracted 8,000 youth from all districts in Uganda, with each sending 50 participants. She told the students:
"Narrow negative interpretations of our tribal differences dominate our thinking," Mrs. Museveni said. "True, we have our tribal identities but instead of using the positives, we are using the negatives to foment conflict between our people”
So far, so good – the First Lady is kind of on the right track here. Indeed, Ugandans have since time immemorial identified themselves along tribal lines and this has fostered many divisions in our society.
Then she went ON and ON about curses..
"God will not bless a nation where people shed others’ blood because of their tribes. This nation has attracted God’s curse because of our behaviour,"
"It is up to the young to break this curse so that they can release the blessings that God intended for Uganda. Your fortunes are tied together and are tied to the fortunes of the nation,"
"In God’s word, homosexuality attracts a curse, but now people are engaging in it and saying they are created that way. It is for money The devil is stoking fires to destroy our nation and those taking advantage are doing so because our people are poor,"
Curses, curses, and more curses!
Had I been at that convention, and was a university student, and was given the opportunity to directly respond to the first lady, I would have said:
Madam First Lady, thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to make a few comments with regard to what you just said.
1. ‘GOD’ & RELIGION
With all due respect, I do realise that your personal religious beliefs compel you to look at the world in a certain way, but I urge you to keep in mind that not all of us see the world as you do. Many of us do not share your religious convictions, and so I think it is somehow inappropriate for you, speaking in your capacity as a public servant, to prescribe solutions to our national problems based on your personal religious beliefs.
Allow me to illustrate the importance of this:
Imagine there was a government minister who was an African Traditionalist, and he believed that the solution to the country’s problems was offering animal sacrifices en masse to the spirits of the ancestors. How would you feel if this person, who is convinced that his religious beliefs are absolutely, and unquestioningly, true, spoke in his capacity as a public servant to thousands of students warning them of the pitfalls of not offering animal sacrifices to the spirits of the ancestors?
I suspect that this would make you feel uncomfortable, and you might feel inclined to ask this public servant to keep his religious beliefs to himself – especially while speaking in his official capacity. It might further concern you that this public servant was using his official capacity, and state resources, to promote or spread his personal religious beliefs, which, you will rightly conclude, is highly inappropriate.
Article 7 of the Uganda Constitution [“Uganda shall not adopt a State religion”] is there to ensure, among other things, that no particular religious view point is taken as the official position of the state of Uganda. It therefore seems to me that any person, when speaking on behalf of the state of Uganda, has an obligation not to invoke his or her personal religious views.
Personally, I do not think it is through blessings of a ‘God’, but through hard work, innovation and dedication to progress that we shall develop our country. I also don’t think there is any good reason to believe that there is a ‘devil’ somewhere ‘stoking fires to destroy our nation’ as you say. Aside from natural disasters, the problems we face are really of our own making, and in either case it is up to us to use our brains to think of practical solutions to overcome those problems.
History has shown as that this is the most practical and effective way.
You spoke of curses. Again, with all due respect, many of us don’t believe that curses are real. It is just superstition. There no scientific studies that have ever been conducted that lend credence to the idea that curses actually work, or are real. I would gladly change my mind about the efficacy of curses if you could provide for me any verifiable credible evidence. I have not come across a single peer-reviewed scientific paper that suggests that such evidence exists. I therefore think that belief in ‘curses’ is irrational.
Regarding homosexuality, it is the consensus view of professional scientists relevant to the field that sexual orientation is not something that people have any choice over. Allow me a moment to outline their views:
According to the American Psychological Association (the major professional organisation representing certified psychologists in the United States, with about 150,000 members), “research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.”
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (the main professional organisation of psychiatrists in the United Kingdom with 15,000 members), “It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (with approximately 60,000 members who include pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists. More than 34,000 members are board-certified), “The mechanisms for the development of a particular sexual orientation remain unclear, but the current literature and most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual.
While it is true that there are those who will engage in same sex relationships solely for money, just like there are those who engage in hetero-sexual intercourse for the sole purpose of money, it is also true that many individuals possess the genetic predisposition to be attracted to members of the same sex and not the opposite. To say this is not the case, would suggest that your views on the matter have not been informed by science, but by perhaps religious or cultural prejudices. Indeed, you even blamed the ‘devil’ for homosexuality.
But even if, for the sake of argument, it were the case that sexual orientation was a matter of choice, its still difficult to see why you or any other person should be concerned about it. As Rwanda’s Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, said recently:
"the government I serve and speak for on certain issues cannot and will not in any way criminalize homosexuality; sexual orientation is a private matter and each individual has his or her own orientation – this is not a State matter at all."
Indeed, what business should it be of anyone what two consenting adults choose to do in private without violating, or threatening to violate, the rights of others? None, I think.
If you feel strongly that the deity you worship considers homosexuality an abomination then let that be between the homosexual and the ‘God’ you believe exists. After all, according to the same religious beliefs that inform your view on homosexuality – fornication, lying, worshipping other gods, not accepting Jesus Christ as lord and saviour are also abominable sins that will condemn its perpetrators to hell for eternity.
Isn’t it interesting, then, that no attempts have been made by you or any other legislator to criminalise lying, worshipping other gods, and fornication? What this means is that even if you personally believe that these are ‘sins’ according to your religion, you and your fellow legislators seem to accept the fact that as long as the ‘sin’ in no way infringes on the fundamental rights of others, the matter now rests between the individuals who practice the aforementioned ‘sins’ and ‘God’. But if so, why make an exception for consensual same-sex relationships?
This exception indicates that a serious double standard is at play here, Madam. Uganda’s laws criminalising homosexuality are therefore unfair and out-dated – and so I call upon you and other legislators in our parliament to move a motion to get the pertinent laws repealed, and to reject the recently tabled Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009.
Thank you very much, Madam First Lady.