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As a journalist, Lindsey Kukunda had been sent by her editors to investigate a local group of freethinkers in Kampala. Things took an interesting turn after that. This is her story.

On Wednesday January 2nd 2013, I and Andrew Mwenda participated in a debate on Pastor Martin Ssempa’s radio talk show on Kingdom FM to discuss the effects of the publicity homosexuality was receiving in Ugandan media by those who laboured to demonise it.

[Link to the mp3 of the debate at the bottom of the article]

sempa-debate_thumb10

Background:

On December 18th 2012, I posted a status update on Facebook in which I argued that the antics of Martin Ssempa and his fellow anti-gay activists were creating a climate of tolerance for homosexuals due to the increased exposure they were giving the subject:

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the likes of Martin Ssempa have become top ‘promoters’ of homosexuality in Uganda – in other words, they have become the very things they despise. The way he goes on and on about it, the ridiculous stunts he pulls in public (e.g. screening hardcore gay porn in church), making a fool of himself on TV today, etc. His efforts have done nothing but ‘advertise’ homosexuality. Even my mother was like "can’t he just STFU already, because now all the kids are curious about homosexuality!" Many people have told me the same thing (and the people telling me this are staunchly anti-gay, mind you).

Thanks to all this anti-gay crusading and hysteria by Ssempa, Bahati, et al.. homosexuality is now everywhere. Its featuring prominently in our newspapers, on our TVs, and is the number one subject highlighted by politicians and clergymen alike, at public functions. It is one thing that literally everybody is talking about now, and YET before all this bullshit drama was started by the anti-gay activists, it was a taboo subject that remained outside the realm of public discourse.

Let’s talk about the anti-homosexuality bill.

The bill, even if it does get passed, will be ineffective (at best) and unenforceable (at worst) in curtailing homosexuality activity. There will simply never be a successful prosecution of a person charged under that law, and if anyone is ever charged, it is also highly likely that the law will be repealed in the constitutional court (seeing as it violates several already existing constitutionally guaranteed rights).

So guess what… I actually now WANT this bill to pass. You know why? Because I can’t wait to see the confused looks on people’s faces as they realise that not a damn thing has changed. Meanwhile, gay activists like Pepe and Frank Mugisha are going to be swimming in gay rights activism money from overseas thanks to all the sympathy that has been generated by the actions of local hate mobs here. Pretty soon people will stop caring (and many already have), and this will become a long-forgotten issue. People will eventually just get on with their lives to focus on more important things. Gay people will simply continue to exist, as they always have since time immemorial. Nothing will have changed, except that now homosexuality will have been completely demystified, thanks to all the free ‘promotion’ the anti-gay crusaders gave it.

If ever there was a worse case of people shooting themselves in the foot, I am yet to hear of it.

At the end of the day, what two consenting adults do in their privacy should be no one’s business but theirs. In case you didn’t know, the Penal Code Act was amended in 2007 to make defilement gender neutral offense. Girls and Boys in Uganda are protected equally under the law, from defilement. Of course, that’s something these anti-gay bigots never tell you, because they believe you are ignorant (and for the most part most of you have proven them right, I’m sorry to say).
If homosexuality is against the wishes of ‘God’, then let ‘God’ deal with them on judgement day. You have your own shit to worry about – after all, no one is "without sin", according to your very own bibles. Remember the story of Jesus and the adulterer in John’s Gospel? Try and remember what Jesus told the angry mob that wanted the woman stoned to death in that story.

Right now, YOU are that angry mob.

Stop the hate. Hate never wins.

[Full post, with comments, here.]

A few days later Andrew Mwenda wrote in the Independent, echoing my views with regards to the unintended consequences of the continuous exposure that homosexuality was receiving in the media, courtesy of those that worked incessantly to publicly vilify homosexuals:

As Red Pepper continued its publication of Mubiru’s pornographic pictures, the anti gay lobby was ridding unprecedented momentum. With a tidal wave of public anger on their side, the bill may now sail through parliament easily. Pastor Martin Ssempa took the initiative to launch his foray against gays – again making no distinction between sex acts between two consenting adults and those of adults with minors. To many inside and outside Uganda, the cause for gay rights seemed lost as the pictures incite the worst homophobia in years. Yet I think the best thing to have happened to the cause of gay rights in Uganda was Red Pepper publication of Mubiru pictures.

The best way to fight bigotry and prejudice is to generate public debate about the issue under contention. Constant conversation and debate about a contentious issue promotes the spread of knowledge which in turn fosters tolerance leading to acceptance. When any new idea is suggested, it is initially rejected, then debated, later accommodated and, sometimes, finally accepted.

This is what we learn from Galileo, when he first suggested that the world is round; or from Charles Darwin, when he published his theory of evolution. In both cases, their findings produced condemnation with the church leading the attack. After heated debate, people began to listen more, learn and understand. Today, most enlightened people believe the world is round.

It is for this reason that although the subjective motivation for MP David Bahati to introduce his anti-gays bill was bad for the gays, the objective outcome of his action will be good for gay rights in Uganda. The Bahati bill has generated the most debate on gay rights. With time, it will lead to tolerance and acceptance.

[Full article here.]

Martin Ssempa got wind of my widely circulated Facebook status update and also read Mwenda’s article. He then invited both of us to participate in a debate with him on Kingdom FM (where he hosts a regular talk show) to challenge us on our contention that the efforts of anti-gay activists like himself, rather than ‘curb’ homosexuality, were instead serving to promote tolerance of it.

I was in the studio with Ssempa during the debate. Andrew Mwenda participated via Skype (he was in Kigali at the time).

Download: Pastor Ssempa, James Onen & Andrew Mwenda Debate Homosexuality on Kingdom Radio – Jan 2nd 2013 (21.6mb)

[Duration: 1:34:44]


Related podcast:

Ssempa vs Onen

On Saturday 6th October 2012, I participated in an informal debate with Pastor Martin Ssempa on the subject of atheism. The debate took place at Makerere University in front of an audience of 2000 students. The actual venue (the swimming pool grounds) is home to Martin Ssempa’s weekly campus fellowship meet-up called Prime Time, and the debate was part the evening programme for that day’s meet-up – with me as the featured guest.

You can download the mp3 of the debate here.

Martin Ssempa, meanwhile, is well known around the word as a staunchly anti-gay pastor:

I have previously discussed my disagreements with his arguments and approach here. It would have been great if we’d had the time for me to challenge his views on homosexuality during Saturday’s debate. If we ever meet for another debate I will suggest that we make that the topic.

Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods in Uganda (HELU) is a new humanist
organisation registered as a Community Based Organization (CBO).

guluHELU will officially be launched in Gulu on Saturday, 29th September 2012 at Gulu Taks Center (located behind Acholi Inn Hotel).

The theme of this event is going to be “Empowerment through Humanism” and I will be delivering a talk titled Reason, Experience, Rational and Critical Thinking.

Launch of HELU - Programme

[L.C = Local Council, R.D.C = Resident District Commissioner, UHASSO = Uganda Humanist Association]

I am the host of the morning show at 88.2 Sanyu FM here in Kampala… and on radio I am known as ‘Fatboy’. fbup (1)

I also produce a personal weekly podcast called Fatboy Unplugged, and in the most recent episode I evaluate – or rather, eviscerate – the common arguments put forward by those who support discriminatory laws against, and attitudes towards, homosexuals in Uganda.

My criticisms of religion specifically center around what I think are dangerous beliefs they promote. Beliefs, when taken seriously, have deleterious effects upon society.

My recent talks in the UK focused particularly on the dangerous beliefs that were being promoted by the charismatic Christian belief system (Born-Again/Pentecostalism/etc).

I have always contended that charismatic Christianity plays an IMPORTANT role in promoting and reinforcing beliefs about the efficacy of witchcraft in this country. In this post, I am interested in presenting direct evidence of this contention.  I will look at two widely read charismatic Christian books in Uganda (and sub-Saharan Africa).

Snatched from Satan’s Claws:

The book, “Snatched from Satan’s Claws”, was given to me by my mother two years ago. She felt that, being an atheist, I needed to be reminded of the threats we face as humans in this demon haunted world. Being reminded of these threats, she thought, might make me think twice about not accepting Christianity. She implored me to take seriously what was written in it.

snatched from satan's claws

Reading this book, I concluded that the authors of this book must either be deliberate liars or fraudsters; or they are insane and in need of psychiatric help. There is simply no other way to make sense of the blatant and outrageous assault on rationality that emanates from this book.

The book, co-written by Pastor D. D. Kaniaki and Evangelist Mukendi (from the Democratic Republic of Congo), is about Mukendi’s alleged ordeal as a former sorcerer, who later converted to Christianity.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:

Read the rest of this entry »

David Kato

Ugandan LGBT activist, David Kato, was found dead in his house on Wednesday 26th January 2011.

From the Daily Monitor:

Mr David Kisule Kato, 46, died after he was hit on the head by unknown assailants at his home in Mukono District on Wednesday. He died on his way to Mulago Hospital.

Detectives and scene of crime officers spent the day picking fingerprints on the furniture and interviewing neighbours of Kato.

Police said his attackers hit him with a hammer on the head at around noon on Wednesday before locking him in the house.

Deputy Police Spokesman Vincent Ssekate said they are taking the case seriously but asked the public to who have any information that may lead to the arrest of the suspects to contact them.

“Since the act happened during day, there may be people who saw the suspects entering the house. They should come and give us information,” he said.

Kato was listed among the 100 people suspected to be homosexuals in the country by the local tabloid Rolling Stone.

Asked whether they were taking it as an attack on minorities in the country, he said it is too early to reach that conclusion.

Residents told police that they saw a man who entered Kato’s house but he moved out dressed in victim’s shoes and a jacket that covered part of his face.

Their suspicions aroused, they told the police, and went to check on him in his house but found the door locked.

“They forced their way in and found Kato lying unconscious,” he said.

He later died as he was being transported to Mulago Hospital.

CNN has a report on this story, which includes a recent interview with the late Kato, who at the time of filming was already expressing fears about his safety:

 

Although most around the world see this as a hate crime, with many believing that exposure by the Rolling Stone (and its calls for Kato and 99 other homosexuals to be hanged) is what triggered the killing, it is still not yet clear what the motive behind the killing was. It could have been a hate crime, but it could also have been a theft/robbery gone bad, etc… We just don’t have all the facts for now. I do, however, condemn this murder in the strongest terms – regardless of why it was committed.

As the country grapples with the horror of this brutal killing, the death of David Kato will most likely to pave the way for more open discussions about homosexuals, whose rights Kato was a relentless advocate of. In fact, this is already happening. The Daily Monitor newspaper, the county’s second most widely circulated daily, today published an editorial piece called  ‘Can we talk honestly about homosexuality?’ In it, the editor writes:

Holding puritanical and extreme views on the matter, whether liberal or conservative, will divide us, rather than help us find a mutually acceptable compromise.

People like David Kato and others who might be gay are Ugandans and enjoy the same rights and protections of the law as heterosexuals. We cannot send them into exile neither, lock them away, or hang them.

We need to have an honest discussion about how to ensure that their rights are upheld without violating the rights of other Ugandans.

Peaceful and stable societies only emerge when we understand and try to accommodate those who are different from us, or who disagree with us – not by ostracising or killing them.

Well said, editor.

In the meantime we at Freethought Kampala offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and compatriots of David Kato.

He was a brave man – with the courage to stand up for his rights, and the rights of others, in face of the horrendous homophobia that has consumed Ugandan society in recent years. Many Ugandan gays and lesbians choose to remain anonymous out of concern for personal safety, so by bringing himself into the limelight, he risked it all… But he and others who have come forward have helped to put a human face to a hitherto invisible and faceless minority.

David Kato will not be forgotten, and those of us who, like him, recognise the importance of defending the fundamental human rights of others, should continue spreading the message of tolerance.

As Freethought Kampala we also consider it our obligation and mandate to publicly challenge the misinformation being disseminated, and lies being told, about gays and lesbians by local religious leaders. The widely discredited views of quacks like Scott Lively, Richard Cohen and David Cameron whose literature form the talking points of many a homophobic Ugandan politician, such as David Bahati or Nsaba Buturo, shall be exposed as such.

We will not stop.

The hatred must end.


Related Posts:

billboard on kampala road

The billboard above is currently located on Kampala Road in front of Cairo Bank  – at the centre of Kampala City. Its been up for the last 3 days.

This particular ‘end of the world’ prediction comes courtesy of a Christian broadcaster named Harold Camping who had earlier prophesied that “Jesus would return in 1994”. He is also the founder of FamilyRadio.com in which more of this type of nonsense can be found.

And people wonder why we don’t take religion seriously…

Anyone who is familiar with this blog knows that I am not religious. Not only that, but I am also an atheist, meaning, I do not have belief that a ‘God’ exists.

That said, in principle, I have no objection to people having religious beliefs – whatever they may be. It is their constitutional right to hold whatever religious beliefs they wish to hold, in just the same way it is my constitutional right not to hold any. My concern is, and has always been, specifically when religious beliefs end up harming people, or are somehow detrimental to people’s well being.

What prompted me to ‘come out’ and begin trying to promote reason and critical thinking in today’s Uganda is because of the high degree of superstitious thinking being aggressively perpetuated by the new wave of charismatic Christianity that has swept across the country. This new wave goes by a variety of names – such as Savedees, Born-Agains, Pentecostals, or Evangelicals. Locally, they are known simply as Balokole.

Church_01

A number of common themes prevail across most Balokole churches, including:

  • Emphasis on miracle healing
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Prosperity doctrine (where believers are all destined to be financially successful)
  • All problems afflicting believers being the result of curses/demons/Satan, and solutions to these problems come in the way of divine intervention

Background:

witchdoctor1Prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries to Africa, the natives of sub-Saharan Africa practiced traditional religion which included various forms of ancestor worship. Their worldview included a belief that illness, drought, natural disasters and other misfortunes were the result of angry (or evil) spirits, and that rituals had to be performed to appease these spirits. Various shamans and traditional healers have, throughout African history, claimed to have the ability to intercede between humans and these spirits, making available to them (at a price, of course) charms and other concoctions designed to either appease or repel such spirits.

Where as the early denominations that came to Uganda (Anglicanism & Catholicism) denounced ancestral worship as indulgence in ineffectual superstition, charismatic Christianity (which first took root in Uganda about 50 years ago) instead incorporated these African traditional practices and ancestral worship into their worldview as part of the wider cosmic battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. The ancestral spirits became reinterpreted as ‘demons’, and the shamans, mediums and traditional healers who interceded on their behalf became ‘witches’ or ‘witchdoctors’ – all of them allegedly working in collusion with Satan to make life difficult for followers of Christ.

The pastors of these charismatic churches in effect became the ‘new’ shamans, wielding, this time, the power of ‘God’ to be able to ‘bind’ and ‘cast out’ these demons. Like the local shamans, they too rely on incantations – usually invoking ‘the name of Jesus’ -  to perform exorcisms and alleged healing miracles. Indeed, the typical charismatic church exorcism resembles what one might see being done in a local ancestral shrine:

The popularity of this form of Christianity has exploded over the last few decades because the doctrine promises poor, under-educated believers miraculous solutions to their everyday problems. Understandably, on an impoverished continent like this one, a religion that offers quick fixes to all the pressing problems in life will be immensely popular, and that is exactly what we see happening. Among charismatic Christians, things like unemployment, failure of business, failure of marriage, sickness, corruption in government… all the problems an individual or society could possibly face… are attributed to Satan, demons and other evil spirits – and Jesus is presented as the antidote.

Such an iteration of Christianity fits perfectly well with the mindset of most native Africans, most of whom have, since time immemorial, taken seriously the perceived threat of curses inflicted upon them by spirits and other bad omens. This is probably why charismatic Christianity has proven to be a raging success in sub-Saharan Africa.

This has literally created a cottage industry of make-shift balokole churches all over the country, typically run by  unscrupulous, opportunistic individuals looking to earn a living from the lucrative business of ‘selling’ Jesus.

Competition is fierce among pastors of rival local balokole churches, after all, having more worshippers usually means bigger collections.

The Problem:

While probably succeeding in assuaging the everyday anxieties of legions of believers, and in some cases even doing decent charity work, the charismatic Christian belief system has yielded some rather undesirable consequences, such as:

  • Encouraging a reliance on miracle healings, rather than seeking science based medical treatment

  • Many HIV positive believers dying because they were abandoning ARVs based on unsubstantiated miracle testimonies

  • Believers parting with large sums of money in order to receive the purported blessings of ‘God’

  • Pastors conning believers by stage-managing miracles

  • General undermining of science (especially pertaining to medical science, the theory of evolution, Big Bang cosmology, and psychology)

  • Making people believe that the problems they face are as a result of spiritual forces, and that solutions to those same problems lie in the spiritual realm

  • An increased reliance on prayer to solve problems, rather than on efforts to find rational, practical and demonstrable solutions

  • Promoting an overly apocalyptic mindset (the belief that the world is ending anytime soon)

The result of this is that an unprecedented amount of irrational and superstitious thinking has permeated across Ugandan society (often practiced in its most extreme form).

I just wish they’d tone down on the spooky magical woo woo stuff, and practice their religion with a little more rationality, like some other mainstream Christian denominations (that don’t go overboard).  But this could be wishful thinking on my part – all indications show that the mainstream churches, who are rapidly losing members to the charismatic churches, are now adopting many ideas from them in a bid to retain their flock.

In an upcoming post I will review a Christian book called ‘Charismatic Chaos’, and also look at how other Christian groups view the charismatic movement.


Related posts:

Makerere UniversityMakerere University 

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,"

and

"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,"

and

"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.

2. CURSES

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.

3. HOMOSEXUALITY

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.


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Freethought Kampala

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