Tag Archives: uganda

Ugandan minister: ‘Someone keeps touching my thigh.’

KAMPALA, UGANDA — As parliamentary leaders this week debated a contentious bill toughening the laws against homosexuality in this East African nation, Minister of Sexual Affairs Martin Ssenyonga accused government officials of repeatedly touching his thigh.

“It is our duty to the Ugandan people to outlaw the heinous crime of homosexuality, which threatens the very fabric of our nation,” Ssenyonga told members of the local press after the closed-door session in the Ugandan capital.

“But seriously: who keeps touching my thigh?” the minister asked.

Ssenyonga, who has urged his colleagues to 'keep their hands where (he) can see them' during parliamentary meetings

Government officials report that Ssenyonga first felt a hand casually brushing against his thigh during a parliamentary roll call earlier this week. The minister told reporters he was “pretty sure it was an accident,” adding that in the crowded chambers of the Ugandan parliament, “these things, like, just happen sometimes.”

But Ssenyonga’s suspicions were raised Wednesday morning, as the debate over Uganda’s “anti-gay bill” took to the floor of the senate. According to Ssenyonga, the “passing glance of a mysterious hand” soon turned into a “warm, sustained embrace.” The motives behind the prolonged contact remain unclear.

Ssenyonga told reporters he was unsure who keeps touching his thigh.

“Maybe it was [Minister of Health Stephen] Mallinga?” asked Ssenyonga. “I don’t know. Was it [Minister of Education & Sports Namirembe] Bitamazire? I think I supported him on a condom initiative in secondary schools, didn’t I? Maybe he took it the wrong way.”

Health experts fear that the contagion of homosexuality will spread unchecked among Ugandan youths without tougher legislation.

A visibly flustered Ssenyonga called a press conference this morning, at which he sought to assure his countrymen that the rampant criminality of Ugandan homosexuals would not go unchecked, and to ask his colleagues just who keeps touching his thigh.

“Homosexuality goes against the morals of the traditional African society,” said Ssenyonga. “It is a Western import, and it is an abomination, contrary to the natural human instincts of the African male.

“Was it you, [Crispus] Kiyonga?” Ssenyonga asked the Minister of Defense.

Many Ugandans have opposed the new legislation.

Since Ugandan MP David Bahati proposed a bill last October toughening existing laws against homosexuality in this East African nation, rights groups have assailed Ugandan leaders, urging more tolerance toward the country’s estimated 500,000 gays. US President Barack Obama denounced as “odious” the proposed legislation, which would make the offense of “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by death.

In December, celebrity gay activist and pop icon Adam Lambert launched a “No They Di’n’t!” campaign against the Ugandan government, hoping to raise awareness of the “desperate plight faced by Uganda’s fabulous, oppressed queers.”

Ssenyonga said the protests of Western governments only furthered his resolve to push through the new legislation, adding that such protests failed to explain why a “firm, not unloving hand” continued to slide up his thigh during parliamentary meetings.

“Ugandans will continue to oppose the imposition of Western vices on our proud African way of life,” said Ssenyonga, as he warily eyed a crowd of reporters approaching him from behind.

He added that while the contact from the mystery hand was “not unpleasant,” it would be up to Ugandans to determine how best to deal with the lustful overtures of their neighbors.

“We will not allow Western governments to force us to our knees,” said Ssenyonga.

“On this issue we will stand together. But slightly apart. At a reasonable and respectful distance.”

Exposed! UN shines spotlight on Congo’s super-secret, ultra-illicit mineral trade; world shrugs, buys more cellphones.

A friend here in Buja, a foreign national who I’ve come to consider the smartest person in Burundi, urged me to give a second look to the UN’s damning report on the illicit flow of weapons and minerals into and out of the Congo, which was published back in November. In case you missed it, this more or less amounted to the UN shaking its fist and saying, “Damn you! Damn you!” amid the general solemn nodding of the international community. A summary from the UN flak office noted that:

the mainly Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) continue to exploit gold and cassiterite in North and South Kivu provinces with the help of trading networks in Uganda, Burundi and the United Arab Emirates, while irregular arms deliveries have come from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Sudan.

Though the international hack-factory was far more intrigued by the titillating reports of involvement by the Roman Catholic Church and the dirty-money Maytag that is Dubai, the accusations against the ruling party’s inner circle were big news indeed here in Burundi. One analyst, who was happy to speak on-the-record about just about everything else in the Great Lakes region, quietly asked to remain anonymous when the UN report came up: the government, he said quite bluntly, was seething over the report’s details, and was just dying to make an example of someone.

(On a completely unrelated note, BINUB’s Youssef Mahmoud – essentially the highest-ranking UN figure operating in Burundi, who had seen about all there was to see since arriving in Bujumbura in 2007 – was unceremoniously dismissed from his post in December, under the flimsiest of pretexts. He has since been replaced by a jar of pickles.)

Of particular note were some of the high-level figures in Burundi’s military and security apparatus who were linked to overseas arms deals.

The Group has hard evidence of an attempted purchase of a cargo of 40,000 Steyr AUG assault rifles and ammunition officially for the Burundian police and organized by a Burundian delegation which travelled to Malaysia. The Group estimates that such an arms consignment for the Burundian police is excessive, given that the Burundian police number no more than 20,000.

For those of you who consider Burundi’s problems to be newsworthy in their own right – and not simply footnotes to the African catastrophe du jour next door – these are worth considering. Many here in Burundi believe the final destination for those weapons was not, in fact, the FDLR fighters in eastern Congo, but the youth militias of Burundi’s own ruling party.

(Burundian officials, for their part, countered that the national police force was being trained by repeated viewings of Dolph Lundgren’s 1992 magnum opus, Universal Soldier, and that officers are consequently expected to carry and fire weapons with both hands.)

As opposition parties and international observers continue to accuse the ruling CNDD-FDD party of training and arming its youth groups ahead of this summer’s elections, the presence of large weapons caches in the countryside is…troubling. According to a very trusted source, a number of flights of dubious origin and repute – at least one of which had links to notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout – touched down here in Bujumbura last year, under cover of deepest, darkest night. I do not think they were here for the nightlife, however stellar.

The vast and insidious network of mineral smugglers, arms traffickers, and overall douchey profiteers implicated in the report, meanwhile, has, according to The New York Times, “tentacles touching Spanish charities, Ukrainian arms dealers, corrupt African officials and even secretive North Korean weapons shipments.” These tentacles, it goes without saying, are long and up to no good.

A more detailed account of the findings (of which there were so many, it’s taken me about 3 1/2 hours to download the full PDF), comes to us from Georgianne Nienaber at the Huffington Post, who detailed some of the allegations:

• Arms shipments or suspected shipments to the DRC from Spain, North Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Libya, China, Belgium, Tanzania, the British Virgin Islands [Ed.: WTF?] and others;

• Roman Catholic and Spanish networks of support to the FDLR and other rebel groups;

• Recruitment of soldiers from Rwandan refugee camps;

• Violations of international humanitarian law;

• Impediments in the disarmament process;

• Wanted war criminal General Bosco Ntaganda’s parallel military operations;

• Recruitment of child solders;

• Obstruction of humanitarian access in eastern DRC; and

• Linkage between the exploitation of natural resources and the financing of illegal armed groups which reach all the way to Dubai and North Korea and include the purchase of a Boeing 727 aircraft originating at the Opa-Locka Executive Airport in Florida.

By now, this probably isn’t news to the Afrophiles and assorted newshounds who no doubt follow this blog. The funny thing is: it wasn’t really news when the story “broke” in December. As Nienaber pointed out, the much-hyped “leaked” report had, in a very similar form, already gone public in May of last year.

But the really sobering part is that, in terms of the overall methods and conclusions, another, similar report already appeared, incredibly, in April 2001.

!

That’s right, more than eight years before a blockbuster report was leaked, detailing the widespread funneling of Congolese resources through complicit neighboring countries to a vast and nefarious network of overseas ne’er-do-wells, the UN published a damning report, detailing the widespread funneling of Congolese resources through complicit neighboring countries to a vast and nefarious network of overseas ne’er-do-wells.

Really, Congo, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

'Thank you, brother. And be sure to report the details of this legitimate transaction to the appropriate authorities!'

The differences, of course, are not just cosmetic. While the 2009 report largely places the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the FDLR in its crosshairs, before proceeding to untangle its very tangled web of associates, the 2001 report leveled most of its more damning accusations at the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, including their respective leaders-cum-war-profiteers, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni. These included, e.g., some knee-slapping graphics detailing the dramatic increase in gold and diamond exports by both countries since their invasion of Congo in 1997, despite the fact that the two countries’ combined domestic mining interests could barely scrape together enough gold and diamonds for even a D-list rapper’s Jesus piece. You can almost picture the customs officials in Kampala and Kigali, diligently slapping little “MADE IN UGANDA” and “MADE IN RWANDA” stickers onto each hefty sack of gold and diamonds, before sending them on their way to Abu Dhabi, Antwerp and beyond.

The 2009 report, also, to give it full credit, does a remarkable job in naming names and, um, facing faces. If Colonel David Ruyagi, Ignace Murwanashyaka, Neo Bisimwa, or any of their co-conspirators thought they would be getting off easy in this latest UN exposé, they were sorely mistaken. Likewise, if you were a shady middleman for cutthroat Rwandan rebels looking to export Congo’s exploited mineral resources to reputable and un- businesses abroad, you wouldn’t want to wake up one morning, rub the sleep from your eyes, pick up your favorite news daily, and see this picture staring back from the front page.

A shady middleman, standing, appropriately, in the middle

Similarly, it is sort of implicit in the hopes of an arms trafficker that a picture like this one never makes it into the hands of UN researchers for their soon-to-be-well-circulated memoranda:

Pinstripes might make the man, but a shitload of pinstripes make the arms dealer

I would like to say there are some important and practical conclusions drawn from one or both of these reports, but really, for any cynical observer of this region, they only seem to further illustrate why Africa’s most intractable conflict is so intractable. Cui bono? Why, we all do!

The Real World: African Autocrats edition.

I tweeted the other day about Libyan crackpot Muammar Qaddafi, whose general zaniness, I thought, made him a worthy candidate for his own reality TV show. And then I thought to myself: what if we took not just Qaddafi, but all of our favorite African tyrants-in-chief, put them up in some posh beach villa on the outskirts of Mombasa, and waited for wacky hijinx and madcap hilarity to ensue? You mean this wouldn’t be the biggest ratings bonanza in African reality TV history? Really?

You think these strongmen couldn’t outmuscle even the toughest Jersey Shore juicehead?

Mugabe: 28 years and counting.

Dos Santos: 30 years and still going strong

Wade: only 10 years...but already tinkering with plans to change Senegal's constitution to allow for a third term

Kagame: bitch-slapping the opposition since 2000

Qaddafi: 40-plus years as Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, which I couldn't even make up if I tried

Museveni: 23 years and still spry as a spring despot

Kibaki: stuffing ballot boxes since 2002

Zuma: play on, playa

Yar'Adua: ...

Wouldn’t the assembled egos be more combustible and fraught with tension than election night in Harare? Can’t you just picture Kibaki and Museveni getting into a shoving match over some underage whore at Forty Thieves?

So I got to thinking…

*************

[Cue opening credits. Papa Wemba music blares. Sun rising on African savannah, old women baring breasts, etc.]

VOICEOVER: This is the true story.

[Slow, tracking shot. Exotic wildlife prancing, loping, migrating across screen. Baobabs. ]

VO: Of eight democratically elected African strongmen.

[Ultra-extreme close-up of grinning African man, democratic foot-soldier, etc., casting his ballot in a free and fair election.]

VO: No, seriously. Democratically elected.

[Pan out. Ruling party youth league goons swinging sticks and truncheons at voters' backs.]

VO: Who decide to take a break from governing.

VO: And move into an IMF-subsidized time-share.

[Fussy white men in suits making nervous faces as they hand over a rent check.]

VO: After evicting local tenant farmers.

[Slow, solemn procession of African peasantry heading toward bleak, distant horizon.]

VO: And receiving a generous UN per diem.

[Fussy white men w/ checks, etc.]

VO: To get real.

[Extreme close-up of baby with bloated stomach, blinking distantly at camera.]

VO: Real crooked.

[African leaders gleefully throwing piles of World Bank cash at each other.]

VO: On The Real World: African Autocrats.

****************

Enter Rwandan President Paul KAGAME, Ugandan President Yoweri MUSEVENI, and Libyan President Muammar QADDAFI. A corpulent Kenyan President Mwai KIBAKI sits on the sofa, stuffing his face with sausage rolls and scanning hot celebrity pics in The Star. Angolan President Jose Eduardo DOS SANTOS sits under a pile of cobwebs in the corner, an oil drip connected to his arm. Nigerian President Umaru Musa YAR’ADUA is nowhere to be seen.

MUSEVENI: You fat Kikuyu, always hungry!

KIBAKI: It is my turn to eat, bwana.

MUSEVENI: If you only eat a little – slowly, slowly – no one will notice. I fleeced the West for years before they realized I was no better than all the other tyrants. Some still think I am an example of the New African Leader. Haha.

KAGAME: Haha.

MUSEVENI: Haha.

YAR’ADUA: …

KIBAKI: Ndiyo, you are right. If I am not careful, Ban Ki-Moon will tell me that I should be tried at a special tribunal in the Hague. Hahaha.

MUSEVENI: Hahaha.

KAGAME: Hahaha.

ALL: Hahaha.

[Cut to Ban KI-MOON, wearing a pink tutu and blushing in the corner.]

KIBAKI: We Kikuyu have a saying: grmphluggerblursplatughrump [words drowned out by digestive noises].

KAGAME: In the bush we survived on canniness and wiles. For three years I ate nothing but Human Rights Watch reports. [lifting shirt to reveal washboard abs] Yoweri, feel my stomach.

MUSEVENI: You fat Kenyans cannot even agree on how to misrule a country.

KIBAKI: Yes, now you are handing out leadership advice. Mr. I Can’t Even Control an Unruly Kingdom Within My Own Borders.

MUSEVENI: [makes a flummoxed face]

KIBAKI: Mr. Let Me Bend Over So the Western Oil Companies Can Stick It In.

MUSEVENI: [cartoon teapot steam spouting from ears] Oh, so says the great leader of the Grand Coalition Government. So says him who can’t even manage to steal an election without maybe half the Western world noticing.

[Enter Zimbabwean President Robert MUGABE in combat fatigues.]

MUGABE: Who, me?

KIBAKI: Comrade Bob, Museveni thinks it is easy to manipulate an election against the democratic will of the people. He thinks the opposition will come and just, what, hand you the keys to State House. “Here, Mr. President. Karibu tena.” Oh, it is soOOOoooo easy to win an election when you have already crushed the opposition.

MUSEVENI: Hahaha. It really is. Hahaha.

KAGAME: Hahahaha.

MUSEVENI and KAGAME: Hahahahaha.

QADDAFI: Opposition? What’s an opposition? Hahaha.

KIBAKI: He thinks Kofi Annan just comes to Kenya to, I don’t know, go swimming in Mombasa.

MUGABE: The West will send its stooges whenever the business interests of the American and European imperialists are threatened by the revolutionary will of the black African majority.

KAGAME: [rolls his eyes and makes a little here-comes-another-rant-about-Western-imperialism face]

MUGABE: We have a favorite saying in Harare: If you can’t beat them…beat them.

ALL: Hahahahaha.

[Cut to KI-MOON, hastily writing a UN resolution.]

DOS SANTOS: [mumbles something in Portuguese]

MUGABE: Are you still here, Jose?

DOS SANTOS: [pointing to IV drip pumping petroleum into his veins]

KAGAME: I think he is saying that today’s despot will always find a complicit Western government to turn its back on electoral irregularities if there is a business interest at stake.

QADDAFI: And how! Hahaha.

KAGAME: Hahaha.

DOS SANTOS: [oil bubbles up in throat, making throttled laugh noises]

YAR’ADUA: …

QADDAFI: I used to be a pariah; now I free terrorists and receive lucrative oil contracts from multinationals. I can do whatever I want! Watch!

[QADDAFI drops pants and poops on original copy of the UN charter.]

ALL: Hahahaha.

YAR’ADUA: …

KAGAME: I used to worry how my strong-handed tactics would play in Western capitals. And then I realized that the West wants leaders like me. Maybe 95.1 percent of the vote in 2003 was being modest. Haha.

MUSEVENI: Haha. I am on thin ice. I only secured 59 percent. 2011 will be too close to call. Hahaha.

KAGAME: Hahaha.

QADDAFI: Election? What’s an election? Hahaha.

ALL: Hahaha.

KAGAME: Winning a free and fair election by a landslide majority with the tacit approval of the West is easy. Do you want to know the real trick?

KIBAKI: ?

MUSEVENI: ?

ALL: ?

YAR’ADUA: …

[KAGAME leaves and returns with a pint-sized marionette of Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph KABILA.]

KABILA: [in high, squeaky voice] Look at me, I’m the leader of a sovereign nation!

MUSEVENI: I can see your lips moving, Kagame!

KABILA: I control a nation as vast as Western Europe, with abundant mineral resources that would never, ever, EVER get smuggled out on my watch.

ALL: Hahahaha.

MUSEVENI: [flashing Congolese diamond-crusted wristwatch] Yes, this watch was made with diamonds from Uganda’s vast hidden, super-secret mines. Hahaha.

ALL: Hahahaha.

KABILA: What has two thumbs and calls the shots in Kinshasa? [jerks thumbs toward KAGAME, who is poorly disguising his lackluster ventriloquist's skills in the rear] This guy!

MUSEVENI: Hahaha.

KAGAME: [dropping KABILA puppet, now that he's finished with him] Hahaha.

ALL: Hahahaha.

[Enter Senegalese President Abdoulaye WADE, followed by 10,000 Haitian refugees.]

KAGAME: Look at Wade – generous to a fault!

WADE: That’s what the IMF said! Hahaha.

ALL: Hahaha.

WADE: What’s a bag of money between friends? Hahaha.

ALL: Hahaha.

HAITIANS: …

KAGAME: We Africans must embrace our brothers and sisters in the diaspora. Who else can be counted on to come back and run our countries? Haha.

WADE: Haha. I’ve already offered them voter registration cards. Haha.

ALL: Haha.

QADDAFI: You are so generous to invite our African brothers back to their homeland.

MUGABE: Speak for yourself, Asian.

QADDAFI: [chortles something in Arabic]

MUGABE: [brandishes fist]

[Cut to KI-MOON, effete and panicking in the corner.]

KAGAME: Quick, someone call Zuma.

MUSEVENI: Where is Zuma?

ALL: Zuma!

Cut to South African President Jacob ZUMA in a hot tub, surrounded by buxom South African women.

ZUMA: [whispering in the ear of a giggling young girl] Really, I’m the President. I can do it. We can just say you are a Zulu secessionist queen, and just like that [snaps fingers], I give you half of KwaZulu-Natal.

[Cut to DOS SANTOS, oil burbling.]

[Cut to YAR'ADUA, missing.]

[Cut to KIBAKI, gorging.]

[Cut to KAGAME and MUSEVENI, squabbling over profits.]

[Cut to WADE, grandstanding.]

[Cut to millions of Africans, waiting.]

[Fade to black.]

****************

VO: Next week, on The Real World: African Autocrats.

[Exterior shot: Crouching Dragon nightclub, somewhere in Mombasa.]

[Close-up of ZUMA, standing at the bar.]

ZUMA: [whispering in the ear of a pretty young Kenyan] No, really. You take a shower when you are finished and you are safe.

[Cut to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles ZENAWI, outside, surrounded by 1,000 sycophants and tussling with bouncer.]

ZENAWI: What does this mean, I am not on the list? I have friends in Washington.

[Close-up of gruff, Eritrean bouncer, head shaking.]

ZENAWI: Twenty years ago in my country, we would have fed you to a lion. I am serious. We would have buried you under the prison.

[Cut to Sudanese President Omar AL-BASHIR, sequestered by ICC warrants, pulling on an argilah pipe, alone at his home in Khartoum. AL-BASHIR sighs, belches, drums his fingers on the tabletop. A wallclock ticks loudly in the background.]

[Cut to Hu JINTAO, thrusting his hips on the catwalk and showering 1,000-yuan notes onto the hungry, huddled African masses below.]

JINTAO: I make it rain, bitches! I make it rain!

[Cut to Coca Cola-sponsored commercial break.]

The gay agenda – that whole hidden and dark agenda.

I will be the first to admit that my admiration for The New York Times’ Nairobi bureau chief, Jeffrey Gettleman, borders on bromantic obsession. Nor am I alone. He is, in the words of Slate’s Jack Shafer, “the paper’s anti-Kristof.”

Instead of reducing Africa’s conflicts to hellzapoppin’ horror show or composing uplifting chords that put smileys on the faces of the suffering, Gettleman dons the big pants of the reliable narrator and puts the dead into deadpan.

His reporting is nuanced; often, he’ll take a story widely reported in the Western press and find a deeper current. (His work during Kenya’s post-election crisis, for example, was magnificent.)

In today’s Times he weighs in on Uganda’s proposed anti-gay legislation, which – in its most draconian form – would impose the death penalty on anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.” The link between the legislation and its evangelical sponsors in the US has been addressed before. Zoe Alsop, writing in Time, notes how

Ugandan supporters of the bill appear to be particularly impressed by the ideas of Scott Lively, a California conservative preacher who has written a book, The Pink Swastika, about what he calls the links between Nazism and a gay agenda for world domination

.

(One might argue here that the only thing more laughable than a “gay agenda” is a “gay agenda for world domination.”)

In the Times, Gettleman looks more specifically at a Ugandan visit by American evangelicals earlier this year, which seems to have directly inspired the bill’s drafting.

Last March, three American evangelical Christians, whose teachings about “curing” homosexuals have been widely discredited in the United States, arrived here in Uganda’s capital to give a series of talks.

The theme of the event, according to Stephen Langa, its Ugandan organizer, was “the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda” — and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family.

A month later, a largely unknown Ugandan politician – with links to the American evangelical community – put forth a proposal for the harsh new bill. You can connect the dots for yourself.

Advancing the gay agenda, courtesy of Marc Hofer, NYT

Courtesy of Marc Hofer, NYT

Gay rights demonstrator, in Uganda

Anti-gay rights activists in Kampala, courtesy of Marc Hofer, NYT

Since the BBC first picked up on the proposal in October, the story has gained some traction, especially in the Commonwealth press. It began to pick up steam in the US in December, as American lawmakers decided to weigh in.

The larger backdrop, though, is concisely summed up in today’s Times piece.

Uganda seems to have become a far-flung front line in the American culture wars, with American groups on both sides, the Christian right and gay activists, pouring in support and money as they get involved in the broader debate over homosexuality in Africa.

You could make the persuasive case that Americans have done enough meddling in African affairs through the years. Yet the battle for Uganda’s gays – which included a wonderfully moronic online debate at the BBC, “Should homosexuals face execution?” – is prompting a bit of American soul-searching. David Water’s “On Faith” blog reported last month how the Ugandan bill had prompted a crisis of faith among already-divided American church leaders. (The comments section alone makes the link worth reading.) And the three Americans who spoke at the Ugandan conference are now distancing themselves from the bill, claiming, in the words of one, that they were “duped.”

“Some of the nicest people I have ever met are gay people,” said Don Schmierer, of Exodus International, whose avowed mission is “mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality.”

Perhaps the man taking the biggest hit is Pastor Rick Warren – a man who works and ministers, well, religiously on behalf of his African pet projects, and whose Purpose-Driven Life is reportedly the best-selling hardcover in the English language. (A fascinating profile of the man appears here.)

Pastor Rick Warren: What's not to love?

Warren’s close personal ties to Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa – one of the bill’s biggest advocates – has tainted Warren with more than a slight whiff of guilt-by-association. (Ssempa: “I think it is important to understand what sodomy is. It is inherently unhealthy, a sexual lifestyle that involves unmentionable acts.”) Yet Warren,

whose church has extensive AIDS ministries in Uganda and other African nations, declined to condemn the legislation. A request for a broader reaction to the proposed Ugandan anti-homosexual laws generated this response: “The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.” On Meet the Press this morning, he reiterated this neutral stance in a different context: “As a pastor, my job is to encourage, to support. I never take sides.”

This is more than slightly disingenuous, as anyone who has heard Warren on abortion or gay marriage can attest. The purpose-driven pastor finally got around to denouncing the bill in mid-December. But by then, the story had already been snatched up by the mainstream media. I mean, it was on Meet the freakin’ Press! What came out of Warren’s mouth at that point seemed less like a principled stance than damage control.

You have to wonder, too, whether the issue at hand is really a question of morals or a question of Ugandan leaders trying to (pardon the metaphor) cover their asses.

The bill is clearly a diversion from the serious issues facing Uganda’s policy-makers today in the lead-up to the 2011 elections especially around livelihoods; poverty and the lack of jobs; electoral reforms; lasting solutions to the northern Uganda peace process; political conflict; ethnic tensions and the unresolved land question; high rates of violence against children and against women (perpetrated largely by heterosexual men); and the ongoing impact of HIV/AIDS.

Scapegoating, after all, is nothing new to Ugandan politics – especially if you remember the plight of Asians under Idi Amin. But as foreign donors threaten to hit Uganda where it hurts, legislators – however reluctantly – seem willing to oblige.

“There have been a lot of discussions in government … regarding the proposed law, but we now think a life sentence could be better because it gives room for offenders to be rehabilitated,” [Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo] said in an interview.

“Killing them might not be helpful.”

Ultimately, even a watered-down bill will only serve to “formalize the persecution [the Ugandan gay community] feels every day,” as Reuters reports.

“I have been arrested by police a number of times, often on flimsy charges just because of my homosexual lifestyle,” said David Kato, who lives as an openly gay man in Kampala.

“The prospect of living under this law is scary. Certainly all my life and plans will be ruined.”