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Ugandans could soon be required by law to love their country. The Patriotism Bill, to be tabled by minister for the presidency Frank Tumwebaze, will require every Ugandan to, among other things, support all government development programs and defend national property. Failure to do so would lead to imprisonment or a fine. The bill would also ensure the establishment of “Patriotism Clubs” in schools to instil patriotic values among pupils and students.
Tumwebaze told the parliamentary presidential affairs committee that if this bill gets enacted into law, it will helping in the fight against a number of societal problems, worst of which is government corruption. “Our constitution demands that Ugandans be patriotic, therefore there is a need for a law to clearly define this obligation,” he said.
However, the move has been labelled a farce by both opposition parties and civil society organisations.
The president of Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) Dr. Olara Otunnu terms it as “utter fraud.” He says that patriotism cannot be a law passed by parliament, but a feeling that comes from inside, appreciating the things that makes you celebrate and be proud your country. “Now unless we say that we should be proud of and celebrate corruption, discrimination, segregation, poverty and brutality, there is no point in being patriotic in Uganda,” Otunnu maintains. He claims the bill is meant to ensure that President Yoweri Museveni is praised across the country.
Renowned Ugandan media personality and social commentator Angelo Izama too disagrees with the idea of compelling Ugandans to love their country. He believes that if the government is indeed serious about patriotism, it should start with respecting the separation of powers among state institutions, and harness the intrinsic values of state symbols to build a stronger national identity.
Others, including Ugandan youth groups, have advised the government that instead of legislating for patriotism, it should create more opportunities for the country’s millions of unemployed young people. Government has in the past years come up with different programs tackling the issue, but these have failed due to corruption among government officials.
Godber Tumushabe, a civil society activist, says that government needs to invest more in social service delivery and overhaul the symbols of state power if it wants Ugandans be proud of, and appreciate their country. While the patriotism debate is raging, the national referral hospital in Mulago recently had its water supply cut off over not paying its water bills, and several children and adult patients recently because the hospital ran out of oxygen. Hundreds of women deliver their babies in the hospital corridors, and tens of mothers and their babies die in childbirth every day.
Prominent Ugandan lawyer and social critic David Mpanga says that government officials call for new laws to hide failure to address real problems, and that existing laws are unenforced due to lack of capacity or poor prioritisation. “How would you measure that love or lack thereof,” he asks.
“Patriotism and the love of a country are important, but they are lacking now for a whole host of social, economic, cultural and political reasons, and not simply because of lack of a law. Parliament can do many things but it cannot make the people love Uganda any more than they do now merely by passing a law,” Mpanga noted.
Uganda’s recently passed Anti-Pornography Act 2014 is believed to have led to targeting of women wearing mini-skirts, prompting the cabinet to review the law.
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi told parliament recently that it is not the duty of the public but the police to implement the law: “The law is not about the length of one’s dress or skirt. As cabinet, we are going to look at the act again.”
The law, assented to by President Yoweri Museveni on 6 February this year, creates and defines the offence of pornography and its prohibition. It bans anyone from producing, trafficking, publishing, broadcasting, procuring, importing exporting or abetting any form of pornography.
Nowhere in the law is a ban on mini-skirts mentioned. The prime minister said that the term “indecent” as defined in the act to mean “non conformity with generally accepted standards” is too broad and varies from one person to another. “It’s very important that the law is clear and specific. I request the public not to take the law in their hands. It’s criminal, especially to women; they must be fully protected, and we shall protect them,” he said.
Initially, the bill proposed the prohibition of types of dress that exposed different body parts like breasts, thighs, genitalia and buttocks, but that clause was deleted before it was enacted into law. The law that was ultimately passed targets media organisations, Internet Service Providers (ISP’s), the entertainment and leisure industry and others putting what is deemed pornographic material into the public domain. Despite this, many women are afraid of the consequences of the law.
The apparent misunderstanding of the law by the public has generally been blamed on Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo, who has suggested that it will ultimately help in the fight against indecent dressing by women. He has openly stated that “if a woman is dressed in attire that irritates the mind and excites other people of the opposite sex, you are dressed in wrong attire, so please you should hurry up and go home and change.” He maintains that women should “dress decently” because “men are so weak that if they saw an indecently dressed woman, they would just jump on her”. It should be noted that this minister is a former priest of the Catholic Church.
The act defines pornography as any cultural practice, radio or television programme, writing, publication, advertisement, broadcast, upload on the internet, display, entertainment, music, dance, picture, audio or video recording, show, exhibition or any combination of these that depicts a person engaged in explicit sexual activities or conduct; sexual parts of a person; erotic behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement or any indecent act or behaviour tending to corrupt morals.
The act also proposes setting up a Pornography Control Committee to, among other things, ensure that perpetrators of pornography are apprehended and prosecuted, and to collect and destroy all pornographic materials.
Ruth Ojiambo Othieno, the Executive Director of Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange said she was disappointed that the law is targeting women and their bodies.
Miria Matembe, a woman’s activist and former ethics minister argues that the law is very vague and compares it to former President Idi Amin’s directive that women should not wear skirts and dresses more than three inches above the knee.
In a statement, police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba warned that if one suspects a person to be indecently dressed, they should report the matter to police but not take the law into their own hands. “Anyone found participating in mob justice of undressing people and are caught will be dealt with accordingly,” she said.
This is a guest post by Jenni Hulse
Last week, prominent Ugandan church leader Canon Gideon Byamugisha joined international condemnation of the country’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill, saying it will be nothing short of state-sponsored “genocide”. He added that the bill would “institutionalise violence and death towards a minority group”.
Byamugisha’s remarks are the latest in a global backlash against the bill. On Thursday a Ugandan news website reported that Sweden will cut aid to Uganda if the bill is passed. Canada has also condemned the bill and Gordon Brown is reported to have discussed the matter directly with the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni at the recent commonwealth summit.
The bill, proposed on 14 October by David Bahati, MP for Ndorwa County, seeks to introduce the death penalty for anyone convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” and life imprisonment for committing any “homosexual act”. Provisions in the bill could also lead to the imprisonment of anyone who fails to report within 24 hours the identities of everyone they know who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Apart from the obvious human rights implications — criminalizing the personal and social behaviour of the LGBT community in Uganda, estimated to number 500,000 — legal experts have said it poses a serious threat to the right to free speech, association and assembly.
A new, wide-ranging provision would forbid the “promotion of homosexuality”, including publishing information or providing funds or premises for activities, or other resources. Conviction could result in up to seven years in prison.
“Promotion” is expected to extend to any form of public discussion about homosexuality, and activists have raised concerns that this will hinder the country’s fight against HIV/Aids among the gay community. Any media deemed to be publicizing homosexuality will automatically be censored and publishers and broadcasters will face prosecution. Free communication will be compromised with one clause criminalising the use of “electronic devices which include internet, films, mobile phones for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality”.
Bahati has defended the bill, insisting publicly that homosexuality is not a human right and that the bill only seeks to defend the “traditional heterosexual family.” However, if introduced, it will put the freedom of expression of all Ugandans at risk. By further stigmatising an already marginalised group and penalising those who support the rights of the gay community, the bill will fuel a witch-hunt mindset that will divide and weaken civil society.