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Saturday 25 October  
Choir performs at Uganda’s independence day celebration in Kampala, October 2012
Kampala, Uganda
Kampala, Uganda

"The majority of Ugandans are not homophobic"

Published on : 22 February 2013 - 6:00am | By RNW Africa Desk (Photo: Isaac Kasamani/AFP)
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On the blog beat

Adapted with permission from the blog SebaSpace, written by a gay Ugandan living in Uganda. You can reach the author by email () or Twitter (@Sebaspacee).

RNW's Africa Desk is proud to feature as part of its content local bloggers who have a knack for expressing their unique perspectives, independent thoughts and engaging stories. The opinions written here are those of the author and not intended to reflect those of RNW as an institution.

Uganda's decision to deport David Cecil, the Kampala-based British producer of the play ‘The River and the Mountain', prompted our blogger to address what he believes is a spreading misconception about anti-gay attitudes in his country.

By SebaSpace

Cecil is quoted as saying: “Uganda is not a terrible place and most people are not homophobic but they are conservative” and “There are pastors preaching hate, they are the problem.”

I couldn’t agree with him more on homophobia. I tried to illustrate way back in 2010 that Ugandans then were no more homophobic than the South Africans, Americans or the French of 2013. Attitudes towards homosexuality worldwide are deeply visceral and the difference tends to be in the lengths governments are willing to go to discourage citizens from acting ruinously on the feelings they are perfectly entitled to.

In that light, the Scandinavian countries are years ahead of almost any place else in the world. Homophobic sentiment exists in Sweden and Denmark, too. But the politicians are setting an example by leading the campaign to actively discourage the feelings from going beyond that – and perhaps even change them to acceptance and tolerance.

But it is on the issue of ‘conservatism’ that I want to dwell at this time.

The confusion
My suspicion is that Cecil is confusing ignorance and/or lack of education about homosexuality with conservatism. There is scant evidence to show that most Ugandans are conservative. What they are is unschooled about some aspects of life and sexuality, and too many of them hide their lack of knowledge in bombastic, shrill, often foolish knee-jerk throwaways that observers mistake for conservatism.

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Then there are Ugandans who are incapable of logical thought who – because this country’s education system focuses largely on churning out examination grades rather than critical thinking – run to the Bible and ‘tradition’ as their refuge.

The ignorant ones, who are not familiar with or educated about homosexuality, simply parrot what they have heard Pastor Martin Ssempa yell out. If you try to engage them in an intellectual exploration of the issues, they are visibly at sea. Since Ugandans typically don’t want to admit that they don’t know, it is little wonder they opt for ignorant din instead.

Ssempa is of course a cynical and opportunistically homophobic pastor who knows that he is talking nonsense all the time but nonetheless tries to encourage his listeners to be homophobic because he is hoping it will get him paid. It all makes for great mindless noise – sadly – which many people mistake for ‘conservatism’.

Remember that more than 50 percent of Uganda’s population is under 25 (48 percent is under 15). That is precisely the age group that is demonstrably more open-minded about sex and sexuality – to Ssempa’s acute frustration since it is also this group whom he wants to convert.

See why it is a complete misunderstanding to think that Ugandans are homophobic or conservative?

What my grandmother knew
That said, Cecil has clearly used the years he has spent in Uganda rather well. He never met my grandmother who died at the ripe old age of 96, but he would be correct if he realized that she was not homophobic or conservative. Having only gone to Bible school, she wasn’t the kind of woman anyone today would call ‘educated’. But she showed critical thinking and an enlightenment that a lot of schooled Ugandans would do well to emulate. How so?

My grandmother knew David Kato [the Ugandan LGBT rights activist murdered in 2011]. He lived down the road from her house. She knew that he was gay and spoke about how odd it was that a man could ‘unite’ with another man that way. But she also knew to mind her own business and made sure she never raised Kato’s homosexuality with his mother whom she also knew well. One of her stepsons, my father’s brother, spoke positively of Kato at his funeral and my grandmother totally approved.

My grandmother had more sense than ten Ssempas, and do you know how I know that? She was angrier about the wanton abuse of office by government officials than she was about homosexuality. She recognized that homosexuality was a curiosity, but would not expend energy on it because she was aware that she had known ‘odd’ people like that all her life and they had never affected her life the way lack of medicine and doctors in hospitals had robbed her of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Uganda is not at all a terrible place, and the majority of Ugandans are not homophobic or conservative. The pastors and politicians preaching hate for their own opportunistic, selfish ends are the problem.


Anonymous 23 February 2013 - 1:30pm / UK

This is a well written balanced piece. It is also reassuring for some Ugandans who leave outside the country and were horrified when the news came out. My grandmother is 85 now and has begun to lose her faculties. She was a teacher a long time ago. She once told me that her aunt was married to man who always told her to visit her family for long spells. One day, she came home earlier than expected. She found her husband in bed with man. My grandmother said that such people had been around all the time but they lived their lives out of public view. People knew about them but looked the other way as long as they did not hurt anyone. Africans have been very accomodating throughout the ages but this persecution of people who are different is a religious act that came mainly from Europe.

Anonymous256 26 February 2013 - 9:37pm / uganda

seriously....first i will commend you for writting such a nice article. you are a good writer. but, when i red this blog, am so disapointed. you, the writer, do not live in uganda. i am a ugandan boy, who doesnt really come off as so feminine, but every single day, i have a record of being insulted, abused, provoked, and some times am in fear that i may get beaten. ugandans re homophobic, especially the ueducated, this i know because, am a pedestrian, i walk through the streets of kampala, from downtown to the city centre/uptown area of kampala. i can assure you that because of the homophobia (abuse, riddicule, confronttions) i always use a boda boda (a motor cycle rider) to get me out of the downtown area (the taxi park area) and drop me some where in the city centre. and even my friends, go through alot of hell. i can attest to that. you are right when you talk about the younger generation being liberal minded, because at campus/university we are rumoured to be gay but we are never attacked, abused, confronted. people are so accomodative. so please writer, get your fcts right, if you want me to post here dozens of stories of how people are suffering just due to their sexuality. i will do it!!!!

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