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Tuesday 21 October  
Pastor Martin Ssempa at Kampala Baptist Church, 5 March 2011
Kampala, Uganda
Kampala, Uganda

What makes Uganda’s anti-gay pastor tick?

Published on : 10 February 2013 - 6:00am | By RNW Africa Desk (Photo: bbcworldservice/Flickr)
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On the blog beat

Blogger SebaSpace is 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.


Pastor Martin Ssempa – the most provocative, prurient and excessive proponent of gay hate Uganda has ever known – is trying to stay relevant in the ongoing homosexuality debate. He has a radio talk show, is on Twitter and seems to have walked away from a criminal conviction more emboldened, even if also chastened. So, what makes Ssempa tick? How come he still manages to make such waves in Uganda?

By SebaSpace

To understand the pastor, it helps to compare him to another firebrand anti-gay crusader, albeit from a different continent and era: the late Reverend Jerry Falwell.

When Falwell died in 2007, America’s Bible Belt lost one of its most vocal anti-gay leaders and the gay movement lost one of the most vocal enemies it was fortunate to have. With the movement he established in 1979, Falwell excoriated abortion, homosexuality and pornography with such venom and ferocity that America sat up and listened. His Moral Majority galvanized the religious right behind any political candidate who agreed with their message. But they also unwittingly did homosexuality a favour: brought it into a mainstream discussion, enabling America to gradually realize that homosexuals were not the threat Falwell said they were.

After all, Falwell had condemned a character in the BBC children’s programme Teletubbies for being gay. Then he famously blamed gays for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Even remaining supporters who believed in him hid away in embarrassment. Over the years, listeners wondered how preaching hate was compatible with the Biblical message of love and inclusion.

So, thanks to his fire and brimstone excoriation of homosexuals, prostitutes and single mothers, most sensible Americans resorted to education, common sense and natural decency. They paid less and less attention to Falwell.

While Falwell’s and Ssempa’s anti-gay virulence has striking similarities, one critical element differentiates the two men: money.

All but broke
Always able to rely on his followers for fundraising, Falwell wasn't driven to rant and rave by money.
Pastor Ssempa is all but broke. He long relied on handouts from organizations, such as Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas. But they all cut ties when his message degenerated into calling for the judicial execution of his fellow citizens.

Ssempa's continuing problem is twofold. Thanks to some spectacular advocacy, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) have repeatedly scored resounding successes, up to and including forcing President Museveni to admit in international interviews that homosexuality is not a Western import as many ignorant detractors love to argue. Led by Frank Mugisha (SMUG) and Kasha Nabagesera (FARUG), those two organizations have achieved phenomenal success in raising the profile of the gay movement in Uganda. With that, endorsements have come from notables like Hillary Clinton and the Robert Kennedy Human Rights Award.

For better or worse, gay activism has been the most successful minority rights movement in Uganda in recent memory.

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Compare that to Ssempa's achievements over the same period. First, he alienated his American evangelical friends by showing pornographic videos during church services. Then he got entangled in a stratagem to tar fellow pastor Robert Kayanja with the brush of paedophile homo-sodomy – for which Ssempa was sued and convicted in late 2012.

Ssempa is now a convicted felon. He must have been relieved when well-wishers paid the $400.00 the judge fined him for perverting the course of justice, coaching witnesses and conniving with others to sully the reputation of his rival.

Preaching to the wrong audience
The second frustration in Ssempa's continuing attempt to convince Ugandans that he is still relevant is a generational one. He appeals, and preaches mainly, to young, university-educated students. But growing evidence shows it is precisely this generation – 50 percent of Uganda's population is under 25 – who increasingly see sex and sexuality in a more morally nuanced prism.

So, Ssempa is trying to convert precisely those a) who don't have much money to pay for his sinking crusade and b) whose far more liberal socialization makes his outlandish anti-gay vituperation fall on barren ground.

Ssempa's shrillness also belies a deep-seated problem. He doesn't give a hoot about whether homosexuality is eradicated from Uganda because, of course, he is educated enough to know that is impossible. He tends to latch on to the argument that the majority of Ugandans are against homosexuality.

But when you ask him if he would have joined the 73 percent of Americans who supported the miscegenation laws that barred blacks and white from intermarrying until the Supreme Court's deeply unpopular 1967 intervention (Ssempa’s wife is white), he ignores that question.

His worst nightmare
In a nutshell, Pastor Ssempa is running a cynical, insincere campaign based on mendacity, demagoguery and sophism. His worst nightmare is that what happened to Falwell will befall him: his country will make an intelligent, thoughtful examination of the arguments. Hence, his debate consisting of showing porn in church, waving sex toys on television and raving like a lunatic. He hopes that if he makes as much empty noise as possible, the sensible arguments for tolerance and common sense will be drowned out.

If the tide in Uganda continues to ebb away from his type of mock-indignation, vitriolic, mindless hysteria, Ssempa will follow Falwell’s slow, inexorable decline into total irrelevance. Then, like the reverend in his twilight years, Ssempa will cut a forlorn, aging figure echoing in the wilderness – but without Falwell's deep pockets or legacy-building savvy.

More RNW content about gays in Africa here.


Kira 23 July 2013 - 3:59pm

You yourself are shouting against the makings of God. God gave us free will to love, to live, and to spread the word. It is not for us to kill. Some are seeking the death penalty for homosexuality in the country but killing is just as much of a break in the 10 commandments as Adultery. Preach love not hate, use what God gave you to light the world not rise against. Also, people that recruit and touch children are called pedophiles not gay.

Anonymous 9 March 2013 - 9:24am / New Zealand

Uganda has a history of hate = the Asians in the 1970s and now the Homosexuals , seems like these people have no idea of how a true Christian acts , I feel sad ans sorry for all Uganda not just the Homosexuals .

Anonymous 20 February 2013 - 7:31pm / Uganda

How does a right minded person think that a rectum is a sexual organ. How come our Dogs and Pigs cant make the same mistake the homos do?

Isaac Kawooya 11 February 2013 - 8:06am / Uganda

Where do you get this alternative sex idea, to tell the truth as long as I live these people will never again I say will never be accepted in Uganda. We doing need you money to advance this this cause and by the way Pastor Ssempa does not preach hate but Love he loves homosexuals and is helping them Pastor you have my support.

Anonymous 11 February 2013 - 5:19pm / South Africa

How can you take the spectrum of humans and decide that some of them are unacceptable? Humans vary in many ways. Why are you so judgemental? People love people. What gives anyone the right to judge? Especially a pastor who should be inclusive and loving?

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