Uganda’s Anti-Gay Witch Hunt Continues

A new chapter opened this week in a vicious, media-led witchhunt that is outing gays in Uganda, when a daily newspaper unveiled  the latest installment of what it bills as its "Weird Sex Investigation," publishing the names and detailed descriptions of 40 men it claimed are gay.


Under the shock headline "HOMO TERROR! We Name and Shame Top Gays in the City," Red Pepper’s Sunday, September 9 issue provided details so precise — physical descriptions, residences, places of employment, and the kind of cars they drive — that those targeted, almost all from the capital city of Kampala or its environs, were easily identifiable to their neighbors and co-workers. [Red Pepper, a Ugandan daily, should not be confused with the left-wing British monthly of the same name.]


The newspaper’s list includes doctors, businessmen, clerics, broadcasters, lawyers, bankers, actors, musicians, and non-profit group staffers.


"This article fingers those named for physical attack," Cary Alan Johnson, senior Africa specialist for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), told me.


Johnson declared, "There is a comprehensive campaign being waged against LGBT rights in Uganda. It includes government and conservative religious leaders. Now the lower end of the media — rags like Red Pepper — are adding their hate-filled voices."


Johnson added, "Gay and lesbian-baiting, like that which Red Pepper has engaged in before and is engaging in again, incites violence and destroys lives."


One of those whose name appeared in this latest Red Pepper outing list — his real name cannot be given to protect his security — described the situation as "tense, with lots of phone calls and people coming to me face to face within the company [where I work] and family, seeking clarification as to why my name keeps coming up in the press."


This nervous outing victim said in an e-mail, "We are on the lookout for what may come next," and declared he was particularly concerned for his boyfriend, whose "relatives have called a meeting today in his house to discuss this issue after knowing what has been going on, and knowing me for some time as a person they trust to be with their son and had never suspected this. [My boyfriend] is scared, as this is his first encounter with homophobia."


The first installment of Red Pepper’s hate-filled outing campaign  was launched last year on August 8, when the newspaper, under the banner headline "GAY SHOCK!" published the names of 45 allegedly gay and bisexual men. Those outed by the newspaper included lawyers, army officers, university lecturers, entertainers, bankers, students, and priests. Red Paper listed the profession, the city of origin, and in some cases information on the friends and partners of those accused of being gay, most of whom were from Kampala and its suburbs. It also gave a tip line phone number for readers to report on other alleged same-sexers.


This was followed by another barrage when, on September 8, 2006, under the headline "KAMPALA’S NOTORIOUS LESBIANS UNEARTHED," Red Pepper published the names of 13 alleged lesbians, including two boutique owners, a basketball player, and the daughters of a former member of Parliament and of a prominent sheikh.


"To rid our motherland of the deadly vice, we are committed to exposing all the lesbos in the city" of Kampala, the newspaper proclaimed, telling its readers to "send more names" with "the name and occupation of the lesbin [sic] in your neighborhood and we shall shame her." (For more on last year’s launch of the Red Pepper outing campaign, see this reporter’s September 14-20, 2006 article in Gay City News, "Uganda Witch Hunt Escalates.")


Red Pepper — which promises another installment in its anti-gay exposé this coming Sunday — is, however, not alone in media appeals to hate. State-sponsored media have been calling for stronger measures against homosexual conduct. For example, on July 6, a writer in the government-owned newspaper New Vision urged the state to crack down on homosexuality, saying, "The police should visit the holes mentioned in the press, spy on the perverts, arrest and prosecute them. Relevant government departments must outlaw or restrict Web sites, magazines, newspapers, and television channels promoting immorality — including homosexuality, lesbianism, pornography, etc."


Last Sunday’s Red Pepper "Homo Terror" article was explicitly proclaimed by the tabloid as its response to the first-ever press conference held on August 17 by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the umbrella organization for Ugandan lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and intersex organizations.


At that press conference, SMUG launched its "Let us Live in Peace" campaign, condemning violence and discrimination against homosexuals as well as the "life-threatening" silence about homosexuality in HIV/AIDS prevention programs. Many of those present at the press conference wore masks because they were afraid to show their faces.


The press conference was organized by SMUG’s courageous leader, Victor Juliet Mukasa, a transgendered lesbian who is Uganda’s most open and visible LGBT leader. She had been forced to flee the country to South Africa in fear of her life after police raided her home in 2005, seized SMUG documents, and arrested her guest, a woman who was forced to strip naked.


Mukasa recently returned to Uganda to launch a lawsuit against the government for the raid, which she said was illegal under the Ugandan Constitution, and to organize the "Let Us Live in Peace" campaign.


"We were treated in a degrading and inhumane way," Mukasa said at the press conference of the raid on her home." And, she added, "Many of us have suffered similar injustice. We are here today to proclaim that these human rights violations are completely unacceptable. We have had enough of the abuse, neglect, and violence."


In a clear reference to the SMUG press conference, the Red Pepper wrote last Sunday that, "Since the gay community in Uganda has shown us that they really want to be recognized, we are saying enough is enough. Today we are helping them get the recognition they seem to so badly want by naming all of them one by one."


And, the tabloid said, "If you are faint of heart, please stop here because we leave no stone unturned. Our article narrates how the gays network and hook members into their group, what their parties look like, favourite hang out joints plus how they shaft. You will be shocked." It promised photographs in future editions.


Descriptions of the 40 people targeted by Red Pepper included:


"SAMUEL — this gentleman works with MTN [Uganda's large telecommunications company] as a top officer and is based in a city suburb. He stays along Gayaza Road and he’s in his early 40s. He drives an MTN car. He once got married and had kids before divorcing his wife to settle for young boys. He is the leader of the gay ring in Uganda. He organizes everything that they do and is well known to foreign gay societies."


"CEDRICK — He is a very brown guy with feminine looks and walks like a woman. He is a son of a former top politician. He is married and works in his father’s business."


"MATHIAS — short and small, he looks like a woman. He formerly presented EATV’s ‘Kampala Wire,’ where he was fired."


"WASSWA — A lecturer at Makerere University, he is short and slender. He stays in a historical place in Buganda and drives a blue imposing car."


The SMUG press conference sparked an anti-gay rally by a coalition of Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Baha’i denominations, and a series of public threats made by top Ugandan government officials, including calls for arrests.


On August 21 , Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi called for the criminal law to be used against gays and lesbians in the country. After this threat, many gay activists went into hiding. Days earlier, Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo publicly called homosexuality "unnatural" — and, while belittling charges that police harassed LGBT people, warned, "We know them; we have details of who they are." (For more details, see this reporter’s August 23-29  Gay City News article, "Crises Across Africa.")


While some countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, and several Scandinavian countries, have protested to the Ugandan government about these threats and the violations of the human rights of LGBT people, the US has been noticeably silent.


"I met with the State Department’s desk officer for Uganda last week," IGLHRC’s Johnson told me. "We need to have our embassy in Kampala doing something. They even have a human rights office in the embassy, but so far they’ve been silent about all this."



Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared online Sept. 13. The article was written for Gay City News — New York’s largest lesbian and gay weekly.

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