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The Hand of God in Uganda - Part 1
President Biden condemned anti-gay laws in Uganda but forgot to blame the actual guilty party
Recently, President Joe Biden released a statement condemning the most recent laws in Uganda that provided harsh punishments for people convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” In his condemnation statement, President Biden called it a “shameful act” and further stated that:
As such, I have directed my National Security Council to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda, including our ability to safely deliver services under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other forms of assistance and investments. My Administration will also incorporate the impacts of the law into our review of Uganda’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). And we are considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption.
However, his statement seemed hypocritical because it showed an attempt to rewrite history, erasing the role of the US government in creating these laws, including the Obama administration.
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In March of 2009, in a conference in Kampala Uganda, American Pastor Scott Lively invited the entire Ugandan Parliament to a breakfast to discuss “The Dangers of Homosexuality.”1 He gave them instructions on how to draft the bill. Within months, the Ugandan lawmakers responded by introducing a bill in Parliament that criminalized homosexuality. Later, Scott Lively bragged about how he campaigned “like a Nuclear Bomb against the Gay Agenda in Uganda.”
Scott Lively was part of an explosion of religious NGOS who set up orphanages, schools, universities, and provides other social services. According to Renewal Movement Scholar Miranda K. Hasset:
U.S. conservatives have little true interest in the marginalized in Africa. Yet, they are running orphanages, schools and universities there, as well as providing loans and other social services under the auspices of evangelical charities such as World Vision, Uganda Partners, Africa Partners, Five Talents (an IRD sponsored initiative), Bread for Life, and Solar Light for Africa.2
These charities spent millions of dollars influencing every level of Ugandan society. They bought up entire radio outlets where they were allowed to blast out their hate, unregulated. They also provided generous gifts and benefits to those who towed the line for their teachings, as witnessed by this flyer:
Worse, the US government, through PEPFAR provided many of these organizations with direct funding to “fight AIDS”. But, these NGOS would not have had the ability to gain a foothold into Ugandan culture and politics, if it were not for the neoliberal policies, forced upon Uganda by the US and their dual wings of neoliberal destruction: IMF and the World bank a decade earlier.
The AIDS Epidemic
In the 1980s, Sub-Saharan Africa proved to be an epicenter for the AIDS epidemic. Uganda, ravaged by civil war between 1980-1986, had constant movement of troops and with it, came both sexual engagement and sexual violence. The war created a more transient economy. People, who had stable jobs, had to move in order to economically fend for itself. This environment provided a fertile breeding ground for the spread of AIDs in Uganda. In 1982, the first cases of AIDS were identified in the South-east Rakai district, along Lake Victoria. The AIDS epidemic moved through the country in lightning speed. By 1988, Uganda, whose population back then was 16,489,322, people already had an estimated 1 million people who were already infected with HIV.
Along with AIDS, Uganda (and the rest of subsaharan Africa) had to contend with the twin demons of the IMF and World Bank. In the 1980’s, because of major increases in oil prices and their underdevelopment, all Sub-Saharan African countries faced a major debt crisis, brought on by the World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programs (SAP). According to researchers, “Under SAPs, Africa’s external debt has increased by more than 500% since 1980 to $333 billion today. SAPs have transferred $229 billion in debt payments from Sub-Saharan Africa to the West since 1980.”3 Uganda’s own debt rose from $690,503,151 in 1980 to $3,052,849,509, a catastrophic 442% increase!
In response to the debt crisis, as per their usual formula, the World Bank’s recommended more structural adjustment programs in the form of austerity and privatization. In 1993, the SAPs forced the privatization of over 130 state-owned enterprises. One example of the privatization, was Uganda’s coffee industry.
In the 1970s and 1980s, coffee cooperatives became a booming industry through Uganda’s national Economic development plan. Rural Ugandans, especially women, cultivated part of their land for coffee, while Urban Ugandans found gainful employment in the coffee processing factories. Because of a 1969 law, coffee processing factories were cooperative unions, managed by the state. In the Rakai district, the epicenter for the aids epidemic, between 1980-1995, the coffee industry employed roughly 15% of the district’s population, giving people a regular, steady income and some semblance of financial stability.
The deregulation from the corporate sector led to many of these people in the coffee sector loosing their livelihoods. They migrated to fishing villages and trade centers along the Mombasa highway, or areas known as “HIV hotspots.” Without regular employment, women were forced to sell the only other commodity that they could: sex.
One man who was a manager at a factory asked stated:
Sex work was not a lot during the cooperative era because people were independent. They could get money to pay for their children’s school and food. There was permanency with sexual partners. After the collapse of the unions, they rebelled against each other. Everyone blamed each other for not buying food, not paying school fees, among others. They decided to look after themselves, thus women ended up in sex work for survival. Before, women survived because they had permanent partners. Both partners were earning money and they could look after their family. A man could bring 20,000USh ($5.28) and a woman adds on 30,000USh ($7.91) and catered for the family needs like food, school fees, and rent. Women decided to separate from their partners because they could not provide food, clothes, hair, among others. After the collapse of the union, women started getting several sexual partners: one to cater for hair, the other to buy food, and one to pay rent. That kind of life engineered the spread of HIV in families that resulted in deaths.4
If one person died of AIDs, the devastation cascaded upon the entire family. In the book Neoliberalism and AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, she recounts the tale of one woman and how AIDS affect the lives:
Mrs Muleke lived not far from the trading centre where she cultivated her husband’s half-hectare of land. They shared a small mud and wattle house with her mother-in-law, their four children, aged between 7 and 17, and her brother’s two orphaned children, aged 1 and 3. Her brother had died of AIDS six months prior, and his wife left the children to find work in Kampala. Mrs Muleke’s husband was suffering from AIDS, and her eldest daughter, who had worked as a waitress in the trading centre, had also returned home to die. Her daughter’s cash income had helped with the children’s school fees, and without this income Mrs Muleke had no choice but to pull the girls out of school. Their labour was now needed in the fields and in caring for the younger children while she tended to her husband and her daughter. Their coffee plot had been lying fallow since her husband became sick, and the other crops were suffering from neglect, but there was still enough of the perennial staple, matooke (green banana), for the family. She had sold the cow to pay for medicines from the pharmacy and the traditional healer, so the children had to go without milk, and it had been a month since they had had meat or fish. The only cash income was from the occasional sale of mats that her mother-in-law produced and sold by the roadside. Mrs Muleke was beginning to feel weak and was losing weight; she feared she too had AIDS. She worried about what would happen to the children when she was gone. Their grandmother was strong, but could not single-handedly care for and support her grandchildren5.
The structural adjustment programs created conditions that made the epidemic worse, thereby increasing the sufferings of millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.
But, the twins of destruction were not yet done! They further went on to privatize state services to create a breeding ground for NGOs: especially religious ones with an alternative agenda.
“How World Bank and IMF Ripped-off Poor African Countries.” August 12, 2014.
Erin V. Moore, Rodah Nambi, Dauda Isabirye, Neema Nakyanjo, Fred Nalugoda, John S. Santelli & Jennifer S. Hirsch (2022) When Coffee Collapsed: An Economic History of HIV in Uganda, Medical Anthropology, 41:1, 49-66, DOI:10.1080/01459740.2021.1961249
C. O'Manique. 2004. Neo-Liberalism and AIDS Crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. Springer.