Uganda’s Christmas gift? Homophobia, violence, pogrom, witch-hunt

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera. Clare Byarugaba. Julian Pepe Onziema. Frank Mugisha. Geoffrey Ogwaro. These are the names of the most prominent gay activists in Uganda today, and they are under attack. Today, the Ugandan Parliament passed legislation, `ethics laws’, that threaten the LGBT communities with life in prison, and do so using the most vague, and hence most lethal, language. The law also outlaws mini-skirts. Of course. Because really, the biggest problems facing Uganda today are homosexuality and hemlines.

Three years ago Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, Julian Pepe Onziema, and David Kato sued a Ugandan tabloid for its “Hang the Gays” series in which it posted names, addresses, pictures of individuals reputed to be “gay”. Remarkably, they won the case.

Remarkably as well, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera helped found FAR-Uganda, Freedom and Roam Uganda; while Julian Pepe Onziema and David Kato led SMUG, Sexual Minorities of Uganda. David Kato was brutally murdered in January 2011.

Since then, the struggle for an end to the pogrom against LGBT people has waxed and waned, often deeply influenced by outside funders, and in particular those from the United States.

Gay activists organized and pushed back. For example, when the Minister for Ethics and Integrity broke up a gay rights workshop, run by FAR-Uganda, they sued. In fact, that case is meant to be decided next month. We’ll see.

This bill had been sitting in Parliament for two years. Last year, House Speaker Rebecca Kadaga promised passage as a “Christmas gift,” and today she delivered. No matter that the Parliament may not have had a proper quorum, no matter that proper procedures were scanted. What matters is “the gift.” After passing the bill, Parliament passed a motion thanking the House Speaker for “the gift.” Parliament was very excited to receive its gift.

And now the witch-hunt proceeds to the next level. Clare Byarugaba, of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, put it directly: “You need to deal with your personal security. Whereas we’d rather stay and fight, but we know that people in power are way too powerful, and they can push their agendas at any level. So, rather than be witch hunted in the country that I’ve grown up in, that I love, it would be important for me to get out of the country and re-strategise on the future of gay rights in Uganda.”

 Clare Byarugaba


(Photo Credit 1: PRI) (Photo Credit 2: BBC)

Not just another murder, Brenda Namigadde

On February 4, 2006, almost five years ago, Zoliswa Nkonyana, “a young Khayelitsha lesbian”, was chased by a group of 20 or so young men. When they caught up with her, they clubbed, kicked and beat her to death. They tortured her to death for being lesbian, for being openly lesbian, for being a woman, for being.

It took two weeks for the news of her brutal murder to finally reach the media. The police didn’t make much of the death or its circumstances. The press in Khayelitsha, five years ago as today, is marked largely by its absence. It was `just another murder.’

Five years later, the case is still open, the trial is not yet finalized. Memorials will take place, no doubt, protests and commemorations.

Yesterday, January 26, 2011, gay rights activist David Kisule Kato was brutally murdered in Mukono, Kampala, Uganda. Kato was the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda. Along with Julian Pepe Onziema and Kasha Jacqueline, Kato had recently won a case against Rolling Stone, restraining it from publishing photos and names of gay men and lesbian women. The High Court ruled that the tabloid violated the rights to privacy and safety. This time the news of the murder spread quickly. The Kampala police claimed, almost immediately, that they’re on the case.

In both instances, and so many others, the assault is on the right to public being, the right to access as gay men and lesbian women, to public spaces, to common and shared experiences, to mutual recognition.

Brenda Namigadde is a woman from Uganda. She fled Uganda in 2003 after her house was destroyed and her life was threatened … because her life partner was a woman. Namigadde fled to the United Kingdom, where she sought asylum. She was turned down, because of insufficient proof of `being lesbian’. Now Namigadde sits in Yarl’s Wood, and awaits, in terror, to be deported to Uganda.

One way to honor the memory of Zoliswa Nkonyana, of David Kato, of all the other gay men and lesbian women who have been brutalized, tortured, murdered, for the sin of being gay in public, for the sin of sharing their love in the common and shared spaces, is to make sure that Brenda Namigadde and other gay and lesbian asylum seekers are not transported back to the House of Death. If not, then Zoliswa Nkonyana, David Kato, and all the others, they’re just another murder.


(Mosaic of Zoliswa Nkonyana by Ziyanda Majozi. Thanks to