I have been to Uganda a number times, but only illegally or by accident, in which case I was in the remote bush, or in transit, stopping at Entebbe Airport, so I can’t say that I know much, directly, about the culture there. However, I have spent months in Kenya and years in Zaire/Congo, and a little time in Tanzania and Rwanda, so I’ve kinda got Uganda surrounded. I can tell you that the political culture and government of Zaire/Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda are very, very different from one another. At the same time, all of these countries have certain commonalities that are relevant to the present discussion, and I’d bet money that these extend to some degree into Uganda. They are:
1) The Missionary Influence is important. Tanzania is far less missionized than the other countries in recent decades, and Rwanda is a bid different, but there is a pervasive religious factor that is Christian, and subsumes the thinking of a goodly part of the population. It is not the case that everyone in the region is a fundamentalist Christian. Many people in East Africa and adjoining regions are Muslim (a Majority if Kenyans, I believe), and many are relatively indifferent to religion. But it is a factor.
2) Many of the human-rights related issues that we see from a Western perspective as being important are more developed in East Africa than a lot of westerners might expect. Women have been in positions of power in the government for years, and there are open movements to fight violence against women and other patriarchal features of human societies. Although there is just as much “inter tribal” (= inter ethnic) crapola in East Africa as there is in Europe or the US, there is also a much better and more advanced understanding of racial issues. In short, there is a progressive attitude regarding human rights. Well, some human rights.
3) In some subcultures in the regions, homosexuality is normal and integrated into day to day life, or ignored. It is not a big deal.
4) At the same time, where the Christian missionized influence is strong, homosexuality is considered to be one of the great wrongs against god. Homosexuality is seen as an abomination, and “abomination” isn’t just some quaint word out of the Bible.
Uganda in particular is run by a government that is nearly explicitly Christian and fundamentalist, and there are many ties between the Ugandan government and the church. Many of the internal civil conflicts that have occurred over the last decades or that are going on now are explicitly religious. So, while it is very very disturbing, it is not particularly surprising, to see something like this:
A Ugandan MP has proposed creating an offence of “aggravated homosexuality” to be punishable by death.
Ruling party MP David Bahati wants the death penalty for those having gay sex with disabled people, under-18s or when the accused is HIV-positive
Homosexuality is already against the law in Uganda, but the proposed changes would be a significant increase in severity of punishment. This may seem like crazy talk in this modern world, and you might figure that laws making homosexual activities punishable by death would never be added to a modern country’s legal system. But people watching the situation closely believe that this bill has a good chance of being passed.
The bill would not only make certain gay acts punishable by death, which would be in accord with Abrahamic religious teaching, but it widens the definition of homosexual acts, and increases punishment for promoting human rights for gay people.
If this bill is passed, Uganda risks trouble with the international community, as the country is a signatory to various international agreements that, in theory, protect the human rights of GLBTA people.
If you are a member of a church and the missionaries come and show you slides about the great work they do in Uganda, please be advised that this is part of that work. So if you give them support, including money, encouragement, or even support in the form of not shouting them down, than this is also part of your work.