Uganda’s President Looks Like He’s Backing Down On His Country’s Anti-LGBT Bill

CREDIT: (AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni arrives at Andrews Air Force Base

As Ugandan parliamentarians prepare to reintroduce the recently overturned anti-homosexuality law, President Yoweri Museveni is reportedly attempting to get the lawmakers to hold their fire — for now.

Uganda has been the target of international condemnation over its harsh anti-LGBT rights law, which mandates that gays and lesbians would face a life sentence in prison. Last month, Uganda’s Constitution Court struck down the law, though only due to the fact that it was passed illegally and against the rules of parliament. As the court didn’t rule on the merits, members of parliament have been eager to reintroduce the bill and pass it in a way that would pass judicial scrutiny.

President Museveni came out after the bill’s passage as a fierce advocate, scoffing at warnings from President Obama as he signed it. Now, however, it appears that the long-time ruler is having second thoughts. Speaking at a meeting of his political party’s members of parliament, according to the Ugandan daily newspaper New Vision, Museveni tried to put the brakes on the desire to reintroduce the bill as quickly as possible. “A country which has no vision punishes a divided house. We need to work together through consensus and use of collective methods,” an anonymous source present at the meeting quoted Museveni as saying.

“This is now an issue of Semusota guli muntamu (a snake which has entered into a cooking pot). If we try to kill the snake, we may break the pot, if we don’t we won’t” he also reportedly said. Saying that the bill is not a priority for the country’s development, according to the source, Museveni “asked the MPs to debate the law when it is re-tabled in Parliament without any emotional feelings, for the betterment of the country and international relations.” The president also reportedly tasked Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Sekandi with leading a committee examining the concerns of rights activists who challenged the the law in court.

At the same time, Museveni’s National Resistance Movement reportedly released a statement on Monday saying, “We accept the court’s ruling.” This appears to be a change of heart from just Friday when it seemed the Attorney-General would be filing an appeal of the Court’s decision. The committee that Museveni formed to examine the concerns of activists, the statement also said, “will report back in one month, a delay that may anger some of the more than 200 MPs who reportedly signed onto a call for an immediate re-vote on the law,” Buzzfeed’s Lester Felder reported.

In response to the bill’s enactment, the United States and other members of the international community strongly condemned Museveni and sought to put together a coordinated response. The U.S. in June, after a review at the State Department, placed sanctions on Ugandan officials it deemed as violating human rights, and cut off financial support to several government programs. But security ties between the two countries — Uganda is a partner in the U.S.’ fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia — have yet to be affected.

The White House was unwilling to comment directly on the reports of Museveni’s change of heart or the role his recent visit to the U.S. potentially played. “The Obama Administration has long spoken out—including with our African partners—in support of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” Ned Price, Assistant Press Secretary at the National Security Council, wrote in an email to ThinkProgress. “The Summit provided an opportunity to continue those conversations.” Though the White House directed ThinkProgress to the State Department for comment, at press time no response had been provided.