What you need to know:
- In May, President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act, providing penalties as high as a death sentence for “aggravated homosexuality.”
- It drew condemnations from rights groups and Western countries such as the US who threatened sanctions.
- The US is a key shareholder in the World Bank and has almost always produced its president.
Ugandan officials on Wednesday lampooned the World Bank and Western countries for ‘hypocrisy’, after the global lender suspended lending for projects in Uganda in what it cited as a violation of its values in Kampala’s new anti-homosexuality law.
Uganda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Henry Okello Oryem, said the move by the World Bank was hypocritical.
He accused the Western entities of being quick to lecture poor countries about democracy, only to turn around and punish them when they do what doesn’t suit the interests of Western powers and allied institutions.
“Stop this hypocrisy,” he said. “The law was passed by Uganda Parliament, these are representatives of the people. That’s democracy.”
In a statement on August 8, the Bank said that further funding will be frozen until authorities in Uganda provide adequate policy to protect minorities, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other groups commonly categorised as LGBTQ+.
“Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act fundamentally contradicts the World Bank Group’s values. We believe our vision to eradicate poverty on a liveable planet can only succeed if it includes everyone irrespective of race, gender, or sexuality,” the Bank said on Tuesday.
The World Bank’s decision comes after the lender sent a fact-finding mission to Uganda to engage with government officials and stakeholders to verify reports of discrimination of LGBTQ+ persons, following the passing of the controversial law in May.
The Bank’s decision to freeze funding is based on the mission’s report, which revealed that gay persons and others in the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda continued to be harassed, attacked and discriminated against in both public and private institutions, due to their sexual orientation.
Ugandan government officials, though, have issued statements to dispel reports of real or perceived discrimination against sexual minority groups.
For instance, within hours of the World Bank announcement to suspend new lending, the Ministry of Health in Uganda issued a statement to clarify that the anti-gay law does not target LGBTQ+ persons for discrimination when they seek medical services.
“This is to reiterate that the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 does not forbid any person from seeking medical services from a health facility or hospital. Furthermore, all services should be provided in a manner that ensures safety, privacy and confidentiality to all clients that see health services in public and private health facilities,” wrote Dr Henry Mwebesa, the Director General of Health Services, in a statement.
Dr Mwebesa highlighted the principle that health workers should not discriminate or stigmatise any individual who seeks healthcare for any reason – gender, religion, tribe, economic or social status or sexual orientation.
But Ugandan human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo says all government agencies need to fall in line.
“Uganda’s ministry of health press statement is a statement of principle but the actions of other agencies of the state betrays a different intention from these words about non-discrimination.
“All Ugandans matter & deserve the protection of the law. Simply repeal the law & stop tying yourselves in knots,” he said on his Twitter (X) page.
Uganda’s Health Ministry is a key recipient of donor funding and aid from western powers, led by the US, which also threatened to halt aid, including the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme which suspended meetings with Uganda government officials to discuss the new round of aid.
PEPFAR spends about $400 million annually to support access to anti-retroviral therapy for over 1.3 million people out of 1.5 million people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda.
Officials admit that losing PEPFAR first, and now World Bank’s funding, will stretch the country’s purse to finance its priorities, which include infrastructure, health, education, energy and security, among others.
According to Mr Okello Oryem, to the extent that the West does not treat all countries in the world the same, these aid cuts and freeze on lending targeting Uganda are unfair, unjust and uncalled for.
“Since the passing of this law, we have not had an LGBT person here persecuted, but there are countries in the middle east that hang homosexuals. What are they not talking about these countries? This contradiction shows injustice,” he said.
Uganda’s obsession for criminalising same sex relations has seen it spar with western donors and allied lenders led by the World Bank, which first suspended a $90 million loan in 2014 when the country enacted its first law strengthened sentences for LGBTQ-related offences.
The then World Bank President Jim Yong Kim warned that such legislation restricting sexual rights can hurt a country’s competitiveness by discouraging multinational companies from investing or locating their activities in those nations.
Over this potential relocation of multinationals from Uganda, in addition to diplomatic relations with the west becoming strained, Mr Okello Oryem says Kampala will continue to engage donors to find common ground.
“We will engage them, we will agree to disagree, but relations will never collapse,” he told The EastAfrican.