The anti-gay church in Uganda

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The anti-gay church in Uganda

Fundamentalist US Christian groups are giving money to make Africans hate gay people. Patience Akumu reports from Uganda.


Not doing the work of God: Pastor Martin Ssempa (with glasses) blesses politician David Bahati, who introduced Uganda’s famous Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This is an anti-gay church service at the Christianity Focus Centre in Kisenvi, the biggest slum in Kampala. © Benedicte Desrus/Alamy

Pafla Basuza rides a motorcycle taxi in the day and preaches at his village Pentecostal church at night and on Sundays. Like most evangelists in Uganda, he says that abortion is murder, homosexuals go to hell, and poverty is a curse from God because of abortion, homosexuality and other bad things.

Basuza’s message is very similar to the US rightwing Christians. But he has never heard of them. He first heard about how bad homosexuality is from his idol, Martin Ssempa. Ssempa preaches against gay people in Uganda. He gets his training and money from conservative Christian groups from the US. Basuza does not know or care about this.

Because of anti-gay people in Uganda and the money they get from other countries, the Ugandan parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in December 2013. The law at first wanted the death penalty for some homosexual acts. It means Uganda is one of the most anti-gay places in the world, and many other countries criticise them.

In some part, Western evangelists (especially US) are to blame. People say they have brought back strange British colonial laws and have worked with local politicians to make people hate homosexuals. Many gay people first went to Pentecostal churches because they are lively and free.

‘I do not know if it is the music or the mini-skirts, but everybody goes to the Pentecostal church. Even we gays used to pray there,’ says Sandra Ntebi, who leads the Ugandan LGBT security. Her group became necessary after the anti-gay law was passed and there were many more attacks on gay people.

‘In church, everywhere, they talked about us,’ Ntebi says. ‘The pastor said: “It is your neighbour, that homosexual next to you, who is responsible for all your problems.” So we had to leave church.’

Inspiring hate

Kampya John Kaoma researches sexuality and religion. He says Uganda’s anti-gay law started after some meetings in Uganda in 2009, organised by US Christian conservatives eg. Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, Rick Warren and Lou Engel. Kaoma went to some of the meetings. He says they inspired other US Christian rightwing groups, like the American Center for Law and Justice (started by televangelist Pat Robertson) and Family Watch International (led by Mormons) to grow in Africa.

Conservative Christians also gave money to David Bahati, the Ugandan MP who started the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Research in 2009 and 2012 shows that the Africans who get this money do not always understand who these rightwing Christians are or how dangerous their extremism is, says Kaoma.

Kaoma’s work, for Political Research Associates (a US liberal social justice thinktank) shows the power that rightwing Christianity has on politics and human rights in Africa. He says that US Christian evangelists are close to the most powerful politicians in Uganda eg. Janet Museveni Kataha, Uganda’s First Lady and MP.

‘They give money for orphanages, Bible schools, universities and social projects. So the Africans think they are good to work with,’ he says.


‘You Must Not Kill’ by French cartoonist Bernard Bouton.

They have also told Ugandans that homosexuals are against African traditional values. The local preachers are happy to take money to protect traditional values.

Ntebi says that poverty has made Ugandans agree with the anti-gay ideas. But also, colonialism and neocolonialism have made them unable to question what white people say.

‘To us, a white person – a Christian white person – is always right. The people believe everything that the white man says. That is why Scott Lively and his friends have been successful in Africa.’

Uganda’s constitutional court cancelled the anti-gay law in August 2014. But there are still punishments for ‘unnatural offences’, and they use these against gay people. Frank Mugisha’s group, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), is suing Lively for persecution of sexual minorities. He says Uganda’s anti-gay campaign has a very big effect and it is almost impossible to change this.

Last year, a SMUG report showed that the Anti-Homosexuality Act had created a very strong anti-gay atmosphere. Attacks on gay people increased by up to 2,000 per cent. Lively and other US Christian conservatives now say they are separate from Uganda’s anti-gay campaign. But the people they taught eg. Basuza, still teach what the Americans told them.

‘It is not hard to see Ssempa is a man of God. I like his American accent and his polished shoes,’ says Basuza. Basuza’s old coat is dusty from riding his motorcycle taxi on simple roads. ‘We all respect him. We all must join him in the fight against homosexuality.’

Patience Akumu is a journalist in Kampala, Uganda. She writes about social issues.

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