Thursday, December 24, 2009

Energy, Politics and the US Role in Uganda’s Culture War

Uganda's oil, and gay death penalty, may rival Saudi Arabia's

Posted Dec 24, 2009 by Ann Garrison

Reprinted with the author’s permission.

Oil reserves as large as Saudi Arabia's may soon embolden Ugandan officials who've been threatening to punish homosexuals with death, just as independently oil wealthy Saudi Arabia does.

U.S. Government

Oil reserves as large as Saudi Arabia's may soon embolden Ugandan officials who've been threatening to punish homosexuals with death, just as independently oil wealthy Saudi Arabia does.

In mid-December the U.S. State Department assured Americans outraged by Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009, a.k.a. Hang the Gays bill, that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had promised to veto it, if his Parliament passes it in January 2010. However, on 12.22.2009, Uganda's leading newspaper, the Daily Monitor, reported that the government is still undecided, and will remain opposed to homosexuality, no matter how great the international pressure.

And, a little known bill as draconian as the Anti-Homosexuality Act has also been proposed----the ill-named HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, which would criminalize HIV transmission, create mandatory testing and disclosure laws, and, according to Human Rights Watch, violate international law.

Homosexuality is already a crime in Uganda; the penalty is 14 years to life in prison. The Anti-Homosexuality Act would add seven "aggravated homosexuality" offenses, including gay sex while being HIV positive, gay sex with a disabled person, and serial homosexual convictions, all punishable by death. It would also add a long list of related offenses, like "aiding and abetting homosexuality" and "failure to disclose the offense," meaning failure to report gay sex or related offenses within 24 hours. And thus, it would create a politically convenient excuse to incarcerate most anyone, before Uganda's July 2011 elections or therafter.

Investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet reported that the U.S. fundamentalist elitist group known as "The Family" backed the bill both ideologically and financially, as culture wars born in the U.S.A. took the world stage.

After publishing "Globalizing the Culture Wars," Public Research Associates launched a campaign to demand that famously gay intolerant Pastor Rick Warren speak out against the Anti-Homosexuality Act, in Uganda, where he has so much influence, as a pastor, and, as a major player in PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Rick Warren twisted George Bush's arm, to propose PEPFAR, which Congress then funded at roughly $15 billion, from 2003 to 2008, then roughly $48 billion from 2008 to 2013. Both Uganda and Rwanda are among PEPFAR's 15 "focus countries"---U.S. allies receiving the most PEPFAR funds, often with little oversight.

Rick Warren finally did speak out against the bill, as did President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs Chair Russ Feingold, D-WI, and even Senators Grassley and Ensign, both of whom are members of "The Family." But, how much leverage will they, and all the other foreign nations and organizations who've spoken out against the bill continue to have?

"If Museveni wants the bill to pass, it will pass." ---Charles Langwa Bbaale

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986.

"If Museveni wants the bill to pass, it will pass," says Charles Langwa Bbaale, president of the Ugandan Ecological Party, affiliated with the Global Greens, and with the 2011 Coalition parties planning to field candidates in Uganda's July 2011 election. "But 50 percent of his budget comes from foreign donors, and he has to have those donations to keep employing all the people who keep him in power because he employs them, so he has to listen to the donors and they may pressure him to veto the bill."

"And, even if it doesn't pass, or only part of it passes," Bbaale adds, "it will have done what it's supposed to do if it distracts from other issues like poverty and hunger, and the lack of democracy."

Enormous oil wealth will soon strengthen Museveni's hand, already infamous for thirteen or more security organizations, answerable only to him, which persecute, abduct, disappear, torture, and execute opponents, and, harass media.

In December 2007, Africa surpassed the Middle East as a source of U.S. oil imports and, in January 2009, Heritage Oil announced what could be the largest onshore oil discovery in Sub Saharan Africa, in the Albertine Basin surrounding Lake Albert, which forms a part of the Uganda/Congo border.

Oil is already causing new disputes and skirmishes, on this border which has seen near constant conflict since 1996. Reserves are thus far reported to be on the Ugandan side, though the European colonists who created the border never drew it clearly.

On 06.02.2009, Edris Kisambira, quoted Ms. Sally Kornfeld, a senior analyst at the U.S. Department of Energy, in East Africa Business Week:

"You are blessed with amazing reservoirs. Your reservoirs are incredible. I am amazed by what I have seen, you might rival Saudi Arabia,' Kornfeld told a visiting delegation from Uganda in Washington DC."

University of Lumumbashi Professor Joseph Yav Katshung wrote, instead, of "The Curse of Oil in the Great Lakes of Africa," in the Pambazuka News, 10.03.2007, though he also argued for using resources as “tools for reconciliation and reconstruction."

How much of Uganda's oil wealth remains in Uganda, how it's distributed, the environmental costs, and, the outcome of further disputes between Uganda and D.R. Congo, will depend in part

Oil rich Lake Albert forms part of the Western Uganda, Eastern Congo border.

on whether or not Yoweri Museveni can hold onto the near absolute power he's held since 1986, with force and patronage.

And, on whether popular Ugandan opposition parties are able to mount a serious challenge in 2011 elections, against all odds; they'll first have to succeed at electoral reform.

Opposition parties were finally able to register, in 2005, after 19 years of rule by Museveni and his National Resistance Movement.

The use and abuse of Uganda's oil will also depend, of course, on the competition, collaboration, and, covert intervention, of world powers and oil companies now maneuvering to secure as much of Uganda's oil, and oil wealth, as possible. World powers including not only the UK, the US and their allies, but also of course, China, and, as recently reported, Italy and Libya.

Oil and human rights

Senator Russ Feingold issued a press release stating that the Anti-Homosexuality Act's passage would "hurt the close working relationship between our two countries, especially in the fight against HIV/AIDS," but, if Senator Feingold were serious about gay rights, human rights overall, and HIV, he'd be pushing to end the U.S.A.'s "close working relationship" with Yoweri Museveni, and citing Museveni's long list of human rights crimes, as recounted by London human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, in the Black Star News, 12.18.2009, with links to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports. Milton Allimadi reported, in the Black Star News, 08.11.2009, that Museveni's crimes include even the targeted use of rape, including male rape, and thus, HIV, in Northern Uganda and Eastern Congo.

Even as Senator Feingold issued his perfunctory press release objecting to Uganda's anti-gay death penalty, he was, pushing the LRA Disarmament Act of 2009, Senate Bill 1067----which will further arm and fund Yoweri Museveni, so long as he remains a U.S. ally in good standing. It will also make way for more U.S. weaponry and military "advisors," and, further militarize the Eastern Uganda/Northeastern Congo border, where big oil finds have already heightened longstanding conflict.

And, Yoweri Museveni may soon control so much oil that he can hang all the gay people, and whomever else, he wants, as freely as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and otherwise carry on his epic career as all around tyrant and human rights criminal.

Anyone hoping for a better outcome might ask how to encourage a free and fair election in Uganda, in July 2011, in accordance with the Human Rights Watch report, Preparing for the Polls.


Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in San Francisco. Look for a podcast interview with her on BAL in February.