On 31st March, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni was guest of honour at an inter-religious, ‘national thanksgiving rally’, held at the Kololo Independence Grounds in Kampala, to ‘celebrate’ the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014. Other guest ‘celebrants’ at the event included Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of the Ugandan Parliament; Stanley Ntagali, the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda; invited Catholic, Muslim, and Pentecostal religious leaders; sheikhs, senior pastors, bishops, and civil society leaders.
The five hours of celebrations, attended by thousands of Ugandans, commenced with a march through Kampala, headed by the notorious homophobic pastor Martin Ssempa. The ‘celebrants’ carried placards reading "Museveni, thank you for saving the future of Uganda," "Homosexuality + AIDS = 100%," and "Obama, we want trade not homosexuality."
Speaker after speaker, including David Bahati, the MP who proposed the original anti-gay bill, extolled Museveni for his ‘courage’ and ‘strong leadership’ in signing the anti-gay bill into law in the face of intense international opposition.
A Ugandan friend living in Kampala sent me the following message as the rally was happening:
“The anti-homosexual rally has taken off today at Kololo Independence grounds. Students marched from Freedom Square here at the University. The mastermind is Pastor Martin Ssempa. Very upsetting here with me.”
Other LGBT people reported feeling unable to even leave their homes for fear of being identified and attacked in the street.
Museveni told the excited crowd he was “mobilising to fight gays” who “deserved to be punished severely” because “homosexuality is criminal and it is so cruel".
Ugandan LGBT rights activist, Frank Mugisha, the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, wrote in the Guardian (20 March) “I have been on an advocacy trip in Europe and the US, encouraging the international community to speak out against the recently passed anti-homosexuality act, which myself and a core group of Ugandans who support human rights are now challenging in the constitutional court. As I prepare to return home, I know a law has been passed that will tyrannise my life and that of many Ugandans I know. The outlook is bleak. As a gay Ugandan, I know I am one of thousands. But as someone who has chosen to be "out" and is still living in Uganda, I am in a minority of fewer than 20 people.”
Meantime, on 4th April, the Walter Reed Project, a non-profit partnership between Makerere University (Kampala) and the US Military HIV Research Program, was raided and closed down by Ugandan police. The project had provided vital services for many people living with HIV and receiving anti-retroviral treatment. Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo announced that police had “busted” and closed down the premises for allegedly “training youths in homosexuality”. Opondo also alleged that a "top diplomat" had been involved in the a "training", but he offered no further details. Activists reported that a Ugandan working for the project was arrested and interrogated by police. Police photographed and took details of all the people in the premises at the time of the raid.