Shedding light on Uganda’s Umeme debate

Last week I wrote an article for The Independent explaining why the Ugandan parliament’s recommendation to cancel the contract of the country’s main electricity distributor, Umeme, is so terribly misguided. Discussion of the electricity sector tends to be technical, dry, and confusing, littered with acronyms and figures. But we cannot allow the density of the topic to leave us vulnerable to populist oratory, political witch-hunts, or outright ignorance of politicians. There is too much at stake for Uganda’s energy sector, and too much at stake for the Ugandan public.

How kicking out Umeme hurts Uganda

MPs have generators and other coping resources if the energy sector fails but their voters and industrialists could incur ruinous costs

Parliament’s recommendation to cancel the Ugandan government’s contract with the country’s main electricity distributor, Umeme, has reinvigorated the debate over the company’s performance, as well as issues of sovereignty and national interest. The debate has been characterised by both misunderstanding and misinformation, sprinkled with a dash of deceit.

Umeme bears the brunt of the Ugandan public’s frustration with power supply, but both the assignment of blame and the debate are myopic; Uganda’s most severe challenges in the energy sector do not lie with Umeme.

In fact, the Umeme debate is a costly distraction from the sector’s most pressing issues.

The cancellation of Umeme’s contract would be very costly for the country and ordinary citizens who would suffer most. The question is why, considering Umeme’s record of relatively impressive performance, is the company being hounded out of the Ugandan market? What will investors in capital-intensive sectors like energy, infrastructure and the nascent oil and gas sector, make of politicians’ overtures to a policy of re-nationalisation?

Umeme; small part of energy sector

When then-electricity public utility, the Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) was “unbundled” in 2001, three main arms of the sector; generation, transmission, and distribution, were created. They now run distinct successor companies.

Distributors, Umeme, are responsible for making new connections to the electricity grid, maintaining and repairing existing connections, and billing customers for electricity consumed. Because Umeme deals directly with electricity users, both individual and industrial, it becomes the public face of the energy sector. But Umeme only controls a portion of it. Without effective power generation, distributors are useless.

Thus, the generation sector is where much of the action, and much of the cost of lectricity, lies. Generation contributes at least 70% of the costs included in the electricity bill each customer receives. Uganda’s energy generation potential is enormous, as the country is blessed to be the home of the Nile River, which provides massive hydropower potential. Much of thecountry’s existing power generation infrastructure is old, however, and the delay of much needed hydroelectric projects has translated into higher costs.

Owen Falls Dam, now known as Nalubaale power station, was completed in 1954. During the colonial period, the Uganda Protectorate, with her advantageous positioning at the source of the Nile, was seen as the most promising generator of power in the region, although the British colonial government focused on developing industry in Kenya. The Owen Falls Dam, therefore, was originally designed in large part to supply Kenya. Owen Falls fell into severe disrepair in the 1970s, and was operating at less than half capacity when the National Resistance Movement came to power in 1986.

Investments in the past two decades, including the long-delayed Bujagali project, in addition to an expansion of Owen Falls, with Kiira power station coming online in 2003, have increased generation capacity. But generation remains below potential capacity and, with Uganda’s rapidly growing population and economy, additional investments, such as those being made at Karuma, are required to ensure demand does not outstrip supply.

Like Owen Falls Dam, much of the existing electricity distribution system also dates back to the 1950s. This network relies heavily on open-wire cables. Open-wire cables are relatively inexpensive to install, but prone to damage and outages caused by short-circuiting. Corrosion of uninsulated conductors can also make maintenance quite costly. Trying to distribute power through an outdated network is like trying to fetch water with a reed basket: inefficient at best. This is just one of the challenges distributors face in Uganda, and distributors are tasked with maintenance, updating, and extension of the network.

After years of high losses, low collections and generally poor management of power distribution, the government of Uganda signed a support agreement with Umeme in 2004. At the same time, UMEME obtained a supply license and distribution license from the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), a lease agreement with the Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL), and a power sales agreement with Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL).

Umeme is thus like a building manager hired to collect rent from already unhappy tenants. While the manager can change the odd light bulb and maintain the cleanliness of the property, he should not be held accountable for the dilapidated condition of the landlord’s property. But holding Umeme accountable for failures that are sector-wide, both historical and contemporary, is exactly what parliament is trying to do. The public is quick to follow suit, because it is Umeme that comes knocking at their door to collect.

But let’s interrogate the key concerns raised by parliament. Key components of Umeme’s contracts and negotiations, and those which are under most intense debate currently are a) buy-out provision in the case of early termination of contract, b) the escrow account, and c) performance targets.

Key points in the Umeme debate

The buyout provision

The buyout provisions cater for three types of termination: government initiated, Umeme initiated, and “natural termination”. In each case, the government of Uganda pays Umeme.

In case of the first, the Ugandan government pays Umeme a percentage of un-depreciated investment capital. It pays between 106% and 120% of Umeme’s net investment, depending on the year of contract termination. This payment includes compensation for future profits that government has forced Umeme to forego. In the case of the second, the government pays between 80% and 94% of net investment, again depending on the year of contract termination. Finally, in the case of the third, government pays 105% of net investment.

The Parliamentary committee that recommended termination of the Umeme contract described the concessions as “lopsided” and the buyout provisions as “abnormal”. It made no reference to similar or related contracts elsewhere in Uganda, or beyond.

In fact, governments, especially in countries with high political or financial risk, must provide assurances on the security of investments in order to attract investors. Further, providing compensation for future profit foregone in the case of government default is standard practice. This kind of insurance policy, in the form of buyout provisions, is common for other investments in Uganda and in the sector in particular, including Bujagali.

Moreover, the investments made by Umeme, or any other distributor for that matter, are largely investments made in Uganda. These investments will continue to benefit the country even if Umeme is gone. To illustrate the point, consider this analogy. Imagine you own a large plot of land but have been unable to manage it. You have therefore hired someone with technical and financial expertise to invest in the planting and harvesting of your crop, say, maize. Your investor provides fertiliser for the soil, installs an irrigation system, and even constructs a processor. The land that had once sat fallow is now productive and profitable, thanks to her efforts. She takes home a portion of the profits, but also shares profits with her partners and stakeholders (including you) and increases the availability of nutritious food for the community.

Assuming you wanted to take over her now profitable business, would you simply throw her out? Probably not. You would repay her at least for the equipment she had installed on your land, and perhaps other less tangible investments. After all, they are investments made on your land that you will continue to benefit from. If you did go ahead to remove her without compensation, you would certainly have a very difficult time finding anyone to take her place. Word of your reputation with investors would spread fast.

In the absence of a buy-out clause in your contractual agreement, investors would not want to invest in your land or your power sector. Buy-out clauses are essential to attracting investment. Such provisions are especially critical in countries like Uganda that, for reasons fair or unfair, are considered medium or high in terms of political risk.

An argument can be made that the terms of the buy-out could have been better for the Ugandan government, but the simple fact is that the government agreed to these terms. An analogy again clarifies the point. Assume you were to sell your plot of land and agreed with a buyer on a price. If you later learn that you could have gotten more money for your land, something you would have known if only you had done proper research, the mistake can only be yours. You would have no basis for demanding more money from your buyer. Parliament is right to question the process through which contracts are drawn, but a mistake on the part of government, if indeed one was made, cannot itself be grounds for terminating the contract.

The escrow account

Like the buy-out agreement, the escrow account reduces the risk that investors will incur losses imposed by government. The escrow account provides a source of revenue for Umeme to draw upon in the event that government defaults on electricity payments to government entities. Indeed, government has defaulted numerous times, demonstrating the importance of such a provision.

Historically, a lot of government public utilities have failed because of government non-payment for services. By December 2012, for example, government institutions owed National water & Sewerage Corporation (NW&SC) about Shs40 billion.

The Ministry of Defense, police, and prisons are the main consumers of electricity on the side of government, and also the primary defaulters. After Umeme shut off power to police due to non-payment in 2012, police responded by impounding Umeme vehicles.

The performance targets

Another complaint leveled against Umeme by parliament is under-performance. Umeme negotiates performance targets with the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), and these targets are re-negotiated every seven years. The first negotiation was in 2005, and the most recent was in 2012. The targets and figures listed in the ad-hoc committee report are outdated both because they include information only until 2011 and also because the targets themselves were renegotiated two years ago. Umeme’s targets for the year 2012, the final year of the first period, and 2013 were the following:

Performance target 2012 Target 2012 Performance
Percentage of electricity lost 28% 26%
Investment US$65 million US$166 million
Revenue collections 95% 94%
New connections 60,000 220,000
Operating allowance US$42.5 million US$46 million (balance covered by Umeme)

The new targets for 2018 set even higher standards for losses, investment, and operating costs, and thus far Umeme is on track to achieve them. Losses today are at an all-time low of 20.5%, and collections nearing 100%, and connections exceed 220,000. The company has also installed 50,000 prepaid meters (Yaka). At least by the standards the ERA has set, Umeme is performing adequately.

Return to `dark ages’

Having considered some of the main complaints voiced by MPs, let’s turn to the consequences of their recommendation – to cancel the contract. The costs of a government-initiated cancellation of the contract are immense and numerous. The cost incurred by government to cover the buy-out payment, amounting to 120% of Umeme’s investment to date, is only one such cost. The buy-out payment may in fact represent only a fraction of government’s long-term losses.

Cancelling the contract with Umeme necessarily involves replacing the distributor. Having demonstrated willingness to terminate contracts, however, the Ugandan government is likely to have even less bargaining power than with the 2004 contract. Delays will likely ensue, and investors will demand insurance for what they will rightly perceive as a high likelihood that government will renege on its contractual word. These delays will affect distribution in the short term, and far worse service provision can be expected until the next contract is signed and at higher tariffs. Ordinary Ugandans will be literally left in the dark.

Rattling investor confidence not only affects the terms of future contracts with distributors, but also with investors elsewhere in the energy sector, including those investing in power generation.

Karuma is the next major hydropower plant, with expected installation capacity of 600MW. Uganda is counting on this plant to cover her rapidly expanding generation needs. After several years of delays and the collapse of negotiations with Norway’s Norpak Power Ltd, Chinese company Sinohydro has been awarded the contract to construct Karuma. However, financial closure has not been reached. If Uganda reneges on the contract with Umeme, it is entirely possible the Karuma project will be delayed even further, in exactly the way Bujagali was. These are delays the energy sector, Ugandans, and Ugandan industries, can simply not afford.

Already, the recommendation of MPs to cancel the contract has likely shaken investor confidence. Umeme itself relies on investors and banks to either invest in or lend money for its operations. If Umeme’s future is called into question, it will become more difficult for the company to meet its investment targets. Again, it is ordinary Ugandans who will suffer most.

The focus of the energy debate should not center on Umeme as a company or the particular agreement signed with government, but on policy and planning for the sector as a whole, with special attention to power generation. Umeme is a convenient and popular punching bag, one that politicians have been happy to hold before the public.

These same politicians are now baying for Umeme’s blood, but their assault is short-sighted, even from a purely self-interested perspective. Remove Umeme and politicians themselves will take the blows of public frustration at an energy sector that will be on its knees. Even those who want to replace Umeme – take a close look at the business interests of Umeme’s strongest critics – will find themselves facing increased upstream costs. Public anger now will pale in comparison with what will happen if Umeme gets the boot. Distribution would likely collapse and investors across the sector would retreat or demand even higher premiums. The premium on investor risk will affect not only the electricity sector, but also the oil sector where the stakes are equally high.

The ultimate victim of this political witch-hunt is not actually Umeme, but the Ugandan public. That the Ugandan public has been tricked into championing its own future losses is most tragic of all. As parliamentarians park fancy cars in their new parking yard, cut their hair in parliament’s new salon to the humming of generators, and enjoy pensions and pay raises that allow them to privately overcome the failures of the public sector, their constituents will be left powerless and Ugandan industries incurring potentially ruinously steep costs. Having in just three years passed legislation curtailing freedom of assembly, dress, and association, among others, this parliament seems hell-bent on using the remaining two years to take the country back to the dark ages, quite literally.

 

Enforcing Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

Kim Yi Dionne and I wrote a piece for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog analyzing US-Uganda relations in the wake of Uganda’s newly passed Anti-Homosexuality Act, and in particular, following the raid of the Makerere University Walter Reed Project. The post is copied below.

Kim is Five College Assistant Professor of Government at Smith College. She tweets at @dadakim.

U.S. foreign policy and Ugandan domestic politics collide

By Melina Platas Izama and Kim Yi Dionne

Just weeks after the United States announced additional American troops and aircraft would be deployed to Uganda to hunt rebel leader Joseph Kony, Ugandan officialsstormed a U.S. military-affiliated research institution, the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, in the country’s capital, Kampala. The Walter Reed Project raid highlights challenges to U.S.-Uganda relations, strained both by the fractured nature of U.S. foreign policy toward security allies like Uganda and the lack of coordination across Uganda’s numerous security agencies.

Why was the Walter Reed Project raided? And by whom?
The Walter Reed Project was raided on Thursday, April 3, by plainclothes state agents without a search warrant, reportedly on account of the Walter Reed Project’s work with the LGBTI community. Uganda’s recently enacted Anti-Homosexuality Actprohibits both the practice of homosexuality as well as “aiding and abetting” and “promoting” homosexuality. The law is vague on what constitutes the promotion of homosexuality, leaving interpretation to Ugandan law enforcement. Walter Reed Project staff members were whisked away in an unmarked car and interrogated at a police station. American embassy officials subsequently contacted the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, who was unaware of the incident. Kayihura then instructed the police station to release on bail the Walter Reed Project staffer who had been placed under arrest.

Screenshot of New Vision article taken from <a href="http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/654211-panic-at-makerere-as-quack-cop-arrests-staff.html">Google Cache</a> on April 7, 2014 (Melina Platas Izama and Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)

The next day, the government-owned daily newspaper New Vision reported that the raid was conducted by a “quack cop,” with one police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, denying responsibility. The same day, government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said in a tweet that the Walter Reed Project was raided for “training youths in homosexuality.” He also accused a top diplomat of being involved. Another police spokesperson confirmed the arrest in a segment by Ugandan media house NTV.

tweet1

tweet2
By Monday, April 7, the New Vision story had been pulled from the newspaper’s Web site and both of the tweets above (screenshots) were taken down.

Public opinion toward same-sex practicing people is generally negative, with 97% of Ugandan respondents in the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project agreeing with the statement, “Homosexuality is a way of life that should not be accepted by society.” In the days before the raid, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was the chief guest of a “Thanksgiving service” to celebrate the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Hundreds of people swarmed Kololo airstrip in the center of the capital, many bearing signs with direct messages to President Obama. All heads of religious institutions, including the Catholic and Anglican churches, and the head mufti of the Muslim community, not to mention the evangelical bodies who played a key role in the bill’s success, were in attendance.

(Data: Pew Global Attitudes Project 2007; Figure: Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)

U.S. response to anti-gay legislation
Obama released a statement condemning Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill before it was signed into law, and initiated a review of American aid to Uganda immediately following the bill’s passage. At the same time the aid review was taking place, however, the United States announced a significant increase in military aid to Uganda. As activists and observers have noted, the announcement was poorly timed if Washington wanted to send a clear message to the Ugandan government. Instead, the State Department’s actions look like a slap on the wrist quickly followed by the extension of an olive branch by the U.S. military establishment.

If mixed messages are an ineffective means of impacting policy, however, so too may be the economic sanctions and bullish diplomacy the State Department has attempted to employ thus far. American foreign policy must consider the constraints faced by those who publicly and privately oppose the anti-homosexuality law, including politicians. American policy must find ways to assist those who support rights for sexual minorities without creating a stand-off with either the Ugandan government or public. Such a stand-off can alienate Ugandan rights activists and also whip up nationalist sentiments, bolstering the anti-homosexuality movement.

How is Uganda’s domestic security structured and why does that matter?
The Walter Reed Project raid and initial response by the police and government spokespersons suggest an additional complication — the lack of coordination across branches of the Ugandan security establishment. As noted above, the Inspector General of Police was unaware of the raid until after it had taken place and in the day following the raid, government officials were both claiming and refuting that the Ugandan police had been involved.

An investigative report by The Independent in 2009 found no fewer than 30 separate security agencies operate in Uganda, both constitutional and unconstitutional. The proliferation of security agencies, like the proliferation of districtscabinet portfolios, and members of parliament, serves to bolster a patronage system and ensure that no one institution or individual is strong enough to challenge the executive. However, such fractionalization comes with considerable financial costs, and is both inefficient and unpredictable, as the raid on the Walter Reed Project demonstrates.

Another potential by-product of the proliferation of security agencies is the bungling of international relations. It is entirely possible that, rather than an overarching government strategy to target organizations who serve LGBTI clients, a particular branch or branches of the security sector have taken matters into their own hands. The raid comes at a critical point in Washington’s review of programing in Uganda. Amulti-agency team of Americans was in Kampala last week for the explicit purpose of reviewing U.S. commitments in the wake of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Meanwhile, Uganda’s Ministry of Health has been at pains to assure international partners that the law will not affect Ugandans’ access to health services. Thus, last week’s events suggest an internal struggle in government, between those playing to populist sentiments and those trying desperately not to irrevocably sever relations with donors.

The details of the raid suggest that at least some components of the state, much to the chagrin of the United States, have every intention of enforcing the anti-homosexuality law. Some hoped that the law would remain on the books but largely out of everyday activities of law enforcement. The plainclothes officers involved in the raid were in possession of personal information about Walter Reed Project staff, including where they live, suggesting substantial efforts have gone into gathering intelligence not only on members of the LGBTI community but also individuals who work with the community. Sources inside the police say that they have video recordings showing that the Walter Reed Project is a “gay training and recruiting center.” Some of the videos apparently feature American nationals.

The raid of a U.S. military-affiliated facility is a bitter slap in the face to Uganda’s longtime ally, but perhaps serves well to highlight the failure of U.S. policy on human rights in the region, particularly the protection and promotion of gay rights. Uganda’s political landscape and that of the region is complex. The United States has yet to demonstrate that it has a strong grasp on the stakes or dynamics at play. In the case of the anti-homosexuality law, U.S. sanctions, whether verbal or economic, may be ineffective at best and harmful at worst, as journalist Andrew Mwenda has argued. As noted in an earlier Monkey Cage post, the vast majority of Ugandans support anti-homosexuality legislation, some with fanatic zeal. This is true not only in Uganda but across Africa. U.S. policy must consider the public pressure and incentives the president and other politicians face. Attempting to strong-arm a president or others into overwhelmingly unpopular positions domestically, such as the protection of sexual minority rights, may backfire.

 

 

Petition against Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda

Today a coalition of petitioners, including a law professor, former leader of the Opposition in Parliament, journalist, LGBT activists, and a current member of Parliament filed a Constitutional Court challenge of Uganda’s recently passed Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Excerpt from today’s press release:

“Prof. J Oloka-Onyango, Hon. Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, Andrew Mwenda, Prof. Morris ogenga-Latigo, Dr. Paul Nsubuga Semugoma, Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesera, Julian Pepe Onziema, Frank Mugisha, as well as the national organisations Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) today filed a Constitutional Court challenge of the Anti Homosexuality Act, which was signed into law by President Museveni on February 24, 2014.

The petition was filed under the auspices of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, a coalition of 50 indigenous civil society organisations that advocates for non-discrimination in Uganda. The petition, available at http://www.ugandans4rights.org and at http://www.hrapf.org, argues that the Anti Homosexuality Act violates Ugandans’ Constitutionally guaranteed right to: privacy, to be free from discrimination, dignity, to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, to the freedoms of expression, thought, assembly and association; to the presumption of innocence, and to the right to civic participation.”

Ugandan courts have not missed their fair share of interference, but the judiciary is still a pillar of government that can exert some degree of independence from the executive, certainly more so than parliament. The legal community is vibrant and powerful, and not afraid to make their voice heard.

Daniel Kalinaki foretold the petition on February 20, just days before Museveni signed the bill, concluding, “Such a challenge would hold up the law in the courts for at least a couple of years. If the courts uphold it, it wasn’t me, the President would say. If they strike it down, it still wasn’t him. Throw in a few more years on appeal in the Supreme Court and you have a Bill all dressed up with nowhere to go.”

The coordination of those who have opposed the bill all along comes a bit late, but perhaps acting reactively is the best that could be done in the the face of overwhelming popular support. One thing is certain. The president comes out ahead regardless of the eventual ruling. It’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” kind of situation. A bit of a running theme around these parts.

The Academy in the time of Influenza: American medicine and the Great Pandemic

American medicine up until the twentieth century was an unmitigated disaster. Or so argues (quite convincingly) John Barry in his fascinating book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. The first two sections of the book cover a brief history of American medicine and medical research, and I’ve only just gotten to the outbreak of the pandemic that killed between 20 and 50 million people, according to the best estimates. For comparison’s sake, WWI claimed 16 million lives, and AIDS an estimated 33 million.

Barry highlights a strong link between war and disease, namely, the emergence of epidemics or even pandemics. I’ll return to a discussion of this thesis when I’ve finished the book, but for now, what has been most striking is the utter catastrophe that was American medicine up until relatively recently. While scientists and physicians in Europe, including Robert Koch, Pierre Louis, Louis Pasteur, and John Snow were pioneers in epidemiology, germ theory, and more, the study of medicine in America was stagnant, suggesting the importance of healthy academic and scientific competition on the European continent.

Evidence of the United States’ relative backwardness is abundant. Charles Eliot, who became president of Harvard in 1869, wrote in his first report as president that, “The ignorance and general incompetency of the average graduate of the American medical Schools, at a time when he receives his degree which turns him loose upon the community, is something horrible to contemplate.” When Eliot proposed reforms within Harvard, including examinations (of all things), Professor of Surgery Henry Bigelow, had this to say:

Charles Eliot, Harvard President 1869-1909

“[Eliot] actually proposes to have written examinations for the degree of doctor of medicine. I had to tell him that he knew nothing of the quality of Harvard medical students. More than half of them can hardly write. Of course they can’t pass written examinations…No medical school has thought it proper to risk large existing classes and large receipts by introducing more rigorous standards.”

At the end of the 19th century, Barry reports that American universities had “nearly two hundred endowed chairs of theology and fewer than five in medicine…” showing where both the money and the power lay.  It was ultimately the initiative of a few individuals, combined with big money from illustrious families such as the Hopkins and Rockefellers, that turned the ship around.

The Great Influenza is an excellent read, and fodder for thought not only for those interested in medicine, epidemiology, and virology (guilty as charged), but also for those interested in the academy as an institution – how it evolves or stagnates, and the factors that generate innovation and massive leaps forward in our understanding of the world.

Ugandan politics: history on repeat

2014-03-01 11.15.32

On Saturday, March 1, Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi (@AmamaMbabazi) held his occasional tweetup, #askthePM. It was the best attended tweetup to date, with virtually all local media represented. And there was was plenty to discuss.

The primary topics included Uganda’s recently passed Anti-Homosexuality and Anti-Pornography laws, as well as party politics within the ruling party, National Resistance Movement. The Observer has captured much of the verbatim proceedings, so I won’t repeat them here. Instead, I’ll offer some thoughts on what Saturday’s discussion says about the current state of Ugandan politics. In short, we are watching history on repeat.

Recent events and Mbabazi’s comments suggest the younger generation of the NRM – amongst those most active in supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill – may be out of step with long-time cadres. Or rather, NRM youngsters (relative term, here) comprise an unwieldy arm that may wittingly or unwittingly push the party, once again, into some awkward contortions.

Mbabazi, like Museveni previously, suggested that he had never supported the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. He thought the new bill was redundant, since homosexuality was effectively banned in the existing penal code, thanks to British colonial laws. Further, unlike many Ugandan politicians (and pastors), Mbabazi said that homosexuality was not “un-African,” and has “always been here.” He contended that in Africa sexuality is a private affair, suggesting it should be left that way, with consenting adults left to do as they please.

Mbabazi’s comments, together with the reassuring statement from longtime NRM cadre and health minister Ruhakana Rugunda that, “All people whether they are sexual orientation as gays or otherwise are at complete liberty to get full treatment and to give full disclosure to their doctors and nurses,” suggest that the older generation of the NRM was caught flat footed by the speed at which the bill moved between December 2013 and February 2014. Younger MPs battling in a fiercely competitive electoral environment with no “historical” basis on which to draw support pulled it instead from populist, if draconian, legislation, and dragged everyone else along for the ride. It did not help that President Obama’s statement may have forced Museveni into a corner from which he had to come out and fight, ultimately signing the bill he had opposed not long before.

Flat-footedness and youthful scheming may have been a running theme for the month of February, and extended to Kyankwanzi, where Youth MP Evelyn Anite brought forward a resolution proposing President Museveni stand unopposed as the party president in 2016. Mbabazi contended that the position of the caucus, for which Anite is the spokesperson, was merely an opinion. But the consequences of this “opinion” cannot be so easily dismissed.  Anite’s proposal harkens back to another made by a young woman MP a decade ago. In 2002, then woman MP for Adjumani, Jessica Eriyo, made a motion to remove term limits at the meeting of the party’s (then, Movement’s) National Executive Council. The motion, like Anite’s proposal, took many by surprise, but its consequences were profound. History has a funny way of repeating itself, many times over in the case of Museveni’s candidacy.

And so here we are. The prime minister, who could have carried the torch, is taking fire, again, and MPs too young to remember any other president angle for his good favor, and their political careers.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law

Below is a copy of the text from a piece published in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

The rise of morality politics in Africa: Talk is cheap and dangerous, but wins votes

Melina Platas Izama

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni today signed into law his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The passage of this bill is part of an emerging trend of morality politics in Africa and beyond, including but not limited to the criminalization of homosexuality. Legislating morality, unlike improving social services like health and education, is nearly costless for politicians. It is also extremely popular. Legislators in Africa struggle to hold onto political power, and the majority of their constituents view them as corrupt, according to Afrobarometer surveys. Electoral pressures, combined with politicians’ poor record of service delivery, make legislating morality an increasingly attractive option. In addition to winning votes, however, laws such as the criminalization of homosexuality can also be used opportunistically against both the public and political opposition.

Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, which has been under discussion since 2009, criminalizes homosexuality and provides a punishment of life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” The law delineates particular same-sex acts as “aggravated homosexuality,” including  sex with a minor or with a person with a disability, or if the offender is an HIV-positive person or a “serial offender,” defined as “a person who has previous convictions of the offence of homosexuality or related offences” (the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014: Sections 1 and 3). In the original bill proposed in 2009, “aggravated homosexuality” was punishable by death, and failure to disclose an offense committed by another person was punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. Both of these provisions were removed in the final version of the bill. However, in a news conference held immediately prior to signing the bill today, Museveni seemed unsure of the bill’s contents, asking his aides in the audience whether citizens were required to report on one another.

The anti-homosexuality bill reflects popular sentiment in Uganda, where 90 percent of respondents said that homosexuality was “never justified,” according to the World Values Survey, and 96 percent of respondents said that society should not be accepting of homosexuality, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Uganda is no outlier on the continent. Kim Yi Dionne and Boniface Dulani, using all publicly available data on attitudes toward homosexuality in Africa, found that although higher levels of education, living in urban areas, and lower levels of religiosity were associated with greater support for same-sex rights, the vast majority of Africans oppose homosexuality. Dionne and Dulani point out, however, that the limited data collected on attitudes toward homosexuality in Africa fails to capture the salience of same-sex issues among ordinary Africans.

Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill reflects trends across the continent in criminalizing (or re-criminalizing, since more than half of remaining “sodomy” laws worldwide are colonial relics) homosexuality. The reasons for the recent spike in anti-gay legislation (not limited to Africa, by the way) are still being debated. Guy Grossman suggests therise in evangelical Christianity and heightened political competition explain the political saliency of LGBT-issues. These bills are undoubtedly politically popular, and thus useful tools for garnering electoral support.

David Bahati, sponsor of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, was one of a handful of parliamentarians to run unopposed in Uganda’s most recent elections in 2011, in a country where competition over parliamentary seats is rising with every election. An average of more than five candidates contested for constituency parliamentary seats in the most recent election, up from less than four in 2006. Around half of the incumbents who ran for reelection were voted out of parliament in 2011. Bahati was subsequently elected vice chairman of the caucus of the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

At the presidential level, backlash and condemnation from Western countries, including the United States, where President Obama issued a statement warning Museveni that signing the bill would “complicate” the United States’ relationship with Uganda, have produced a rally-around-the-flag effect, where even Museveni’s most staunch opponents and a usually critical media have applauded his decision. Some have argued that he is calling Obama’s bluff, leveraging Uganda’s military role in the region. In any case, his signature, appended just weeks after members of his partypassed a resolution in support of his bid for a fifth term in 2016, must be seen in the context of a presidential campaign season that has, for all intents and purposes, already begun.

Recent “moral” legislation extends beyond homosexuality, however, and focusing on the salience of LGBT issues may obscure other arenas in which moral dictates are being employed for political purposes. The signing of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda comes just weeks after the signing of the Anti-Pornography Bill, widely reported by local and international media as the “mini-skirt ban,” despite no mention of skirts in the bill itself. Legislating morality may seem odd in a country where more than three quarters of survey respondents believe “some of” or “most of” parliamentarians are corrupt, according to Afrobarometer data, but perhaps it is precisely because of their credibility deficit that politicians are employing moral dictates as a nearly costless alternative to delivering the goods and services that are so badly needed.

In addition to serving as quick and cheap political wins, these laws can also be easily converted into tools for political witch hunts. Ashley Currier demonstrates how leaders of the ruling party in post-colonial Namibia have used political homophobia to stifle dissent. Uganda’s political opposition seems all too quick to forget that opposition leader and former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye was jailed andtaken to court on rape charges (in addition to treason and terrorism) in advance of the 2006 presidential election. The charges against Besigye were eventually dropped, but with Uganda’s new laws come a new arsenal of offenses; offenses that can mark if not jail a political candidate for life.

Apart from the intended consequences of these laws, unintended, if not unforeseeable, consequences are already becoming apparent. In countries where mob justice is a common replacement for weak or non-existent law enforcement, these laws give way to everyday opportunism. Immediately after the passing of the Anti-Pornography Bill, women wearing short skirts in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, were reportedly attacked, disrobed and robbed. The Uganda Police Force had to issue an immediate warning against perpetrators of these attacks. Although it is too soon to tell whether citizens will also take the new anti-homosexuality law into their own hands, recent events in Nigeria suggest that mob justice against suspected or accused homosexuals may be swift, and potentially deadly.

What to read on South Sudan

South Sudan is in crisis. What’s going on?

Which sentence best describes your current level of knowledge?

I’m not sure where South Sudan is. Here’s a handy map. Now you do! Start here.

 

 

 

 

 

I follow African politics generally, but don’t know much about South Sudan.
Think Africa Press has a good round-up of experts to get you going.

I’ve been following South Sudan for a while now, and am looking for real-time updates on the current crisis.
Then you probably already know this, but Twitter is likely the best source of up-to-date (if not always fact-checked) news. #SouthSudan is a good starting point. Check out the Sudd Institute news and @SuddInstitute, and this terrific list of tweeps compiled by Lesley Warner.

I’m an expert on South Sudan/I’m based in South Sudan. 
Please send me your recommendations.