Research Assistant Opportunity in Uganda

Interested in elections and political accountability? Looking for research experience conducting impact evaluations? Pia Raffler and I are hiring a research assistant for a new study on elections in Uganda. Desired start date is January 2015, running through early 2016. Applications are currently being reviewed, so those interested should submit an application immediately. More information below, and at this link.

Research Associate – Meet the Candidates (Uganda)

  • Reports to: Research Manager
  • Location: Kampala, Uganda with frequent travel up-country
  • Deadline to apply:  Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis
  • Desired start date: January 2015
  • Length of commitment: 16 months

Innovations for Poverty Action seeks a qualified Research Associate to oversee the impact evaluation of an information campaign on voter behavior in the context of the 2015 primary elections and 2016 general elections in Uganda. The intervention will involve the recording of ‘Meet the Candidates’ sessions with Ugandan candidates for political office. Sessions will be recorded and edited by local film crews and will be screened in a random selection of polling station catchment areas. The position offers an opportunity to gain first-hand field management experience in an organization undertaking cutting-edge development research. The Principal Investigators for this project are Melina Platas Izama (Stanford University) and Pia Raffler (Yale University).

Responsibilities: 

  • Coordinating and supervising all data collection activities
  • Closely work with partner organizations, including political parties, on the recording and screening of ‘Meet the Candidate’ sessions
  • Formulating plans to operationalize field activities suggested by Principal Investigators
  • Developing and piloting survey instruments
  • Working closely with the Principal Investigators and the local partners running the program to ensure study protocols are followed
  • Hiring, training, and managing teams of local enumerators that will conduct data collection among business owners, workers, and household members
  • Planning, organizing and reporting on surveys in the field
  • Managing the project data from collection to cleaned datasets
  • Tracking expenses and adhering to the project budget
  • Writing regular progress reports

Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree in economics, social sciences, public policy, or related fields; a Master’s degree in any of these fields is a strong plus
  • Training in economics and statistics
  • Excellent management and organizational skills
  • Demonstrated proficiency in Stata and experience with data management, data cleaning, and regression analysis is a must
  • Ability to prioritize and manage multiple assignments simultaneously with minimal supervision
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills. Fluency in English is required
  • Experience conducting field research in a developing country is strongly preferred. Previous experience with impact evaluations and/or randomized controlled trials is a strong plus

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Uganda’s journey toward same-sex rights

Re-posting my latest writing for the Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post.

See additional coverage at The Dish.

Who’s behind Uganda’s step forward on same-sex rights?

Published August 4, 2014

When Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act on Friday, eyes immediately turned to the country’s longtime president, Yoweri Museveni. Museveni has been under pressure from the donor community, several of whom enacted aid cuts in response to the passing of the law in February 2014. His trip this week to Washington for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit seemed perfectly timed with the legal about-face that was sought by the Obama administration. Was the court’s decision yet another clever political manipulation by the man who has held power in Uganda for 28 years?

The executive branch may be powerful in Uganda, but to give the president all the credit for the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s demise is to ignore the vital role played by concerned citizens and the legal community in Uganda. Ten individuals and organizations — including a journalist, professor, doctor, activists and current and former legislators — petitioned the court to repeal the law on the grounds that it was passed illegally, having contravened parliamentary rules of procedure requiring quorum, and that it violated constitutional rights. Their efforts, combined with those of a robust legal team, were integral to the law’s repeal. Their victory demonstrates the power of domestic actors and the courts in promoting social and legal change.

This path to social change in Uganda – through the time, energy and sacrifice of key individuals and organizations, together with the power of the law – is no different than the path to social change in the United States. The protection of rights, especially minority rights, often comes on the back of legal rulings, sometimes even before the general public supports these rights. Recent research by Rebecca Kreitzer, Allison Hamilton and Caroline Tolbert has found that anti-discriminatory legislation can directly shift public opinion to be more supportive of same-sex rights.

Activists and scholars worry that despite recent progress on same-sex rights in places like the United States, countries elsewhere — most notably in Africa, but also Russia and India — are experiencing backsliding. In an article on the relationship between democracy and gay rights, Bard College professor Omar Encarnación writes, “Gay rights appear to be deepening more than spreading, intensifying in some regions while regressing in others.“ While there has been regression as measured by anti-homosexual legislation in a number of countries around the world, the overall trajectory of gay rights may not be as dismal as Encarnación’s article suggests.

Rather than thinking of gay rights as present or absent, a continuum may better represent the extent to which the rights of the LGBT community are being protected as well as the changing attitudes toward homosexuality within society. Expanding the protection and promotion of rights, including same-sex rights, is an iterative and not necessarily linear process. Advocacy and strategic litigation can result in key legal decisions that protect rights, and these rulings in turn can affect public opinion, followed by further public support of subsequent anti-discriminatory policy.

In the United States, landmark cases in the promotion of same-sex rightsinclude One Inc. v. Olesen, Romer v. Evans, United States v. Windsor andLawrence v. Texas. The latter ruled as late as 2003 that anti-sodomy laws — like the one that remains in Uganda’s penal code — are unconstitutional. Progress has not been without setbacks, in the United States or elsewhere, as the initial passage of Proposition 8 in California (subsequently struck down by the U.S. District Court and appeal dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court) demonstrated all too clearly. Today 12 U.S. states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, the Supreme Court ruling notwithstanding.

While vocal American activists condemn anti-gay legislation around the world, the United States itself has not yet reached the point of full protection of same-sex rights, nor where the whole population accepts homosexuality. The most recent World Values Survey found in 2011 that nearly 1 in 4 American respondents (24 percent) say that homosexuality is “never justifiable.” This figure is much lower than that of Uganda, where close to 9 in 10 respondents completely opposed homosexuality, but still demonstrates considerable hostility towards the LGBTI community in the U.S.

If we look at attitudes toward homosexuality over time using opinion polls, we find that it can take decades for attitudes to shift. Further, negative attitudes toward homosexuality sometimes increase before they decrease. In South Korea, for example, one of the countries with the longest record of opinion polling on the topic, opposition to homosexuality, again, as measured by the percentage of respondents who say homosexuality is never justifiable, jumped from 60 percent in 1982 to 90 percent in 1990 before declining again. It’s worth noting that levels of anti-homosexuality sentiment in South Korea in 1990 are nearly the same as those in Uganda today. In South Africa too, anti-homosexual sentiment increased before declining. Meanwhile, in the U.S., opposition has fallen only gradually over time and has yet to dip below 20 percent.

Anti-homosexuality attitudes over time across four countries. Data not available for all countries in all waves. Data: World Values Survey; Figure: Melina Platas Izama

Anti-homosexuality attitudes over time across four countries. Data not available for all countries in all waves. Data: World Values Survey; Figure: Melina Platas Izama

Democratic institutions took centuries to develop in the United States but have been adopted in a matter of decades in a number of African countries. Likewise, same-sex rights ultimately may be adopted far more quickly in countries like Uganda than they were in the United States. The urgent question for minority rights activists around the world is, how can the pace of rights promotion and protection be increased.

It is not clear that sanctions on governments enacting anti-homosexuality legislation speed up the process of rights promotion, though they might. Journalist and petitioner in the recent Uganda case, Andrew Mwenda, argues that donor threats were actually the “trigger” that forced Museveni to sign the bill in the first place, despite his initial reluctance to pass anti-homosexual legislation. Rather than threats and sanctions, Mwenda advocates for diplomacy on the basis of mutual interests. Encarnación notes a similar concern, writing, “Attempts by the West to export gay rights, especially across Africa, also often play directly into the hands of local politicians eager to brand gay rights as ‘foreign values’ and to rationalize their anti-gay policies as a defense against ‘Western influences.’”

Perhaps, as in the United States, the mostly likely agents of change are domestic actors, be they civil society, legal professionals, the media or others, who employ a country’s own institutions and laws to protect same-sex rights. This course of action relies heavily on the judiciary branch, but as the case of Uganda has shown, such a strategy can be effective even in countries where the executive branch wields considerable power. Civil society actors and activists can also work in tandem with more progressive members of parliament and the executive to quietly support policy and legal reform. These partners in government can play a critical role in reducing the likelihood that government appeals the court ruling or that a new law is brought to parliament.

The Ugandan lawyer leading the case against the Anti-Homosexuality Act, Nicholas Opiyo, says continued debate and discussion on the issue of homosexuality will work toward putting a “human face” to same-sex rights. So too will the growing number of LGBT individuals who openly identify as such, increasing the number of Ugandans who have friends, family and acquaintances whom they know are gay or lesbian.

It is through the efforts of individuals like Opiyo and the other petitioners, at no small cost either personally or professionally, that countries like Uganda will continue to move along the continuum of the protection and promotion of civil liberties and rights for all.

 

 

“VIPs” a public nuisance

Sometimes you imagine your problems are yours alone. Writing is at its best when giving voice to observations you never thought to say aloud, or drawing parallels you didn’t know existed. So I’m constantly fascinated while reading an account of Indian politics and society by Edward Luce, In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India. To give a small example, the following passage will be immediately recognizable to any of Kampala’s road users.

I once had a long conversation with the head of police for New Delhi about the number of cars that evaded normal traffic restrictions by putting a red or blue light on the roof. New Delhi suffers from a permanent epidemic of VIPs. He told me that a majority of car owners were not authorized to use VIP flashing lights. But his police, who are invariably junior in social status to the occupants of the car, felt unable to prevent it. The same discrimination can be observed at the dozens of road security checkpoints surrounding the capital. It is always the rickshaws, motorbikes, and freight trucks that get stopped by police. The expensive cars are waved through.

The abuse of hazards, lights, sirens, and even government number plates to forge a path through nerve-fraying traffic is a constant public nuisance in Kampala, and on the road to Entebbe. But all I can do is mutter to myself.

The similarities between the workings and paralysis of government in India and Uganda is striking, although India seems more extreme in both its successes and failures. Definitely worth a read.

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.

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.