At a hotel in Entebbe this week, I was subjected to an experience that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I am a recently retired (but not tired) almost 70 year old married mother of two and grandmother of seven. For many years, I have trained and mentored young people in leadership skills and the art of advocacy, particularly in connection with the subjects of Gender and Human Rights. On Tuesday I was invited to facilitate a session on leadership, using the Four Frames of Leadership to a group of sexual minorities. Another facilitator at the meeting was Hope Chigudu. Like me, Hope is a law-abiding married mother of senior citizenship. A few hours into my session, the Hon. Rev. Simon Lokodo—Minister of Ethics and Integrity—walked into the room.
The Minister introduced himself and proceeded to give a lecture on ethics and morality. In addition, he accused the gathering of being an illegal assembly ‘recruiting’ people into homosexuality, even insinuating that we were having sex in the meeting room. Then, in a strange twist of events, the Minister declared the meeting disbanded. Everybody was just told to go home. Kasha Nabagesera, activist and conference Convenor was threatened with arrest, while one of the participants who came from Sweden was challenged to explain how she had even entered the country. Soon after closing the meeting, the Minister was heard telling somebody over the telephone, “Yes, I have just disbanded them.”
Prior to his entry into the meeting, the Minister sent a message to the conference Convenor requesting details of the meeting. The program and all the training materials relating to the conference were sent to him, and the Minister asked to sit in on the proceedings. There being nothing to hide, the Convenor invited him to attend the meeting. Little did we know that the Minister would flare up in anger, make baseless accusations about the gathering and order the meeting closed. I was personally shocked by the action of the Minister, and the level of violent infuriation and intolerance he displayed. For a man of God, I saw no compassion, a great deal of prejudice and an utter unwillingness to listen. The Minister was too angry to hear good sense and simply failed to respond to any pleas for reason, ignoring both myself and Hope.
Reflecting on what happened on Tuesday, it is quite clear to me that the Minister over-stepped all boundaries of rational behavior. But more importantly, he blatantly violated the Law. In the first instance, every Ugandan has the right to assemble, speak freely and to have an education. This was a workshop convened to conduct training in skills that every citizen is entitled to. Secondly, although the Minister even went so far as to make the laughable claim that the gathering could have been planning a military coup or was plotting to disrupt national security, there is not an iota of evidence to support either claim. But I was most shocked that the Minister asserted that the government had all the right and the power to stop any kind of gathering that was taking place anywhere in the country; what a statement of arrogance and unbridled power! I find this wholly unacceptable and unsupported by any provision in the law. It is well known that if a gathering is to be stopped, there must be reasonable grounds to do so accompanied by the relevant legal documents, such as a court instruction or a Police order. The Hon. Minister was in possession of neither.
Tuesday’s actions by the Hon. Minister do not have any support in the 1995 Constitution of Uganda, or in any law known to me. Indeed, as I look ahead to the future Uganda that I want my grandchildren to live and thrive in, it is not the one I witnessed on Tuesday. Impunity comes in many guises; while the fascist actions of that day focused on a small group of activists, there is no telling who the target will be tomorrow. Autocratic government officials like the Rev. Simon Lokodo belong to an era I thought we had left far behind.
By: Dr Hilda Tadria