Rwanda 279x300 Double Take

Rwanda

South Africa as yet, has remained completely silent on the issue of pink human rights in Africa, specifically Uganda - presumably on the “head-in-the-sand” principle employed by the ostrich – if you ignore it long enough, it will probably go away. Perhaps they are right, but then who am I to criticize? I live in a country which seems increasingly desperate to imitate that other bastion of third-world lunacy, Zimbabwe.

Speaking of lunacy, Rwanda has taken leave of its senses – and democratic practice, and all the lessons we thought they had learned from the tragedy they became famous for, the tragedy that comes from persecuting whole classes of people – by deciding to follow Uganda’s example. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but then I suppose I like to believe in the essential goodness of people, even if I am repeatedly proven wrong.

Rwanda is yet another backward African country which officially denies the existence of its own GLBTI citizens and yet sees no contradiction in having to outlaw something which supposedly does not exist. But then, that is probably the whole point of the law?

I find myself compelled to quote Einstein, who said: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity – and I’m not sure about the universe.”

I find it interesting that there are similarities between Rwanda and Uganda, and no, I’m not just talking about the fact that they are neighbors – or genocide, past in one case and impending in another – but in the cultural factors that lie behind such things. For one thing, the concept of coincidence. The idea of coincidence presupposes that something is supposedly unplanned – but happens that way anyhow, as part of a sequence or series of events – almost as if it had been. Almost. On closer inspection of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa I find myself forced to ask if all these coincidences are not too much convenient to be mere “coincidence”?

What am I talking about? Well let’s look at the case of Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor from Saddleback Church in the USA, who has been the subject of much discussion and criticism for his role in mentoring one of the chief role players who tabled the Ugandan Genocide Bill, and for playing such a prominent role in Ugandan affairs leading to the tabling of this Bill. It seems our friend Warren has also been influential in Rwanda, and his church is reportedly “deeply involved” in the country. Considering how far up the ladder this goes in Uganda, I suppose we will be unpleasantly surprised to see how far the rot has spread in Rwanda as well.

It seems Rwanda has tried to push their new law to criminalize homosexuality as quietly as possible, reportedly within 48 hours – undoubtedly encouraged by Uganda’s defiance of the world’s condemnation. Their bill does not include the death penalty at this stage, but prescribes ten years jail time.

I only wonder what more will be uncovered if people start to dig a little deeper? Will we find evidence of more US relgious right involvement as in Uganda? Will we find Focus On The Family, Exodus International, “The Family” or any of a host of other foreign evangelical groups?

To fight this kind of mentality, this indoctrinated religious-fundamentalist drive to purge society of diversity, we need voices from the religious center, left AND right – to speak out against this grievous and terrible wrong. Well, they can’t know what to speak out against unless somebody points it out to them – and what I am saying is, that this problem exists right across Africa, wherever they have set themselves up in influential positions – and not just in Uganda.

Many conservative Christian groups who were directly involved in Uganda have been in the last week or so, coming forward, mostly due to pressure exerted by the media and human rights activists, in order to denounce the Bill resulting from their interference. They claim that they did not want this Bill, that they did not want their prodigies to turn gay people into criminals and to put them to death for their sexual orientation or gender identity – but when you look at the things they said in Uganda, and the past few year’s worth of warning signs I just have to quote that transphobic bigot, Dr Phil – “What were they thinking”?

Did they think a society barely able to grasp the concept of human rights, justice and democracy could differentiate between right and wrong as societies with their roots in centuries of democracy do? Did they think that their incitement to hatred and intolerance would not boil over into violence and persecution? Did they think the violent behaviour and expression of hatred and outrage caused by their lies and propaganda - which they witnessed at the Kampala conference this year – would not find expression in the political arena of Uganda?

I think this Bill is exactly what they wanted – they just don’t have the balls to take the credit for it.

Christina Engela is a volunteer human rights activist, member of the Board of SA GLAAD and President of the Eastern Cape Gay & Lesbian Association (ECGLA) in South Africa.