Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 00:01 by Reuters
Ugandan anti-gay activist Pastor Martin Ssempa (centre) leading anti-gay supporters after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a law imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality in Entebbe. Photo: Edward Echwalu/Reuters
Sweden’s Finance Minister Anders Borg warned Uganda yesterday that a new Bill imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality could represent a financial risk for the east African economy.
President Yoweri Museveni initialled the Bill on Monday, drawing immediate criticism from Western donors and Washington. Within hours, Norway and Denmark said they were holding back aid. Austria said it would review assistance.
Reflecting the gap between the policies of Western donors and some African attitudes, a Ugandan tabloid’s front page carried the banner headline “Exposed” and threatened to out 200 allegedly known homosexuals, an act activists feared marked a new pogrom against the gay community.
“I’m really here to discuss the economy and growth opportunities, but that will be overshadowed, unfortunately, because they have taken this decision,” Borg told Swedish news Agency TT, referring to the Bill on homosexuality.
“It represents a financial risk for Uganda to get this type of reputation,” said Borg, who was in Uganda on Monday and yesterday, and met gay activists the same day the law was signed.
If the aid cuts become widespread, Uganda, east Africa’s third biggest economy, could be forced to cut spending or borrow deeper. When donors suspended aid in 2012 over graft concerns, Uganda revised its growth out-look downwards.
The new legislation strengthens existing punishments for anyone caught having gay sex, imposing jail terms of up to life for “aggravated homosexuality” – including sex with a minor or while HIV positive. It outlaws lesbianism for the first time and makes it a crime to help individuals engage in homosexual acts.
Many culturally conservative Sub-Saharan African governments outlaw homosexuality, a point of friction with the many Western donors that support their budgets.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the new legislation “complicates a valued relationship”, adding Washington would review ties with veteran leader Museveni and his government.
Museveni may be betting that such warnings are just rhetoric, analysts said. Uganda is a Western ally in the fight against al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, putting troops into a battle the West has little stomach for.
He may also be counting on future oil production which could start in 2016 and help ease his nation’s dependency on aid.