US-Uganda LGBTQ contention: Will Uganda bow out?

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For Uganda, this is a third round of anti-LGBTQ+ legislative unrest. With each enactment of the bill, sanctions have been imposed, yet Uganda has consistently demonstrated resilience over the years.

Can Uganda once again withstand the sanctions accompanying this latest legislation?

In May 2023, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni signed one of the world's toughest anti-LGBTQ laws, including the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" and a 20-year sentence for "promoting" homosexuality amid other penalties.

This law follows similar bills that were overturned in technicalities and passed by the Parliament in 2009 and 2014, drawing condemnation from the United States and aid donors as a tragic violation of human rights.

Sanctions for the 2014 anti-LGBTQ law

The U.S. responded with aid cuts, and redirection of funds including a $2.4m Ugandan community policing program and cancelled a US-sponsored military exercise. Western donors, including the U.S., halted and re-directed about $118m in aid to Uganda. It relocated all funds allocated for projects in Uganda to another African country.

The 2023 law saw President Joe Biden threatening aid cuts and other sanctions, including visa restrictions, while Uganda, alongside three other African countries, was removed from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) in December, affecting Uganda's duty-free exports to the US.

Sanctions for the 2023 anti-LGBTQ law

In June 2023 U.S. President Joe Biden threatened to cut aid to Uganda and other sanctions, including visa restrictions, against Ugandan officials, saying the U.S. would hold accountable those who are responsible for abusing human rights in Uganda, "including those of LGBTQI+ persons."

Later in December, the U.S. removed Uganda and three other African countries as beneficiaries of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) for the reason that they no longer met requirements, ending Uganda’s ability to export certain commodities to the US duty-free.

In the 12 months to June 2023, Uganda’s exports to the U.S. alone under Agoa totalled $70.7 million. The expulsion could impact not only Uganda's foreign exchange but also jeopardize thousands of jobs, especially in the agricultural sector, employing 72 per cent of the country’s workforce.

Museveni’s response

Sellers offering second-hand clothes wait for customers in a market in Uganda
Sellers offering second-hand clothes wait for customers in a market in Uganda

In August 2023, Museveni waged war on second-hand clothing resulting in the ban of its importation into Uganda, contending that the clothes belonged to dead Westerners.

Later in December, Ugandan President Museveni dismissed the sanctions as inconsequential, asserting that Uganda has the right to uphold its sovereignty without external interference.

Uganda's government accused the U.S. of pushing an "LGBT agenda" in Africa through sanctions.

Days after U.S. President Biden suspended Uganda from Agoa, Museveni told Biden he was wasting his time and Uganda didn’t need his support, stating that the nation would trade with those who respect them.

Museveni assured Ugandans that such trade restrictions and pressures "have no meaning" because Uganda is a nation of "wealth creators".

“Some of the people who get carried away by linking up with foreign interests forget our strengths. For somebody to come and say 'unless you follow what I'm telling you I’ll not…..'  they are really not serious,” Museveni was quoted by The East African.

According to Museveni, those exerting pressure are wasting their time, as some actors in the Western world overestimate themselves and underestimate Africa's freedom fighters.

“Some of the foreign actors erroneously think that African countries cannot move forward without their support. Certainly, as far as Uganda is concerned, we have the capacity to achieve our growth and transformation targets, even if some of the actors do not support us,” Museveni was quoted in a Global South World article.

The resilience displayed by Uganda, facing recurrent sanctions, leaves an impression that the East African nation might not be inclined to bow out in the immediate future.

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