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Archive for November, 2009

Dear all,

What do you think of the current debate on death sentence for gay sex in the Ugandan parliament? Check this Guardian’s article below

Barbara, Edinburgh

 

Uganda considers death sentence for gay sex in bill before parliament

by Xan Rice, Kampala Sunday 29 November 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk

As a gay Ugandan, Frank Mugisha has endured insults from strangers, hate messages on his phone, police harassment and being outed in a tabloid as one of the country’s “top homos”. That may soon seem like the good old days.

Life imprisonment is the minimum punishment for anyone convicted of having gay sex, under an anti-homosexuality bill currently before Uganda‘s parliament. If the accused person is HIV positive or a serial offender, or a “person of authority” over the other partner, or if the “victim” is under 18, a conviction will result in the death penalty.

Members of the public are obliged to report any homosexual activity to police with 24 hours or risk up to three years in jail – a scenario that human rights campaigners say will result in a witchhunt.Ugandans breaking the new law abroad will be subject to extradition requests.

“The bill is haunting us,” said Mugisha, 25, chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a coalition of local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups that will all be banned under the law. “If this passes we will have to leave the country.”

Human rights groups within and outside Uganda have condemned the proposed legislation, which is designed to strengthen colonial-era laws that already criminalise gay sex. The issue threatened to overshadow the Commonwealth heads of government meeting that ended in Trinidad and Tobagotoday, with the UK and Canada both expressing strong concerns. Ahead of the meeting Stephen Lewis, a former UN envoy on Aids in Africa, said the law “makes a mockery of Commonwealth principles” and has “a taste of fascism” about it.

But within Uganda deeply-rooted homophobia, aided by a US-linked evangelical campaign alleging that gay men are trying to “recruit” schoolchildren, and that homosexuality is a habit that can be “cured”, has ensured widespread public support for the bill.

President Yoweri Museveni appeared to add his backing earlier this month, warning youths in Kampala that he had heard that “European homosexuals are recruiting in Africa”, and saying gay relationships were against God’s will.

“We used to say Mr and Mrs, but now it is Mr and Mr. What is that now?” he said. In a interview with the Guardian, James Nsaba Buturo, the minister of state for ethics and integrity, said the government was determined to pass the legislation, ideally before the end of 2009, even if meant withdrawing from international treaties and conventions such as the UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and foregoing donor funding. “We are talking about anal sex. Not even animals do that,” Butoro said, adding that he was personally caring for six “former homosexuals” who had been traumatised by the experience. “We believe there are limits to human rights.”

Homosexuality has always been a taboo subject in Uganda, and is considered by many to be an affront both to local culture and religion, which plays a strong role in family life. This negative stigma and the real threat of job loss means that no public personality has ever “come out”.Even local HIV campaigns – which have been heavily influenced by the evangelical church with a bias towards abstinence over condom use – have deliberately avoided targeting gay men for both prevention and access to treatment.

“This means many gay men here think Aids is a non-issue, which is so dangerous,” said Mugisha, who together with a few colleagues, has risked arrest by agitating in recent years for a change in the HIV policy. At the same time, some influential religious leaders have warned about the dangers of accepting liberal western attitudes towards homosexuality.Both opponents and supporters agree that the impetus for the bill came in March during a seminar in Kampala to “expose the truth behind homosexuality and the homosexual agenda”.

The main speakers were three US evangelists: Scott Lively, Don Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundidge. Lively is a noted anti-gay activist and president of Defend the Family International, a conservative Christian association, while Schmierer is an author who works with “homosexual recovery groups”. Brundidge is a “sexual reorientation coach” at the International Healing Foundation.

The seminar was organised by Stephen Langa, a Ugandan electrician turned pastor who runs the Family Life Network in Kampala and has been spreading the message that gays are targeting schoolchildren for “conversion”. “They give money to children to recruit schoolmates – once you have two children, the whole school is gone,” he said in an interview. Asked if there had been any court case to prove this was happening, he replied: “No, that’s why this law is needed.”

After the conference Langa arranged for a petition signed by thousands of concerned parents to be delivered to parliament in April. Within a few months the bill had been drawn up.

Christopher Senyonjo, a retired Anglican bishop, said the bill would push Uganda towards being a police state. “This law is being influenced by some evangelicals abroad,” he said. “There’s a lack of understanding about homosexuality – it’s not recruitment, it’s orientation.”

But among religious leaders of all faiths his is a rare voice. Langa, the pastor, said the only thing lacking in the legislation was a clause for “rehabilitation” of homosexuals, whom he “loves” and wants to help. Gay rights had the potential to destroy civilisation, as the west could soon find out, he said.

“As one parent told me: ‘We would rather live in grass huts with our morality than in skyscrapers among homosexuals’.”

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If you are scared of flying or love traveling in luxury, this post is no use to you. But if you love adventures and adopt a fatalistic approach in life, be ready for the most unpredictable journey of your life: just bring plenty of Bach flowers remedies in case of a sudden panic attack (or if you don’t believe in homeopathy, some serious drugs) and welcome on board Daallo Airlines! Never heard of it? Neither have Edinburgh-based travel agencies. Daallo Airlines is the leading Somali flying company that connects Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland daily to the rest of the world through Djibouti International Airport. Djibouti? Yes, the pleasant capital of the Republic of Djibouti. What a place! In fact it is not a place, it’s an oven. But let’s start with order.

As a follow-up to the collapse of Somali Government, Daallo Airlines was founded in 1991 with the aim of replacing the service once offered by Somali Airlines, the national airline of Somalia. At the time, sea and flight connections for the whole country of Somalia was almost non-existent. Daallo Airlines revived the Somali flying industry by hiring few small aircraft and serving the route Hargeisa-Djibouti. In response to a growing market demand, Daallo opened up its business to different routes and sectors. Today Daallo deals with passengers, cargo and charter flights. It flies to six Somali cities, three African, two European and two capitals in the Arabian Peninsula. The basis of Daallo’s success is two-fold. On the one hand unlike other places where flying companies have to rent infrastructure from the state, here there is no state to pay and Daallo can run the airline with no frills. On the other hand, the company meets the high-demanded need for transportation and easily finds customers among Somali Diaspora especially. In spite of the precarious political condition, Somali cities such as Hargeisa, Bosaso and to a certain extent Mogadishu, are very well-visited places. The Diaspora, who fled the country almost two decades ago, tend to go back frequently to visit family and friends. Indeed during summer time, Daallo flights are fully booked. Recent developments in the region increased Daallo’s success. Al-Shabab-led kamikaze attacks to Ethiopian Embassy in Somaliland (October 2008) caused Ethiopian Airlines to cancel all flight connections with Somaliland (of course, there are other ways to fly within Somalia: khat-flights carrying supplies from Ethiopia or Kenya, but I really doubt there are actually seats on the planes!)The success brought investors from Dubai who recently acquired most of Daallo which is now based in UAE.

Now that the background is out of the way, back to our adventure. Flying with Daallo is a really unforgettable experience! There are not so many places in the world where you can fly with half-century old Antonov-24, or Ilyushin I1-18. The Russian pilots don’t care much about uniforms or wishing you a good journey but are prompt to function as mechanics and technicians. Somali stewards tend to get involved in arguments with the pilots and may be left behind as result. Unlike other historical transport pieces, the propeller planes are not good to look at: so dirty you can hardly see outside the windows. But the inside is quite colourful: seats and equipment come from a range of twenty different planes. Air conditioning is failing, but the social policy could not be fairer: it does not matter whether you are traveling on first or second class the service is … let’s just say basic. Plus the staff won’t bore you with useless safety information and procedures but you could freely talk on mobiles while landing. And in case you forget your IPod or have no book to read, do not despair, your fellow traveler would probably ask you to chew khat and keep him company. Or if you are a female flying from Djibouti, you might be chatted up by members of French Foreign Legion who will impress you with unrealistic pirates’ stories. Still not convinced?  Well if you are very lucky you might get the chance to be involved in excited hijacking attempt and bravely secured by the pilots, but thankfully, that didn’t happen to me. Fly Daallo! Looking forward to seeing you there!

Annalisa Urbano, Edinburgh

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