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Dictators, women and the moral brigade: From Aminism to Musevenism – Part 2

Idi Amin Dada

Idi Amin Dada

Last week, this column reflected on the surprising parallels between Amin and Museveni, and particularly considered the ways in which the militarism of these two men has had the deleterious effect of deferring – almost indefinitely – the dreams of several generations of Ugandans.

This column explores an additional aspect of the Amin-Museveni alignment, that is to say, the weaponization of morality as an aspect of the legitimation of increasingly autocratic power.

In the Amin era, this tendency was perhaps best demonstrated in the so-called ‘Mini-skirts Decree’, which was promulgated on 5th June 1972. The Decree went as far as stipulating the permissible lengths of skirts and dresses, which had to be no more than three inches above one’s knee.

He would follow this up, in February 1974, with a Decree which banned women from wearing wigs and trousers. It is perhaps not accidental that this obsession with morality – or more factually, women’s bodies and their sexuality – increased in the context of a failing economy, rampant corruption and an increasingly brutal State.

Amin had by this time killed Michael Kabali- Kaggwa, the Chief Registrar of the High Court and President of the Industrial Court (in September 1971) and Ben Kiwanuka, Uganda’s first Chief Justice (in September 1972). He had also infamously ordered the expulsion of Asians (August 1972) and expropriated their properties without compensation.

As his government floundered, Amin’s imperative to clutch at demonstrative morality, played out especially on the canvass of women’s bodies, grew. As might have been expected, this was also at the cost of the respect for the separation between the State and any one religion – as Amin directly and indirectly privileged Islam over all other belief systems.

Aside from banning up to 11 churches in 1973 as ‘unlawful societies’, Amin took the additional step of taking Uganda into the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly called the Organization of the Islamic Conference) in 1974. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, Amin’s entitlement to the public regulation – through the instrumentality of state law and enforcement organs – extended to a personal sense of entitlement to the women who were unfortunate enough to come under his purview.

The most prominent example in this respect might be Princess Elizabeth Bagaya, whom he abruptly appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs on 19th February 1974, before just as unceremoniously dropping her from that position in November of the same year, after she had refused his sexual advances.

Thus, while Bagaya became the first female cabinet Minister, Amin clearly did not thereby acknowledge or appreciate her full humanity and autonomy. He did not simply dismiss her, but also sought to humiliate and demean her: she was arrested and tortured (including having her hair shaved with broken glass); accused of having sex with an unspecified person in the toilet of a French airport; and also had a fake nude photo of her widely published.

Museveni begun his regime by vociferously distinguishing himself from Uganda’s past leaders. In his now (in) famous speech at the steps of Parliament on 29th January 1986, he stated: ‘No one should think that what is happening today is a mere change of guard: it is a fundamental change in the politics of our country.

In Africa, we have seen so many changes that change, as such, is nothing short of mere turmoil. We have had one group getting rid of another one, only for it to turn out to be worse than the group it displaced. Please do not count us in that group of people.’

We are now in 2024, and the group which presented itself as a transitional movement – aimed at ushering in a genuine democratic dispensation in Uganda - has clearly destroyed all legitimate and constitutional avenues for peaceful change. As the Emperor’s nakedness becomes impossible to hide, he has - like Amin before him – resorted to the predictable playbook of diverting national attention to the nakedness of women.

On the one hand, we now have a significantly progressive Constitution, which recognizes the rights, dignity and agency of women. For instance, it requires the State to ‘recognize the significant role that women play in society’ (Objective XV of the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy); protects the rights of women generally (Article 33) and in marriage (Article 31) as well as employment (Article 40 (4)); necessitates the taking of affirmative action in favour of women, among other marginalized groups (Article 32 (1)) and prohibits any and all ‘laws, cultures, customs and traditions which are against the dignity, welfare or interest of women’ (Article 32 (2)); and creates special representation for women in Parliament by requiring that there be a female representative for every district in the country (Article 78 (1)(c))). President Museveni, like Amin before him, has also established a number of firsts especially in terms of facilitating the inclusion of women in governance, with, among others, the first female Vice President (Dr Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, in 1994) and the first female Speaker of Parliament (Hon. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, in 2011).

On the other hand, following the path laid out by Amin in the 1970s, Museveni and his NRM have severally, and cynically, mobilized the moral brigade – with a disproportionately adverse impact of women – as the regime’s legality and legitimacy have plummeted.

President Yoweri Museveni
President Yoweri Museveni

Thus, it was that Museveni chose February 2014 – the very same month in which Hon. Evelyn Anite was kneeling at the NRM retreat in Kyankwanzi to move the motion for Museveni’s ‘sole candidacy’ in the 2016 presidential elections – as the month in which to sign two into law two bills which would occupy the country’s public discourse over the next months and years: the Anti-Homosexuality Act and the Anti-Pornography Act.

Ironically, the latter Act in some ways constituted a kind of resurrection of Amin’s ‘Mini-Skirts Decree’ given its overbroad definition, and proscription, of ‘pornography’. The latter Act even created an entire ‘Pornography Control Committee’, complete with membership by ‘a distinguished practicing advocate, nominated by the Uganda Law Society’ among other serious persons (Section 3) and with broad powers and duties.

Armed with this ‘mandate’ the Pornography Control Committee set out to purchase, in 2017, a ‘Pornography Detector Machine’ at a cost of USD 88,000 (or about UGX 318 million at the time). It is unclear what ever became of this somewhat mythical contraption.

Fortunately, the Anti-Pornography Act was essentially gutted by the Constitutional Court’s decision in Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) and 8 Others v Attorney General, rendered in August 2021, in which the Court found critical aspects of Section 2 of the Act (aspects of the definition of ‘pornography’) and 13 (prohibition of pornography) to offend Articles 28 (12) and 44 (c) (requirement for penal offences to be clear and unambiguous); and 29 (on freedom of expression).

Consequently, the powers and duties of the Committee (Section 11) and of courts (Section 15) were similarly found to violate the rights to liberty (Article 23), property (Article 26) and privacy (Article 27). For its part, the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act was annulled by the Constitutional Court in Prof J Oloka-Onyango and 8 Others v Attorney General, on 1st August 2014, on the ground that it had been passed by Parliament without the requisite quorum.

These interventions by the Constitutional Court have not stopped the continued mobilization and weaponization of moral hysteria by the NRM and its apparatchiks, sometimes to some really absurd lengths.

The latest iteration of this is the ‘reloaded’ Anti-Homosexuality Act - which was assented to by the President on 26th May 2023 – quite conveniently at the height of the ‘Mabaati’ scandal in which several Ministers were found to have essentially stolen iron sheets meant for the people of Karamoja. Again predictably, the AHA served to divert the attention of a fickle public from the reality of blatant bad governance to the bogey(wo)men of sexual and gender minorities.

And since then, the AHA seems to be the gift that keeps on giving, for any and all persons found with their hands in the public purse. The tragedy is that many have learnt from Museveni’s cynical use of ‘homosexuals’ as the magic wand in the face of the reality of runaway corruption; an evident cost-of-living crisis; the impunity of life presidency and father-son presidential succession; torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings; to mention but a few of the symptoms of a regime in crisis.

Perhaps the most recent, and most blatant deployment, of this was Rt. Hon. Anita Among who, in March 2024, refused any debate on the scandalous expenditure (by herself and several other MPs) on the grounds that the allegations were levelled by homosexuals. Any hope of accountability was dashed when Museveni, at the occasion of the launch of her hospital in Bukedea, similarly claimed that those calling for parliamentary accountability were ‘outright traitors working for wrong foreigners like homosexuals and imperialists’.

On that day – 23rd March 2024 – Museveni did not only launch the Bukedea Teaching Hospital. He also launched a new phase of bad governance in Uganda, in which even the possibility of legitimate critique will be criminalized and pathologized under such vague.

overarching and ultimately indefinable offences of ‘homosexuality’ and ‘imperialism’. Not to be left behind, elements in the Opposition, such as NUP’s Hon. Abed Bwanika, have also realized the potency of this approach – and will likely increasingly deploy it in the months and years to come.

In this new arena, militarism will continue to play the forbidding role it has done since colonial times and in the post-colonial era: to place the selfishness of some above the real of legitimate debate, and to force alternative and dissenting voices into silence. This was the basis of Hon. Anite dismissive but telling statement in September 2017 at the height of the ‘age-limit’ debate: ‘If they are looking for support, for us we don’t go looking for support.

We are the party in government, we have the support of the ‘magye’ (army)’. Increasingly, it is not only ‘traditional magye’ that is being used – but also the moral brigade: the ‘morality magye’. The one silver lining appears to be that this method has been so abused, and so overstretched, that Ugandans have started to see through it.

On this note, I must take another hiatus – for the next three weeks – as I struggle to finish teaching undergraduate and graduate students at Makerere School of Law. Exams are around the corner, and it is important that the topics assigned to me are well and truly covered.

In this regard, I also take further note of Dr. Moses Khisa’s additional column, in the Saturday Monitor of 30th March 2024 entitled ‘Rattle of Musevenism and militarism: Another response to Dr. Kabumba’. I am burdened both by the kindness of his remarks regarding my nascent body of work, and by the importance of his critique of some of the prescriptions I have proffered for the ‘Uganda patient’.

I promise, again, to respond fully to this and the previous - with the benefit of the time for reflection I might be able to salvage over these three weeks.

The writer is senior lecturer and acting director of the Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) at the School of Law, Makerere University, where he teaches Constitutional Law and Legal Philosophy.


0 #1 Lakwena 2024-04-03 08:11
Thanks Dr. Busingye.

This is indeed a sad testament of what has become of a country called Uganda.

Otherwise, who in his/her right state of mind still does not see that: it is the same Demon that rod on Gen Amin's shoulders to destroy Uganda from 25th Jan 1971 to 11th April 1979; is the very Demon that hopped onto Gen Museveni's shoulders, to continue destroying Uganda from Jan 25th Jan 1986, to date and counting?

In other words, there is nothing new under the Sun!

"The only new thing in the world is the History you/we do not know (Harry Truman)"

E.g. the Dictator's ears only hears the praise of stooges and sycophants like the Anite and Among of this country. And in the Dictator's thought is only his Self-importance.

Hence "Our Problem of Africa" eventually told us off in our faces on 26th Jan 2017 that: he is neither our employee, nor our servant!
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+7 #2 Lysol 2024-04-07 06:23
When Museveni was killing people in the bush to grab power, there were some people who are now complaining about Museveni, where encouraging him to be just like Amin, but more sophisticated.

Museveni actually perfected what Amin was all about, by being more cunning. The only difference is, Amin was not corrupt and could not condone corruption.

He always meant what he said and said what he meant. Not a wishy-washy individual like Museveni.

As for morality, it has always been a subjective issue which is not absolute. What is evil in one culture maybe accepted in another culture.

Unfortunately, many people always play the so-called morality police for their own selfish reasons in order to control and degrade others, by trying to appear superior. Nobody is without sins.
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