In a question-and-answer session with journalists on Saturday, dubbed Ask the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi spoke openly about the ticklish issue of the Anti-Homosexuality Act and the Kyankwanzi resolution that tapped President Museveni as the NRM sole flag bearer for 2016, among other issues.
Edris Kiggundu captured the proceedings.
Do you have a personal position on the Anti-Homosexuality Law?
I had a personal position on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, now that it is a law, it does not matter.
Personal positions of leaders only matter in the process of formulating a policy or a law but once they are passed, it does not matter.
Remind us of your personal position...
It is not relevant. You see, it would be wrong for me, for instance in case I had an opinion which was different from the majority opinion to persist with my minority opinion because I am subjected to the majority opinion.
That is how democracy works. If I felt so strong that I would not go along with the democratic process, I would get out of the democratic process.
But my position had been that we already have an anti-homosexuality law on our statute books. It is section 145 of the penal code. These deal with the question of homosexuality and activities related to it including promotions. I did not feel it was necessary to enact a new law.
Originally, the new law was proposing that we enhance punishment because the law in the penal code which was a British law commenced in Uganda on the 15th of June 1950 and it has been there since that time…my position had been why do you need a new one? In the beginning it was as if to say let’s enhance the punishment in the penal code which is life imprisonment (for those found guilty of engaging in homosexuality).
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill had proposed the death penalty and the moment you remove this, then it is the same as the penal code. So, why suffer all this because of re-enacting a law which existed? So those were my issues. Those who say that homosexuality is ‘un-African’ and that it is a recent arrival are wrong.
The first time I heard of it was in 1958 in a church on a Sunday when the priest devoted his sermon to condemning homosexuality in my school. It was a boy’s school. Culturally, we had an effective way of handling this problem but now we have exhibitionism and all sorts of things. We have imported these from the West.
Incidentally for the last 64 years we had this law on the books, I don’t remember whether we have had any prosecutions. If they are there, they must be few and scattered. Why? In Africa, sexual activity is absolutely private. What you do in your sex life, who knows? Where you have a consensual relationship, you will not discover it. Yes the law is in place and my duty as prime minister is to defend our laws.
Is it a view that you expressed to the president?
Incidentally what I am telling you is not my private personal position. When it came to cabinet, we set up a cabinet subcommittee which did study the matter and gave a report and these were the issues that were raised. The question was: Is it necessary to have another law? You should distinguish this from the question: Should we or should we not have an anti-homosexuality law?
Some donors have cut aid in response to the law. How do you think this is going to effect the provision of services?
First of all, let me say that I have not seen the official communication from the World Bank. But I know some officials from the World Bank have talked to government officials about the $90 million which is intended to supplement the money already given by the World Bank to support the project on rehabilitation of district hospitals and health centres.
The idea had been that since the major loan had been approved, this should not go through the normal steps of loan approval because it is not a new project. In light of this law, apparently, there are a few murmurs. The World Bank decided that they will take a bit of time to go through the process of evaluation, try and discover whether in light of this law our hospitals would discriminate against homosexuals. Things of that kind.
I don’t think they are withdrawing from the project. I think it is a decision that takes into account certain things before they finalize this issue. Of course the delay [to release the money] will affect us. These hospitals we had already awarded contracts to builders.
If this money does not come you can imagine the consequences/not only the delay in the provision of services but also failure to perform on the side of government. But if they take the money, what can we do? We must live on. We have shown that we can stand on our feet. But we will do anything possible to engage our development partners.
There have been suggestions about amending the anti-pornography law because most of its sections are ambiguous and can be interpreted differently by different people. How far has cabinet gone in this endeavour?
Once a law is in place, everyone must obey it whether you like it or not, whether you voted for it or not. The other day in Parliament we received reports that the public had taken the law in their own hands and had stripped naked some three young ladies on claims that they were wearing miniskirts.
As the line minister Fr Simon Lokodo has repeatedly said, the Act does not talk about miniskirts. It talks about indecent dressing. In cabinet, we noted that the term indecent dressing was ambiguous; so, we asked the minister to bring it back just to see whether we could improve on it.
They don’t talk about the length of the dress or skirt and it appears it is only against women. What about men who wear shorts? These are the few things we shall talk about.
Sections of NRM supporters are accusing MPs who went to Kyankwanzi of usurping the powers of the national delegates’ conference to endorse President Museveni as NRM flag bearer for 2016.
As an MP and secretary general of NRM, were the MPs right to take this direction?
You know in NRM we subscribe to what we preach. We have been preaching freedom and democracy. We like practicising them as well. We have also always preached managing the affairs of the party like managing public affairs in a systematic way. What I said in Kyankwanzi is that the caucus expressed an opinion.
They are entitled to have an opinion and that is what it is, an opinion. They did not say that their opinion is the decision of the party. There are organs of the party that have the mandate to take those decisions and those organs when the time comes, they will take the decisions.
The same goes to our supporters. We as a party we have [fora] in which we exercise our rights and freedoms. They should not go to the public to express opinions as if there is a war in the party. The media seems to give an impression that we are at war…The Observer what did you write the other day?
There has been a great deal of speculation that you could offer yourself in the race for the NRM presidential flag bearer.
This is the matter we have visited each time. I have always said this for decades. We did not go to the struggle because we wanted positions; no, we wanted to bring change to the people of Uganda… the decisions we make are decisions we make in accordance with rules we have made. I am a disciplined cadre of the movement.
The last time there was a campaign for secretary general in the NRM, some people went around the country campaigning. This was out of line. I did not campaign. I only sent messages when those people told delegates in districts that I had withdrawn from the race. So, that was a problem then and I hope it will not be repeated.
So, if you have been there working for the party, people will know it. I have not campaigned for the chairmanship of NRM. I know there are people who say Mbabazi is capable of being president. I say “thank you for having confidence in me.” And that is their opinion. What do I do about it? They are entitled to their opinions. But I have not campaigned anywhere. That is a fact.
If the party gives me any assignment like I am secretary general now, I will do it. But if the party has chosen Museveni as flag bearer and you know I am a disciplined cadre, I will back him.
But some people have said the position of the caucus is binding to the national conference. So why would the party convene a delegates’ conference if they have already chosen a flag bearer?
The resolution is not binding. Binding on who? Of course the caucus is a very important organ of the party because all of them are members of NEC. If they go to NEC with a bloc position, obviously you cannot ignore that.
If you read the newspapers after Kyankwanzi, it is like they have written your political obituary.
How many times have you written that Mbabazi is finished? Temangalo-Mbabazi sold his land at an exorbitant price. People discovered the true price of land after that thing and that I had sold the land below the market price. The price I committed, therefore, was to sell my land below the market price. Did this kill me politically? No.
Then it came to Chogm. That I told the president that the communication equipment would cost $5 million. They said why was it Mbabazi who said so maybe if it was Ruhakana Rugunda, the minister of Internal Affairs then, it would not have attracted much attention. They said Mbabazi was finished.
The next one was the oil bribery allegations in Parliament. They said I was paid billions. What evidence is there? Nothing. This small boy in Parliament called Gerald Karuhanga… he is still trying to find his way around Parliament. I asked my neighbour that I had heard a rumour that this young man had studied law. Has the committee produced its report? I have not followed. Nobody offered me a bribe, even to reject.
The next was the OPM saga. Money was stolen. The auditor general’s forensic audit was asked by us. Most of this theft happened when I was not prime minister. But instead of giving me maximum applause for great work, the opposite happened. Because they wanted me out. Of course I am not finished.
We have a saying in our language that when you have a big head…you can fill the rest. You see, I have been tested. They have done everything possible but I always emerge clean. I have evidence.
There are reports that NRM is plotting to postpone the 2016 elections and possibly amend the clause on the presidential age limit in the Constitution. Is it true?
No…But age is in the mind. When you are looking for leadership, don’t be quantitative, be qualitative. Ask yourself, what ideas does this man or woman have? When I met the president of Israel some time ago, I asked him whether he takes leave.
I wanted him to come here and have a holiday. He looked at me and said: ‘Young man only those who have no work to do take leave.’ He has been in government since 1948, before I was born. He is retiring now but I don’t think he is going to take a holiday.