opinionBy Peter C. Schiefke
I am a Canadian who loves Uganda and its people.
I love the culture, the landscape, have had the privilege and honour of working in Uganda for many years as a volunteer, and as director of a charitable organization in Gulu district. Over the last seven years, I have made countless friends in Uganda, witnessed significant economic growth, increased domestic security, and a tangible increase in the quality of life for millions.
This can be attributed to the strength and will of the Ugandan people, and to the tireless work of a government that envisions a better, more prosperous Uganda for generations to come. In this pursuit, Uganda has made new allies, opened up new markets, attracted investment, tourism, and signed new trade agreements. Progress has been felt on many fronts to the benefit of millions of Ugandans of all walks of life.
I am, however, writing to express my shock and disappointment at the 'Kill the Gays' bill that has been supported by the Honourable Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, and many of her colleagues. Firstly, I am not gay but I believe strongly that this bill is a great step backwards for Uganda and her people. As a Canadian and a citizen of the world that cares for the rights of all people, I write this in support of my many friends and even family members who are indeed gay.
They are teachers, lawyers, doctors, mothers, fathers, and yes, where certain denominations allow for it, even priests. They are decent, kind, intelligent, and contribute to working families, strong militaries, vibrant cultures, and strong economies worldwide, including those of Canada and Uganda.
My aversion to the bill does not simply stem from the fact that it will deny rights to a minority group of the Ugandan population, but also the reasoning used to support it. Hon Kadaga's assertion that she and her colleagues are passing the bill because, in her words "most Ugandans are demanding it" does not make it a just law; nor does this reasoning give credence to any law that denies one citizen of rights that are available to others.
Great leaders, past and present, have time and again risen above the will or desires of the populace in order to protect and safeguard the imperative tenets of freedom and liberty. Had the will of the majority been used as the deciding factor in whether or not to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, essentially ending the long- standing tradition of slavery in America, countless further generations may have lived through the brutal practice. Americans in large numbers supported the status quo at the time.
Nonetheless, President [Abraham] Lincoln went against the will of the many and his legacy will be one of a man who did not do what was popular, but what was right. President Lincoln was on the right side of history. Had this argument applied in South Africa in the 1990s, President Nelson Mandela would have created legislation based on feelings of vengeance held by most South Africans against those who supported apartheid. Instead, he preached peace and reconciliation. He too will be remembered for choosing to do what was right, not what was popular amongst his electorate.
He was on the right side of history. In America, President Barack Obama repealed the 'Don't ask, don't tell' law that discriminated against gays in the military. When President Obama took office in January 2009, the majority of Americans did not support allowing gays to serve openly in the US military. Even so, President Obama made the right choice. He was on the right side of history.
Ugandans need Parliament not to simply follow, but lead. As has been demonstrated by some of the greatest leaders that have come before us, and even those of our time, leadership sometimes requires disagreement with the populace, no matter how difficult or costly.
This proposed law does not do justice to those who fought for and sometimes died for all of the advancements in human rights that Ugandans now enjoy. Honour their legacy by ensuring that human rights are applied to all Ugandans, allowing them to
live in peace without the threat of persecution due to age, gender, creed, and yes, sexual preference.
The author is director of former American Vice President Al Gore's Climate Reality Organization in Canada and is an award-winning environmentalist and human rights campaigner.