TIME LGBT

How Uganda’s LGBT Community Is Fighting for the Right to Exist

Can Uganda’s gay-rights activists stop the government from enacting another homophobic law?

Hakim Semeebwr, also known as Bad Black, is a transgender woman in a country where sex between two men, or two women, is illegal. Coming out usually leads to eviction, job discrimination and violent harrassment. Bad Black lost her television job when she was outed by a local newspaper.

And if some Ugandan politicians have their way, coming out as homosexual could mean life in prison, or worse.

Read more: Out in Africa

TIME Kenya

Christians Hunted Down as al-Shabab Kill 147 in Kenya

Students evacuated from Garissa University listen to an address by Interior Minister for Security Joseph Ole Nkaissery before they are transported to their home regions from a holding area on April 3, 2015.
Carl de Souza—AFP/Getty Images Students evacuated from Garissa University College listen to an address by Interior Minister for Security Joseph Ole Nkaissery before they are transported to their home regions from a holding area on April 3, 2015.

“If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die”

At least 147 people have been killed and 79 wounded in the Thursday’s attack on a Kenya university, according to the Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre. The centre says security forces have rescued more than 500 students from the Garissa University College campus but fighting is still going on.

For the past two weeks intelligence agencies in both Uganda and Kenya have issued warnings of possible terrorist attacks by the Islamist group al-Shabaab. The alerts urged caution about going to venues popular with westerners in Kampala, and vigilance around major infrastructure projects or universities in Kenya. Those warnings bore fruit just before dawn on Thursday as masked militants stormed a university dormitory complex in the Kenyan town of Garissa, launching grenades and firing guns.

President Uhuru Kenyatta released a statement urging Kenyans to “stay calm as we resolve this matter,” and extended his condolences “to the families of those who have perished.” He begged Kenyans to “provide the authorities with any information they may have in connection with any threats to our security” while announcing that the government had commenced the “appropriate deployment” of security forces. Reports from Garissa show that Kenyan tanks are heading to the sealed off university area, and that the militants have gathered on the roof, preparing for a violent showdown even as hostages huddle inside.

Earlier on Thursday, student Collins Wetangula told the Associated Press that when the militants stormed his dorm, he could hear them demanding if residents were Muslim or Christian. “If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die.”

“All I could hear were footsteps and gunshots nobody was screaming because they thought this would lead the gunmen to know where they are,” he said. “The gunmen were saying sisi ni al-Shabab (Swaihi for we are al-Shabaab).”

Al-Shabaab, which means “the Youth,” got its start in Somalia as the militant youth wing of an Islamist government that was defeated in 2006. With fighters numbering around 8,000, including several foreign recruits, it soon regained territory in southern Somalia. Al-Shabaab even held the capital, Mogadishu, until a U.N. backed national government forced it out in 2011 with the help of African Union forces. Reeling from a loss of terrain and resources, the group started launching raids and kidnappings across the border in Kenya in search of income. Kenya responded by sending troops, which engendered more retaliatory attacks. In 2012, al-Shabaab pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, and the effectiveness of its attacks increased as a result.

Al Shabaab, which brutally enforces a strict interpretation of fundamentalist Islam, still controls large swaths in the rural south of Somalia where it promises security in exchange for protection from the lawlessness that has afflicted the country for more than two decades. But as African Union forces and U.N. peacekeepers squeeze al-Shabaab from territory it once claimed, the group has lashed out with increasingly sophisticated terror attacks. Neighbors Uganda and Kenya, whose governments contribute troops to the U.N. and African Union military missions in Somalia, have borne the brunt of their anger. The Garissa raid is but the latest in a string of devastating terror attacks that have rocked Kenya since the 2013 assault on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, which killed 67. Uganda, too, has been targeted: on Tuesday suspected al-Shabaab gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed the Ugandan prosecutor presiding over the trial of 13 men implicated in a 2010 twin suicide bombing claimed by al-Shabaab. After each major attack claimed by the group, a spokesman invariably states that the assaults are revenge for that country’s military adventures in Somalia. The Garissa attacks are unlikely to be any different.

TIME central african republic

One of Joseph Kony’s Top Commanders Just Surrendered to U.S./African Union

The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels Joseph Kony (seated C), surrounded by his officers, addresses his first news conference in 20 years of rebellion in Nabanga, Sudan, on Aug. 1, 2006.
Adam Pletts—Reuters The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels Joseph Kony (seated C), surrounded by his officers, addresses his first news conference in 20 years of rebellion in Nabanga, Sudan, on Aug. 1, 2006.

Dominic Ongwen could have information about the movements of Joseph Kony

At 10 he was forced to become a child soldier and he rose to become a commander of child soldiers. Now Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army [LRA], a cult-like rebel group that started in Uganda, has surrendered to members of a joint military task force run by the United States and the African Union.

According to U. S. State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, U.S. officials have yet to confirm that Ongwen, who declared his defection from the group in the Central African Republic on Tuesday, is who he says he is, but Ugandan army spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda trumpeted a rare success in the region-wide hunt for the group best known for amputating the limbs of detractors and turning young children into soldiers and sex slaves. “This is great news,” says Kasper Agger, the Uganda-based field researcher for the Enough Project, a Washington D.C.- based human rights advocacy organization that has been tracking the Lords Resistance Army across Uganda, South Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic. But whether or not Ongwen’s defection will lead to the eventual capture of Kony “is the million dollar question,” says Agger. “We can hope that he has vital information to share, but nailing down Kony at a specific time and place is still very difficult.”

According to Psaki, the defection of Ongwen, 35, would “represent a historic blow to the LRA’s command structure.” Ongwen, who was abducted by the LRA on his way to school according to Agger of the Enough Project, quickly made his way up the ranks to become a brigade commander, collecting multiple charges of grievous human rights abuses along the way. In 2005 the International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted Ongwen for seven counts of crimes against humanity including murder, pillaging and enslavement.

Ongwen’s defection, says Agger, may be a sign of weakening leadership within the organization, but it is also possible that the commander may have had a falling out with Kony and was in fact fleeing for his life. “We do know that he had been increasingly marginalized over the past few years,” says Agger, but Kony also has a tendency to pull commanders back into the fold as younger, less experienced soldiers die off. “So he could still have some useful information.” Ongwen’s defection may be a “victory along the road” says Agger, but it is no reason to rest in the hunt for Kony. “If anything, it’s an encouragement to keep up the pressure, to make sure that we see this through to the end, and that the Lords Resistance Army is truly finished.”

TIME HIV/AIDS

African Countries Should Spend More in AIDS Response, Study Says

A mother holds the hand of her Aids stricken son in Rakai, Ugand
Getty Images

To meet AIDS eradication goals, study says funding should be re-allocated

Twelve African countries with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS are currently the largest recipients of international AIDS funding. But it’s now possible for many of them to make domestic spending on the disease a priority, a new study says.

As countries in sub-Saharan Africa gain better financial footing, funds from donor countries are tightening. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and the Results for Development Institute decided to test a couple of scenarios to see whether funding for the AIDS response could be re-allocated so African countries would finance a greater share.

Their results, published in the journal The Lancet Global Health, show that overall, the 12 countries—Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia—could provide a greater share of the costs of AIDS programs in their countries over the next five years. However, several countries will still need support from donors, even if they were to provide their maximum funds.

MORE: The End of AIDS

By looking at factors like expected growth and total government spending, and then comparing them to the countries’ AIDS needs, the researchers found that in most scenarios, AIDS expenditures for three of the upper-middle-income countries (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) exceed their needs. In many cases, they found, these three countries could actually fund their needs solely from domestic resources. Other low-income countries like Mozambique and Ethiopia would still need to largely rely on donors.

Currently, the dozen countries are home to more than 50% of AIDS cases worldwide, as well as 56% of financial aid for the disease. They also account for 83% of funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which makes up one of the largest shares of international donations. In 2014, the United Nations program UNAIDS estimated that a “fast-tracked” response to ending the AIDS epidemic would mean we’d need $35 billion each year by 202o, but in 2012, only $19 billion was available and almost half came from international sources. To meet such goals, the researchers suggest their new funding strategy.

Almost none of the 12 countries meet possible financing benchmarks that the study authors believe to be reasonable. If the countries spent more domestically, researchers say that self-funding could increase 2.5 times and could cover 64% of future needs. That would still leave a gap of about $7.9 billion.

“Coupled with improved resource tracking, such metrics could enhance transparency and accountability for efficient use of money and maximize the effect of available funding to prevent HIV infections and save lives,” the study authors conclude. Sharing the financial burden of AIDS more equitably may be one strategy for eradicating the disease faster.

TIME Uganda

The Group Behind Kony 2012 Is Shutting Down Most Operations

This picture made available 24 May 2006
STRINGER—AFP/Getty Images This picture, made available 24 May 2006 by the Monitor media group in Kampala, Uganda, shows one of the world's most wanted rebel chiefs, Joseph Kony of the Lord Resistance Movement.

"Despite making incredible progress toward our mission, it’s been difficult to fund the breadth of our work, especially over the last two years"

The non-profit that helped mobilize the international community against a brutal African warlord–or misrepresented and oversimplified a complex issue, depending on your point of view–says it’s packing up.

Invisible Children, founded in 2004 to raise awareness about Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa, announced on Monday that it is winding down its U.S. operations and will cut most of its 21-person staff.

In a statement posted to its website, Invisible Children cited a drop in Kony’s influence–though he still leads several hundred fighters–but also indicated it was having trouble fundraising.

“Despite making incredible progress toward our mission, it’s been difficult to fund the breadth of our work, especially over the last two years,” the group said.

In 2012, Invisible Children released an emotional film about Kony that catapulted the organization onto the international stage thanks to the film’s viral effectiveness–and the subsequent criticism of its portrayal of the conflict and the resulting “hashtag activism.”

The film, Kony 2012, was viewed more than 100 million times in less than a week and was called at the time the most viral video in history. It was credited with helping to prompt the U.S. to back an African Union military force charged with hunting down Kony.

But it also faced widespread criticism for its simplistic tone and for exaggerating the threat posed by the LRA, at the expense of other health and social issues. While the LRA had forced thousands of children to become child soldiers over the previous two decades, by the the time the film was released, Kony had been expelled from Uganda and led only a few hundred followers.

The film’s backlash appeared to have hurt the NGO’s fundraising efforts: while Invisible Children raised $26.5 million in 2012, nearly as much as it had raised in the previous three years combined, it collected $4.9 million in 2013, according to its financial reports.

TIME the backstory

Photojournalism Daily: Nov. 21, 2014

Photojournalism Daily is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Mauricio Lima’s photographs on fishing for the pirarucu, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, in Brazil’s Amazonas region. Nearly two decades of conservation efforts, which, today, allow only locals to harpoon and bludgeon the pirarucu, appear to be working. Lima’s striking pictures illustrate the struggle that goes into killing these beasts, whose fragile survival impacts these fishermen’s only livelihood.


Mauricio Lima: Fishing for a Goliath of the River in the Amazon (The New York Times)

Adam Dean: Burma (Time.com) These photographs capture a still impoverished Burma as it stumbles through democratic transition, and ethnic strife.

Michele Sibiloni: Uganda’s thriving drug scene (Al Jazeera) These scenes document the surge in drug use in the country’s capital, Kampala, while parliamentary representatives are debating the introduction of a tough narcotics-bill. Critics, however, argue the new legislation could unfairly punish the poor.

Jim Mangan: Blast (The New Yorker’s Photo Booth) Surprising, yet beautiful aerial pictures that capture a rally-car driver Ken Block racing through the Utah desert.

Gianluca Panella: Gaza Blackout’s Backstage (Leica Camera) The Italian photographer interviewed about his World Press Photo award winning series.


Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen, Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.


TIME animals

Study: Chimps Learn How to Use New Tools From Other Chimps

ICOAST-ANIMAL-ZOO
Sia Kambou—AFP/Getty Images A chimpanzee holds a lettuce at the zoo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on June 12, 2014

This means chimps have a prerequisite for human culture

A new study from PLOS Biology found that chimpanzees can learn group-specific behavioral traits from each other, widely considered a prerequisite for human-style culture. The results suggest the foundations of human culture can be traced back to our common ancestry with apes.

Researchers in Uganda noticed that a few chimps in a group started using new kinds of sponges to drink water. Usually, chimps use clumps of leaves to extract the water, but the team observed one chimp using moss instead. Once the other chimps saw him using moss, seven other chimps made and used moss sponges over a six-day period. There was also another variation on the leaf-sponge (re-using an old leaf sponge) that also spread through the group.

“Basically, if you saw it done, you learned how to do it, and if you didn’t you didn’t,” lead researcher Dr. Catherine Hobaiter told the BBC. “It was just this wonderfully clear example of social learning that no one had [witnessed] in the wild before.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 20

1. Smart labels that monitor food can reduce food-related illness and waste.

By Adrienne LeFrance in the Atlantic

2. With a “Right to Work” law that lets refugees earn a living, Uganda avoids the pitfalls of wartime migration. Other countries can too.

By Gregory Warner in National Public Radio

3. Integrate the protests: Why Ferguson needs a “Freedom Summer.”

By Jay Caspian Kang in the New Yorker

4. To deter Putin and defuse the crisis in Ukraine, policymakers must be creative, strategic and collaborative.

By David Ignatius in the Washington Post

5. Extra ISP fees for companies like Netflix only stifle Internet innovation.

By Reed Hastings in Wired

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Uganda

Lawyer Who Led Challenge of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law: ‘Long, Long Way to Go’

Uganda Gays
AP A Ugandan homosexual photographed in a safe-house at an undisclosed location in Uganda, in March 2014.

Nicholas Opiyo talks human rights, the U.S.'s role in his country's morality-politics, and what's next for LGBT rights in Uganda

Nicholas Opiyo, the lawyer who led a constitutional challenge of Uganda’s anti-gay law, says that while the days of gays, lesbians and transgendered people getting publicly flogged may be gone, ongoing acts of discrimination against LGBT Ugandans keep him pushing for equal rights in the East African nation.

“That is what is most scary,” Opiyo told TIME. “The unseen, the unreported, the unwritten discrimination in the shop you go to, in the medical center you go to, on the bus you take or on the motor bike you take into town. That breaks your spirit.”

In March, just days after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the restrictive bill that punished gays with life imprisonment as punishment for their sexual activities, Opiyo and a group of Ugandan activists and lawyers challenged the law in court. On August 1, they found success through a somewhat unusual means: Uganda’s constitutional court declared the law null and void because Parliament didn’t have a quorum when it was passed.

While the law was stricken down on account of a technicality, and lawmakers said Tuesday they had the votes necessary to re-pass the bill, activists have declared the court’s decision a victory, albeit only one step in an ongoing battle. For Opiyo, who says he grew up wanting to stand up for the underprivileged, the decision to join the fight for LGBT rights in the country was simple.

“I’m a human rights lawyer,” said Opiyo, the executive director of Ugandan human rights organization Chapter Four. “This is human rights. You’re talking about the right to associate; the right to choose your partner; the right to love who you want to love. These are human rights. To call it LGBTI rights is misleading.”

Having traveled to Washington, D.C. for the U.S.-Africa summit, Opiyo said that though he was able to meet with human rights workers, lawmakers and other stakeholders in the global fight for equality, the summit itself was a missed opportunity to have substantial conversations about the struggles Africans are facing across the continent on a daily basis.

The following Q&A is a sampling of the conversation between TIME and Opiyo. It has been condensed and edited for space.

TIME: What would you say the status of LGBT rights is in Uganda in the wake of last’s week’s decision?

Opiyo: Nothing has changed much. The deep sense of homophobia in Uganda remains unchanged. In any case, it’s only been made worse by this ruling, because the debate has been reopened in a more bitter and fierce manner than we’ve seen before. To be positive, certain incidental things that are good will happen because of the ruling. First, individuals and organizations that have been facing arrest, intimidation or investigation will now have all those cases against them dropped, because the very foundation for these cases has now been declared unlawful. Organizations that have been closed under the [Anti-Homosexuality Act] will now have their operations resume without the fear of the law constricting their work. Even if parliament is resolved, as they are now, to reintroduce the law … they will at least pay attention, some attention to the issues that we have raised in our petition, and perhaps have a somewhat watered down or even—I’m hoping—progressive law in that regard.

This law was one of a couple of instances of morality politics coming into play in Uganda. What do you think the draw is to laws like this in Uganda and across Africa?

There has been a growing influence of American evangelical ideologies in the policies of government in Uganda. The examples are plenty in Uganda—in the HIV/AIDS campaign, Uganda was praised for its response to the HIV/AIDS campaign because it had the message for condom use. When the Christian evangelists got a foothold in influencing government, the policies changed from condom use to abstinence and being faithful. Condoms were “by-the-way;” that was the influence of what we call in Uganda people who are saved. If you look at the laws that have passed since then, whether it is a media law or an NGO law, it has a strong element of public morality. That’s new, what seems to be in my view, a moralization of the legislation process. They have a strong foothold in government mainly because the Pentecostal movement is a big movement. They have numbers, they have young people, and they have a huge following. Politicians like numbers.

Is there a benefit to having this influence? And if not, what is the downside?

Not every Ugandan is Christian. Not every Ugandan subscribes to the moral values. We’re supposed to be a secular state, but we are drifting away from being a secular state to a state driven largely by religious values and thinking, and that for me is a huge downside. What happens to people who don’t believe in those values? What happens to atheists? What happens to Muslims? It creates a society where there is a majority that wants to impose their values and systems onto the whole community.

But faith can be a force for good. Faith can be an avenue for the delivery of services; many parts of our country that were under war survived because faith organizations were able to stay through the conflict and provide support—that’s the upside. But in my view I think the downside is extremely dangerous.

What role does the American government play in all of this? Can the American government in any way step in, interject?

The people who advocated for the AHA were motivated by, financed by, American evangelicals. It’s an American group driving this debate at home. This debate was not a popular debate. It was not an issue in Uganda because people in Uganda are struggling about food, employment, medical care, access to medical services, education—these are the things that occupy the people in my village, in my town. Not homosexuality—that was a non-issue. This issue was put in the national debate because of the influence of the American evangelical movement. The Americans brought this to our country they’ve got to sort themselves out back home, here, to ensure that the radical American preachers don’t spread hatred across the world.

Secondly, I think that the American government must understand that their response to this issue in Uganda at some point escalated this debate and shifted the narrative of this debate from being a human rights issue to a new colonial attempt by Americans to impose their values on Ugandans. The politicians are very quick to pounce on that. The debate shifted to America versus Uganda, not about Ugandan people who face discrimination every day. The American government can redefine this narrative by given prominence to local leaders. This is a Ugandan problem. Ugandans must find the solution to it.

What is it like working on the ground, addressing the issue of LGBT rights? How is it received?

It’s very very tough. It’s not exciting. You’ve got to have a lot of courage to stay your course. People will throw insults at you—you just have to go to my Facebook page to see the amount of insults people are throwing at me on Facebook, on Twitter. It’s difficult. People begin to put pressure on your family, on your relatives and that translates to pressure on you as a person. It’s extremely difficult. I haven’t felt physically insecure, but I felt the narrative vibe coming my way.

The height of it was in March this year, I was the Secretary General of the Bar Association of Kampala, I was in charge of managing all the affairs of all the lawyers in Uganda. At the annual meeting, a group called “The Ugandan Christian Lawyers Association” launched a campaign against me because of my involvement in this case and made sure I was booted out of the law society. Those things have happened, but in my view it is no way close to the pain and suffering that members of the community are going through. It’s not even half of it.

What makes you stay the course?

This is human rights. This is not a special category of rights. You’re talking about the right to associate; the right to choose your partner; the right to love who you want to love. These are human rights. To call it LGBTI rights is misleading. I’ve always been a human rights lawyer. I grew up in a war-torn area in Northern Uganda. I’ve been in a very underprivileged position, but I’ve always wanted to do something about it. I thought at first I should be a journalist, but I figured out writing alone doesn’t help. So I figured I should be a lawyer and here I am.

For me, whether you’re LGBTI, whether you’re a disabled person, whether you’re a woman, anybody whose rights are being abused. I will always defend your rights because to me they are human rights. I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for people supporting my family and people supporting what they believed was good. It is less prestigious, but I derive immense pleasure from seeing somebody walk free after being intimidated or being arrested.

Where’s the disconnect between understanding the benefits of human rights and the impact that equality can have on the people of Uganda—like you mentioned—how do these multiple issues play hand-in-hand?

In terms of LGBTI issues in Uganda, I think the discussion has been presented in a way that they’re separate. When you talk about health care, you aren’t talking about LGBTI rights. The discussion hasn’t been–there’s no interplay. We’ve tended to compartmentalize these issues. There hasn’t been a wholistic approach to this issue—even those working on this issue tend to look at it from a very narrow lens as opposed to an overall issue of discrimination. We’ve done a lot of work around discrimination against women, against persons with disabilities, and stigma around HIV/AIDS—you’d think that the same momentum would be applied on this issue, but it is not because people tend to look at it from different lenses, but in my view it is not. In my view that’s not helpful. In my view, there needs to be a consistent, overall approach to human rights no matter who the human being is.

This week was the U.S.-Africa summit. A couple of years back, President Barack Obama said Africa needs “strong institutions, not strongmen.” A number of people, including Daniel Bekele of Human Rights Watch, said this week’s summit should be about more than paying lip service to human rights. How do you think this conference succeeded in doing that and how do you think it failed?

This conference seemed to be more focused on issues of securities and investments, at least the ones I’ve taken part in, there has not been a meaningful engagement between civil society and those working on human rights issues and the heads of states. The thing about the heads of states, they did not engage enough on the issues of human rights. Yes, in the final press statement President Obama talked about good governance, rule of law, but it appears to me the focus has been on economics. In that room were leaders of the continent who have questionable human rights records, it would have sent a strong message if these leaders were excluded from this conference or excluded from relations of dealing with the American government.

How do you not invite Mugabe but invite Jammeh of the Gambia? What’s the difference? They are all dictators. They have been in power for over 30 years. I think the American government needs to focus on dealing with human rights as a core function of their foreign policy towards the African continent, and must not put economic and security interests above human rights issues. I thought in this summit the discussion about human rights has been very, very light.

When do you think gays, lesbians, transgendered people will be completely safe in Uganda? How long do you think that will take?

That is difficult to tell, precisely because the sense of homophobia, the sense of discrimination is so deeply entrenched. It’s going to be a long journey that will require patience; that will require deliberate actions on the part of both sides of the debate. But ultimately it’s going to take the commitment of the politicians and the leaders to reshape the narrative and the debate in our country. There has to be an honest debate within the faith community on this matter. In much the same way that they’re having an honest debate about the rights of women—that debate must come out. As long as the leaders are playing by the popular sentiment and not enforcing the values and obligations that signed up to do in their various human rights instruments this matter will still be delayed. It’s a long, long way to go. I can’t put a number to it but I think that it’s going to be a long walk and a difficult one at that.

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