Uganda’s foreign minister uses homophobic sentiments to distract from anti-corruption sanctions

by Admin
Uganda’s foreign minister uses homophobic sentiments to distract from anti-corruption sanctions

The Ugandan government used widespread homophobia to attack the U.S. and deflect from the anti-corruption sanctions imposed against Speaker of Ugandan National Assembly Anita Annette Among and four other former and current Ugandan officials for their “involvement in significant corruption.” Among’s husband Moses Magogo — who was convicted of 2014 FIFA World Cup ticket theft — was also sanctioned by the U.S. State Department.

The Ugandan Parliament votes on a harsh new anti-gay bill, on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (AP/Ronald Kabuubi)

The U.S. and U.K. also imposed sanctions against former Finance Minister Amos Lugolobi, and two former state ministers for Karamoja affairs Mary Goretti Kitutu and Agnes Nandutu for their involvement in corruption related to stealing iron sheets — roofing materials destined for the poor under a government-funded project in Uganda’s poorest region of Karamoja.

‘’All four officials abused their public positions for personal benefit at the expense of Ugandans’’ the U.S, State Department said in a statement. All four are facing Uganda’s anti-corruption court, which has yet to rule on the cases.

Yet Uganda’s Foreign Minister Oryem Okello claimed the U.S. singled out and targeted speaker Among for her role in adopting the nation’s harsh law against homosexuality.

“The sanctions are unjust. They are punitive. They are bullish because they know that we cannot do anything against it. And it’s just deliberate to punish the speaker for her role and leadership to fight LBGTQ and homosexuality in Uganda.”

That is misleading.

Speaker Among is under investigation since March 2023, when Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni ordered the Ugandan Directorate of Criminal Investigations to probe the theft of thousands of iron sheets by members of his cabinet, including his vice president.

The investigation determined that two former ministers Mary Goretti Kitutu and Agnes Nandutu, both sanctioned in May, stole 14,500 iron sheets used for roofing and infrastructure construction from a Ugandan government-funded project aimed at providing housing to some of the most vulnerable communities in the Karamoja region. The former ministers then distributed the stolen goods to prominent politicians and their families, including Among.

Two days after the president’s orders, Among returned 500 iron sheets that she had received from the office of the prime minister.

While chairing Uganda’s parliamentary plenary sitting on March 15, last year, Among said she decided to return the iron sheets after learning that they were meant for the needy people in Karamoja.

The U.K. used its global anti-corruption laws to sanction Among and the two former ministers, Mary Goretti Kitutu and Agnes Nandutu earlier this year.

The U.K. accused Among of benefiting from the proceeds of the stolen iron sheets.

In March, an online protest campaign under the hashtag #UgandaExhibition accused Among of embezzling millions of dollars of public funds.

The protest organizers shared leaked documents by members of parliament exposing how Among allegedly used private bank accounts to divert enormous amounts of government funds between April 2023 and January 2024.

The leaked documents, which included official documents from the internal financial intelligence agency, further exposed the alleged corruption in the parliamentary commission headed by Among, which had earlier raised the speaker’s daily per diem rates from $990 to $4,000.

Between July and January, Among had received the equivalent of $894,500 in per diems and entertainment allowances.

Among dismissed the allegations as rumors and claimed the accusations against her came in retaliation for her opposition to homosexuality.

There is a reason Among is using her leadership in parliament’s adoption of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law as an umbrella to defend herself from corruption charges and sanctions, the law has countrywide support. Described as the harshest in the world, it allows the death penalty for same-sex relations deemed as “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Scores of university students marched to the parliamentary chambers in the capital, Kampala, to thank lawmakers for enacting the bill, underscoring the zeal of the bill’s supporters,” The Associated Press reported at the time, highlighting decades-old homophobic sentiments in Uganda, rehashed by the government’s war on homosexuality.

On May 30, 2023, after the U.S. and the U.K. canceled Among’s visa for pushing the anti-homosexuality law through, she claimed the ban was a punishment for her beliefs, not for the incitement of fear and violence that LGBTQ people face in Ugandan society.

In April, the country’s Constitutional Court upheld the law, denying the activists’ appeal and coming down “on the side of hate, violence, and discrimination instead of standing up for fundamental rights for all,” the Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Corruption allegations against Among are nothing new.

She faced multiple bribery allegations in 2021, when serving as deputy speaker.

Documents leaked on social media claimed that a company named Roko Constructions bribed Among to avoid the termination of its contract for the construction of parliament chambers.

The dossier claimed that Among had received $ 30,000 from the managers of the construction company before the project was allowed to proceed.

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