Ugandan MP Cecilia-Atim Ogwal

African politicians are once again attacking LGBTI rights to the extreme, calling for the criminalisation of homosexuality in the whole of Africa and, as usual, Uganda is at the centre.

It is appalling to note that this is not happening in a far-flung African state, but rather right here on South African soil, at the expense of our taxpayers.

I’m pretty sure most people have never heard of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), and even if they have, could not tell you much about its role.

The PAP is one of the new continental institutions created during Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, and has failed dismally to prove its relevance since it first sat in 2004. After eight years languishing in impotent obscurity, the PAP, by their own admission, has yet to be taken seriously by Africa’s leaders. In reality it has little legislative and oversight powers to do the work that it was created to do. It only has advisory and consultative functions and yet it is neither consulted nor is its advice sought in the process of decision-making by the African Union.

When it was first announced that the Pan African Parliament would be headquartered in Midrand, South Africa, it was lauded as a “blessing” by our government and lambasted as the “prize” that nobody wanted by critics who saw it as nothing more than a further burden on South African tax payers who are already amongst that most taxed on earth. Letters of outrage appeared in the press – a typical one read: “We’ve been duped into picking up a huge tab for a bunch of dictators who have bankrupted their countries and impoverished their people.”

The PAP has proven to be nothing more than a money pit and not the beacon of hope that was originally promised.

This past week, the hardliner stance that Uganda has taken against homosexuals sparked heated debate in the otherwise lethargic PAP as the House took time off to pay tribute to the country as it celebrated 50 years of independence on Tuesday.

MPs praised President Yoweri Museveni, saying his leadership had seen Uganda move from a dictatorship to democracy. They also praised the Uganda’s health policies and progress made in the fight against HIV and Aids as well as in the empowerment of women. But a remark by South African opposition MP Sandy Kalyan (Democratic Alliance) challenging the Ugandan government’s hostility towards homosexuality quickly changed the momentum of the debate.

“Colonialists never get attributed with the truth: introducing the penal codes to the continent that today still outlaw gay sex.”

Kalyan too started off by showering praises on the Museveni government for placing health “on top of its agenda” citing the fight against the Aids pandemic as an example. However, she said, homophobia was “a blot” in the progress the Ugandan government had made. “Uganda has a blot in terms of its stand and attitude towards homosexuals. Regrettably, they want to criminalise homosexuality,” Ms Kalyan said.

The issue, she added, was not about “whether one supports homosexuality or not” but it is about their human rights. She praised her country’s constitution saying it allowed gays and lesbians their rights.

However, Ugandan MP Cecilia-Atim Ogwal defended Uganda’s anti-gay position, saying she was proud that her country was at the fore-front in rejecting “the promotion” of homosexuality. “We abhor homosexuality and value our God, culture and there is no way we shall allow a man to step on top of another man or a woman to lie on top of another,” said Ogwal.

Disturbing comments from Uganda indeed, but what is more shocking is that the MP received a thunderous applause by the House! In a further blow to human rights on the continent she urged her colleagues in the PAP to pass a resolution “to uphold the value of God and values, of Africa.”

Uganda was supported by several other countries, including Botswana and Kenya. The resolution never passed, with South Africa’s Kalyan calling Uganda’s resolution proposal “bizarre” (You tell them Sandy!) “It will never pass in this parliament, especially from members like us who feel that the rights of all should be respected,” she said.

Colonialists are often accused of bringing homosexuality to Africa. Yet they never get attributed with the truth: introducing the penal codes to the continent that today still outlaw gay sex. An irony that bypasses homophobic African leaders who champion these truly un-African laws.

Something that also seemed to bypass Ogwal is that this same “God” and the Christian values she seeks to uphold were also brought by colonialists. In African politics it all too often seems that we pick and choose only the parts of history that are convenient to our argument.

What angers me the most is that we have an institution on South African soil that is discussing potential future policies that not only go against our own constitution, but universal basic human rights in general – all in 2012.

There are many questions that need to be answered here: What does it say about our government that we are tolerating an institution like this in our country? Why does it seem like it is always left to the opposition to stand for the rights of LGBTI citizens – was the governing party not present when the current constitution was drafted and passed? Why is our taxpayer money going towards propping up this homophobic and seemingly useless institution, the PAP?

Watch an SABC report on Uganda’s attack on LGBT rights at the African Parliament below

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