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Sat. May 25, 2024
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Hospitality and Hostility
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Within the vast African continent, internally displaced individuals are no abstract concept. Years of war, famine, and lack of infrastructure have forced the people within the continent to migrate and find better options. More recently, a beacon of hope for these individuals has been the country of Uganda. Their refugee program is credited to be one of the most advanced in the world, giving land, education, health care, and cultural integration to those who flee to their borders. However, within their generosity hides a dark underbelly of draconian policy. The 2014 Ugandan Anti-homosexuality Act has displaced thousands of LGBTQ+ individuals within and outside of the Ugandan border. So how could a country, known for its hospitality to its neighboring countries' refugees, be one of the largest exporters of migrants based on their sexual identity? The lack of societal development and aid dependency seems to be the answer to this question.

Throughout this blog post I will refrain from using the term “refugee” to describe those who flee the Ugandan state under the persecution of their sexual identity. This highlights the controversial fact that as stated in the 1951 Refugee Convention, those who flee from foreign violence on the basis of their sex or sexual identity are not to be considered refugees. The term “migrant” will be used in its stead. I will in fact be referring to those seeking asylum in Uganda as refugees.

Uganda is no stranger to the displacement of individuals. Since its independence in 1962, Uganda has struggled with corrupt leaders from 1971 to 1979 that had displaced tens of thousands of their citizens intra and internationally. “Today, it is them, tomorrow, it could be any one of us,” said former Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda. These lived experiences promote their empathy to the bordering countries of The Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Rwanda, whose governmental instability sends thousands of individuals internationally every year. Uganda views these refugees as economic contributors, a rather progressive view of the refugee in comparison to their western counterparts. Uganda’s view that taking in people from foreign countries strengthens their international ties with the migrants' home countries. Yet, with all this progressive thinking, Ugandans’ brutal witch hunt of LGBTQ+ individuals scatters their own nationals around Africa, directly opposing the view they boast concerning inclusion and mutually beneficial reliance.

Uganda's past as a British colony is also at the stem of this issue and many others. When Uganda was under colonial rule, Britain implemented a policy that worked against “unnatural sex” amongst the locals. Since then, the connection of homosexuality and the entirety of the LGBTQ+ community has been a western ideology. The fight against LGBTQ+ groups has been labeled as a fight against neo-colonialism in a seemingly never-ending war of “cultural relativism.” In turn, this discourse decides whether or not these identities are a foreign export. Interestingly, most foreign exports provided by Evangelical and Muslim groups spread the rhetoric that homosexuality is “morally” wrong. The irony here is that true neo-colonialism takes the shape of homophobic rhetoric. The implementation of this rhetoric in 2009 unsurprisingly correlates to the time frame during which anti-homosexual policy began to emerge.

All this to say, Uganda leads the world in one human rights case, yet is decades behind in other: the main issue being the lack of development within the borders of Uganda. According to Project Muse’s Cross-National Analysis on Measuring Discrimination against LGBTQ+ Individuals note, aspects such as education, social class, and religion have strong effects on a countries’ accepting nature towards the LGBTQ+ community. They argue that educational settings improve sensitivity towards those of different backgrounds and ideologies. These trends have been observed all around the world, including the factor that communities with individuals who earn higher generated incomes tend to be more accepting of queer identities. Uganda receives a gross national income (GNI) of about $930 per capita and has an adult literacy rate of 79% percent as of 2021:the national income decreasing by $294 since 2012 and the literacy rate increasing by 4.4%. This suggests that these views on queer identity aren’t necessarily far from surprising, though if these trends improve, policy changes may be in the near future. This would mean that Uganda's lack of development correlates with their interest in receiving more refugees as economic benefits, while also actively discriminating against those with LGBTQ+ identities, expelling them with threat of incarceration or death.

The lack of institutional development in Uganda affects all Ugandans within their borders, however the story that is not told is how this lack of development affects LGBTQ+ Ugandans outside its borders. For most Africans fleeing their home countries due to ongoing conflict, Uganda is a safe haven for them and their families. Therefore, the story typically stops there. The hidden queer population of Uganda now awaits their fate: Will the massacre end or does Uganda's progressive policy end at being Africa's largest foreign host?

Julian Ingersoll is a third-year International Studies major at American University in Washington, DC.


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