By RODNEY MUHUMUZA
KAMPALA, Uganda — President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is urging parliamentarians not to rush to reintroduce a controversial anti-gay law that was invalidated earlier this month, saying the measure is not a priority and could hurt the country’s economic development.
Museveni, who held a meeting Monday with lawmakers from his party, urged parliamentarians “not to cause chaos” by quickly reintroducing the bill, according to Medard Bitekyerezo, a lawmaker who strongly supports the anti-gay measure. He said Museveni formed a committee, to be chaired by Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, to look into the concerns of rights activists who challenged the constitutionality of the law.
The panel of judges on Uganda’s Constitutional did not rule on the substance of the anti-gay measure, which allowed for jail terms of up to life for homosexual offenses, but jettisoned it because it was passed during a parliamentary session that lacked a quorum. The court ruled that there would be no further hearings, leaving the door open for lawmakers to try to reintroduce a similar law or a version of it.
“The law may come back with some small modifications, but I can tell you that it will come back,” Bitekyerezo said.
The government-controlled New Vision newspaper reported Tuesday that Museveni warned lawmakers that the bill could hurt the country’s economic development. Museveni asked the parliamentarians to debate the law “without any emotional feelings,” the paper reported.
A Ugandan lawmaker says he has collected signatures from more than 200 parliamentarians who have promised to vote in support of the bill, which has wide support among Ugandans despite Western condemnation of it.
The U.S., the World Bank and some European countries delayed or redirected tens of millions of dollars in funding to Uganda’s government over the anti-gay measure, piling pressure on this East African country that depends on foreign aid to implement about 20 percent of its budget.
Museveni, who has said he supports strong legislation against what he calls the promotion of homosexuality in Africa, is a long-time U.S. ally who has held power here for nearly three decades. But he faces domestic pressure to step down amid growing allegations of official corruption and rights abuses — one reason local analysts believe he is increasingly sensitive to international attention on this East African country of 36 million people.
Watchdog groups said the invalidated anti-gay measure was draconian and unnecessary in a country where homosexuality has long been banned.
A colonial-era law that criminalizes sex acts “against the order of nature” remains in force.