nightmares

Uganda President Museveni Promises to Veto the Kill The Gays Bill. But That Might Not Be Enough

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Following the developments of Uganda’s Kill The Gays bill is like following Tiger Woods’s sex scandal: There’s one central theme everyone knows (Uganda wants to execute certain gays; Tiger is a manwhore), but keeping up with the minutiae (which American pastors back it?; how many mistresses have come forward?) is exhausting. Especially when it means figuring out whether reports that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has actually promised to veto the bill.

As recently as Dec. 4, U.S. State Department officials received assurances from Museveni’s camp that he would nix the bill, which just arrived in Parliament, if it hit his his desk. While homosexuality is already criminalized in the country (and there are zero signs that’s about to change), the Kill The Gays bill would, among other things, make it a capital offense to have repeated gay sex and punish those who don’t report homos to officials.

State Department spokesman Jon Tollefson says Museveni “made a commitment to the secretary that he would work to make sure it wasn’t signed into law,” reports DC Agenda. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson has been in talks with the president’s office, which made more than one commitment to shut down the bill. Of course, Museveni has never been quiet about his disdain for homos, though he has yet to officially support the proposed law.

Tollefson said during the Oct. 24 meeting that Carson met with Museveni and other high-ranking Ugandan officials to express concern about the legislation and conveyed that its passage would be “a big step backwards in human rights” that “could really have the potential to harm the reputation of Uganda.”

“And the president understood the concerns and said that he would do what he could to make sure the bill was not passed,” Tollefson said. “He would not sign the bill. … He made a commitment to the secretary that he would work to make sure it wasn’t signed into law.”

Tollefson said when the bill started moving forward and gaining international attention, Carson on Dec. 4 contacted Museveni by phone to reiterate U.S. concerns, and the president again expressed his commitment to stop the bill from becoming law.

“So that being said, the assistant secretary is expecting the president to live up to that commitment and … he expects President Museveni to live up to his reputation as a leader in the HIV/AIDS struggle in Africa,” Tollefson said. “It’s a significant human rights issue. I know it also gets in the way of treatment and prevention and education on the HIV/AIDS front.”

But just like the American lawmaking process, there’s a way to get around the president. Steve Williams analyzes Uganda’s system:

From my understanding of Uganda’s legislative process via the Ugandan Constitution (.pdf “Bills returned by President” Page 82, Section 127) a parliamentary override of Museveni’s veto is possible if the Bill is returned to parliament by the President and parliament then musters a two-thirds majority vote (a power granted in the 1995 Constitution).

In assessing the likelihood of this, a few factors might be worth considering. 2011 is both a presidential and parliamentary election year. Taking for granted that Museveni will win yet another term in office (even if by a much slimmer majority than in previous years), members of Uganda’s government may be unwilling to openly defy Museveni.

Also factor in that Museveni’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, controls around 200 of the 305 seats in the Assembly, and add to that Museveni’s influence over the Ugandan military who are also represented there, and Museveni’s veto power looks formidable, if it hasn’t already been made absolute by other means.

That said, it is known that Uganda’s government has shown a large consensus of support for the Bill, so Museveni’s opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill might not be the final word.

In fact, getting lawmakers to override a potential veto, and thus tying Museveni’s hands, would be a great strategy — if the president indeed wants to see the bill become law while saving face abroad. If MPs score a two-thirds majority vote, and eliminate the president’s veto capacity, Museveni can still get his way while claiming to foreign powers that there was nothing he could do.