In Dis/patches from the Foreign Office, Sajdeep Soomal explores newspaper articles, legal cases, and other ephemera stored in The ArQuives’s international collection.
There is no shortage of material in the Uganda file. The earliest documents in the file are dated to the early 1980s, when news about HIV infection rates reached epidemic proportions in the landlocked African polity made international headlines. Medical reports, newspaper clippings and magazine spreads in the file capture how the disease emboldened the Christian right in Uganda. Emerging after a decade of brutal military rule by President Idi Amin, HIV became the new harbinger of death in Uganda well into the mid 1990s. An abstinence-based sex education program was at the cornerstone of the Ugandan government’s approach to bringing the disease under control. Known as the ABC strategy – abstinence, be faithful, use a condom – the program pushed Ugandan sexual life into ordinary, public discourse. The message was spread across the nation through Catholic and Anglican clergymen who enlivened the secular public health strategy with Christian sexual moralism. While the percentage of Ugandans living with AIDS successfully fell from 15% to between 5 and 6% in the 1990s, the foreign-aid-funded ABC strategy emboldened Christian orthodoxy and control over sexual behaviour in Uganda. It laid the groundwork for a contemporary wave of U.S. Evangelicals and Pentecostals to win over the hearts and minds of conservative-leaning Ugandan Christians and push forward strict anti-gay laws.
The rise of anti-homosexual sentiment in Uganda at the hands of contemporary American imperialism is well documented in and out of the archive. This episode of Last Week Tonight captures the political dynamics well. Particularly striking are the front pages of the October 2010 issue of Rolling Stone (Uganda) which published the names and photos of people it believed to be gay or lesbian, calling for their execution. Reprinted in Attitude magazine, the accompanying article details the work of David Kato, one of the Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists who was murdered after the information was published.
Continue reading this story in Part 2 of The Uganda File in the Next Issue of CommuniQue.