David Kato and Uganda’s American Connection

A brutal murder raises questions as to whether it was a robbery or an assassination–from last week’s New York Times

NAIROBI, Kenya — David Kato knew he was a marked man.
As the most outspoken gay rights advocate in Uganda, a country where homophobia is so severe that Parliament is considering a bill to execute gay people, Mr. Kato had received a stream of death threats, his friends said. A few months ago, a Ugandan newspaper ran an antigay diatribe with Mr. Kato’s picture on the front page under a banner urging, “Hang Them.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Kato was beaten to death with a hammer in his rough-and-tumble neighborhood. Police officials were quick to chalk up the motive to robbery, but members of the small and increasingly besieged gay community in Uganda suspect otherwise.

“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009,” Val Kalende, the chairwoman of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, said in a statement. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.”

What is the connection between American evangelicals and Africa? In 2008 the US press reported vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s anointing by Kenyan minister Thomas Muthee as purely spiritual, a private matter, or else as ‘news of the weird’. Why was Muthee preaching at a small church in Alaska?

Part of the answer is that evangelical Christianity takes very seriously the Biblical command to ‘go, and make disciples of all the nations’. Matthew 28:19 There is a long tradition of missionary outreach from the US to Africa. This is intertwined with a history of colonization and exploitation. Dictators, often propped up by the West for the benefit of corporations or for geopolitics, have severely oppressed ordinary people while robbing their birthright of natural resources. Uganda suffered through the 1970’s under the leadership of murderous dictator, Idi Amin

Amin retaliated against the attempted invasion by Ugandan exiles in 1972 by purging the army of [former Prime Minister, Milton] Obote supporters,…The victims soon came to include members of other ethnic groups, religious leaders, journalists, artists, senior bureaucrats, judges, lawyers, homosexuals, students and intellectuals, criminal suspects, and foreign nationals. In this atmosphere of violence, many other people were killed for criminal motives or simply at will.[32]

Amin was forced out of power in 1979, and Obote returned to leadership, but his regime was marked by civil conflict and human rights violations. Uganda has enjoyed more stability since 1986 but the toll has been immense, with an estimated 100,000-300,000 Ugandans murdered in political violence during Amin’s eight year tyranny alone. The country is still not fully at peace, with insurgent armies still at large. Uganda also suffers from the HIV pandemic that causes widespread suffering and loss, and gives rise to fear and despair.

This is a traumatized society. Most Ugandans know someone who was murdered for politics, ethnicity or religion. The call to war, the naming of enemies, the inflammatory language that we in America deny has any relation to physical violence– this takes on a different context in a country full of orphans, widows and survivors.

Uganda is also a country rich in natural resources and in its people, a prize to be won…

Imagine a religious movement that makes geographic maps of where demons reside and claims among its adherents the Republican Party’s most recent vice presidential nominee and whose leaders have presided over prayer sessions (one aimed at putting the kibosh on health-care reform) with a host of leading GOP figures.

It’s a movement whose followers played a significant role in the battle over Proposition 8, California’s anti-same-sex marriage initiative, and Uganda’s infamous proposed Anti-Homosexuality Law, more commonly associated with the Family, a religious network of elites drawn from the ranks of business and government throughout the world. But the movement we’re imagining encompasses the humble and the elite alike, supporting a network of “prayer warriors” in all 50 states, within the ranks of the U.S. military, and at the far reaches of the globe — all guided by an entire genre of books, texts, videos and other media.

Imagine that, and you’ve just dreamed up the New Apostolic Reformation, the largest religious movement you’ve never heard of.

Presidential campaign watchers got their first taste of the New Apostolic Reformation when it was revealed that Sarah Palin, while mayor of Wasilla, had been prayed over in a laying-on-of-hands by Rev. Thomas Muthee of Kenya, director of the NAR East Africa Spiritual Warfare Network, in a ceremony designed to protect Palin from witches and demons. Muthee, it turns out, is famous in his native land for driving out of town a woman he deemed a witch, a charge that had her neighbors calling for her stoning.

Jeff Sharlet, in his article ‘Straight Man’s Burden’ (Harpers Magazine, September 2010, pp 36-48) travels through Uganda interviewing gay people in hiding, anti-gay Ugandan politicians and the American evangelicals who work their influence in Kampala and DC…

On October 14, 2009, a Ugandan member of parliament named David Bahati introduced legislation called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Among its provisions: up to three years in prison for failure to report a homosexual; seven years for “promotion”; life imprisonment for a single homosexual act; and, for “aggravated homosexuality” (which includes gay sex while HIV-positive, gay sex with a disabled person, or, if you’re a recidivist, gay sex with anyone—marking the criminal as a “serial offender”), death. As of this writing, the bill has yet to pass, despite near-unanimous support in Parliament. But the violence has been building, a crackling fury not yet quite a fire: beatings, disappearances, “corrective” rapes of lesbians, blacklists in a national tabloid, vigilante squads and church crusades, preachers calling out “homos” in their own pews.

Uganda is a country not yet at peace–primed for internal war. War has its profiteers…

Every year, right before Uganda’s Independence Day, the government holds a National Prayer Breakfast modeled on the Family’s event in Washington. Americans, among them Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, former attorney general John Ashcroft—both longtime Family men and outspoken antigay activists—and Pastor Rick Warren, are a frequent attraction at the Ugandan Fellowship’s weekly meetings. “He said homosexuality is a sin and that we should fight it,” Bahati recalled of Warren’s visits.

Inhofe and Warren, like most American fundamentalists, came out in muted opposition to Uganda’s gay death penalty, but they didn’t dispute the motive behind it: the eradication of homosexuality. They may disagree on the means, favoring a “cure” rather than killing, but not the ends. For years, American fundamentalists have looked on Uganda as a laboratory for theo- cracy, though most prefer such terms as “government led by God.”

These politicians can deplore violence, but they can’t escape the stain of this high-profile murder…

Some critics lay the blame for Kato’s murder squarely at the feet of three U.S. evangelicals who spoke at a three-day Kampala seminar in March 2009 that aimed to “expose the truth behind homosexuality and the homosexual agenda.”

More than a few critics claim the 2009 seminar was the catalyst for the legislation; Bahati attended the seminar, and his bill quickly gained momentum afterwards.

“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009,” Val Kalende, a gay rights activist in Uganda, told The New York Times the day after Kato’s murder. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.”

The three U.S. evangelical leaders who spoke at the Kampala anti-homosexuality seminar were Scott Lively, head of the conservative Christian group Defend the Family International and co-author of “The Pink Swastika” about the alleged gay cabal that orchestrated the Holocaust; Caleb Lee Brundridge, a self-proclaimed “former” gay man and “sexual reorientation coach” at the International Healing Foundation; and Don Schmierer, author of “An Ounce of Prevention: Preventing the Homosexual Condition in Today’s Youth.”

In today’s world it’s hard to keep a secret. That’s why there will be demonstrators at the National Prayer Breakfast, an event that has always been a place for politicians to network and pray on camera..

The objections are focused on the sponsor of the breakfast, a secretive evangelical Christian network called The Fellowship, also known as The Family, and accusations that it has ties to legislation in Uganda that calls for the imprisonment and execution of homosexuals.

The Family has always stayed intentionally in the background, according to those who have written about it. In the last year, however, it was identified as the sponsor of a residence on Capitol Hill that has served as a dormitory and meeting place for a cluster of politicians who ran into ethics problems, including Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, and Gov. Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina, both of whom have admitted to adultery.

More recently, it became public that the Family also has close ties to the Ugandan politician who has sponsored the proposed anti-gay legislation.

It’s a sad fact of human nature that a common enemy can be a powerful unifying force. When a distraction is needed an enemy can be created. A despised minority serves as a target for anger that might otherwise be directed at leaders, and as a warning to the majority of what punishment awaits if they fall out of line.

There’s always a homosexual minority, integrated into society, vulnerable when a scapegoat is needed. Uganda, like most countries, had a bias against homosexuals as part of its culture. But this latest political wave is contrary to the progress Uganda has made from the horrors of war to a society of law and respect for human rights. This political wave is aided by American religious/political players who see success in Uganda as advancing their own ambitions in the US. It’s partly our mess, and it’s right that Americans use our free press and right to dissent to address it.

OTHER FAITHS: Peter Morales, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, announced the formation of a fund to promote human rights and aid Unitarian ministers and members who are under threat in Uganda. Ugandans suspected to be gay, or supportive of gay rights have had their photos, names and addresses published in local newspapers with editorials calling for their hanging. A law is being debated that would imprison anyone who failed to turn in a friend or family member suspected to be gay. That is the atmosphere in which David Kato lived, and why his death is so suspicious.

UPDATE: Pam’s House Blend reports that the police have a suspect in David Kato’s murder. The suspect is claiming a gay panic defense, which some on the American religious right are taking as gospel.

MORE FROM UGANDA: Val Kalende, David Kato’s friend, provides a link to the Ugandan press publishing a mix of statements, speculation and gossip from people who knew David Kato, and testimony from people who have a political interest. Val Kalende is an organizer for gay rights and a divinity student, she lives in Uganda and faces the same threat that David Kato faced every day.

THANKS TO RITCHIE TABACHNIK: For this link to Talk to Action that reveals more about the atmosphere of hate created around homosexual people in Uganda. What are the odds of a real and fair investigation of the murder of David Kato?

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