Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni held up closer ties to Russia — which has successfully bucked western outrage over its law against “homosexual propaganda” — as a possible response to U.S. pressure to reject its own Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Museveni made the remarks on Friday, Feb. 21, responding to President Barack Obama’s statement that the bill would “complicate” the relationship between Uganda and the U.S. Museveni signed the law, which imposes up to a lifetime prison sentence for homosexuality and criminalizes LGBT rights advocacy, on Monday.
“The Russians work with us, they don’t mix up their politics with our politics, they just do what we agree on,” Museveni said during a visit to the Ugandan Air Force’s headquarters in Entebbe to commission a Russian-built Sukhoi-30 military flight simulator. Apparently referring to Obama, Museveni continued, “If you see someone who goes into other people’s homes and starts giving instructions — do this, do that — you know there is something wrong with him…This is my home, you have got your home. you go back to your house.”
Museveni has been pursuing military ties to Russia since at least 2011, when his government reportedly ordered six Sukhoi fighter jets for more than $700 million. The purchase caused an uproar in Uganda, because Museveni went over the heads of lawmakers to use Bank of Uganda funds to acquire the aircraft.
Museveni visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in December of 2012, just after appointing a special military attaché to his country’s embassy to Russia. Ugandan media reported that Museveni was recently “given Russia’s highest public award for being one of the eminent military-political leaders in Africa.”
If the showdown over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill does lead Uganda to pursue closer ties with Moscow, it will be a dramatic illustration of how Putin’s aggressive defense of his country’s anti-gay legislation could reshape geopolitics. He defied western outrage in the run up to the Olympics, possibly emboldening leaders in other countries to follow his example. Russia has the military and financial means to make more of a symbolic gesture of support if it suits its interests.
“Putin is being strongly and proudly homophobic with an aggressive global posture that African leaders were more reluctant to take before this,” said Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality, which lobbies the U.S. government to defend LGBT rights in foreign policy. “He’s seeing this as a new non-aligned movement of proudly homophobic leaders, he’s creating more political space for countries that might have looked for a more diplomatic way out in the past”.