Uganda told anti-gay bill poses financial risk

Tue Feb 25, 2014 8:17am EST
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By Elias Biryabarema and Philippa Croome

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Sweden's Finance Minister Anders Borg warned Uganda on Tuesday that a new bill imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality could represent a financial risk for the east African economy.

President Yoweri Museveni initialled the bill on Monday, drawing immediate criticism from Western donors and Washington. Within hours, Norway and Denmark said they were holding back aid. Austria said it would review assistance.

Reflecting the gap between the policies of Western donors and some African attitudes, a Ugandan tabloid's frontpage carried the banner headline "Exposed" and threatened to out 200 allegedly known homosexuals, an act activists feared marked a new pogrom against the gay community.

"I'm really here to discuss the economy and growth opportunities, but that will be overshadowed, unfortunately, because they have taken this decision," Borg told Swedish news Agency TT, referring to the bill on homosexuality.

"It represents a financial risk for Uganda to get this type of reputation," said Borg, who was in Uganda on Monday and Tuesday, and met gay activists the same day the law was signed.

If the aid cuts become widespread, Uganda, east Africa's third biggest economy, could be forced to cut spending or borrow deeper. When donors suspended aid in 2012 over graft concerns, Uganda revised its growth outlook downwards.

The new bill strengthens existing punishments for anyone caught having gay sex, imposing jail terms of up to life for "aggravated homosexuality" - including sex with a minor or while HIV positive.

It outlaws lesbianism for the first time and makes it a crime to help individuals engage in homosexual acts.   Continued...

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs an anti-homosexual bill into law at the state house in Entebbe, 36 km (22 miles) south west of capital Kampala February 24, 2014. REUTERS/James Akena