IN PRAISE OF A CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST
By Sokari Ekine
Tuesday, February 1, 2011.
On Wednesday 26th January 2010 David Kato – Ugandan Kuchu, activist, human rights defender, man of courage, stubborn, intense, the real. He lived without trimmings, literally and metaphorically. David lived his life on the edge with no protection from the sickening campaign of hate unleashed by political and religious leaders in Uganda and their supporters in the US and elsewhere.
So today I'm writing about David and whatever I write it will not be enough to express my feelings for him or on his murder. I only met him in person exactly one year ago. He was in York on a human rights defender course. I was in London. He wanted to organise a tour speaking on the Ugandan anti-homosexuality Bill – the hate bill and that’s how we came together.
He stayed with me a couple of times and we traveled to Canterbury, London and Manchester speaking about the Bill and LGBTIQ struggles on the continent. David was always cracking sarcastic jokes when he was speaking about the Bill. He traveled to Brussels where one woman asked him to wear a suit for his presentation. “Where the fuck am I going to get a suit,” said David. “Will they buy me a suit? Who do they think I am?” David, intense, stubborn and not given to idle chat whether in person, on the phone or email. I would get intense abrupt emails informing me of the latest hate in Uganda, requesting information or discussing strategy or just what the fuck is this – what’s wrong with these people?
A couple of weeks ago he asked me to find out about a suspected WSF money scam. I tried but did not get back to him in time so I know I didn’t try hard enough. David had been beaten up many times. He was constantly harassed, his home broken into. The last time this happened a few months ago he tried to raise some funds to make his home secure but it was not enough. This is no blame time – people do what they can when they can. It’s just a fact. He walked around with a dislocated shoulder in constant pain from a particularly severe beating – he tried to get it fixed in York but the NHS couldn’t or wouldn’t provide him with the treatment he needed.
Recently David together with Kasha Jacqueline and Pepe Onziema won a landmark case against the Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone who had published the names and photos of what it called “Ugandans top 100 homos” on October 2nd 2010 which also included the headline “Hang Them”. A number of the photos were ones used by activists on their Facebook profiles including David’s. The High Court ruled that Rolling Stone had “violated their constitutional rights to privacy and safety” and warned them and other news media not to repeat the outings. We do not yet know the exact details surrounding David’s murder but the fact that he has received repeated death threats since the Rolling Stone outing we see there are consequences to actions which actively encourage hatred.
The responsibility for the repeated harassment, beatings, death threats and now possibly his murder lies with all those politicians and religious leaders around the world who have led the campaign of hate against LGBTIQ people: David Baharti who introduced the anti-homosexuality bill in the Ugandan parliament; the Red Pepper tabloid which like the Rolling Stone had published names of people they alleged were gay; Martin Ssempa who led the Ugandan national task force against homosexuality; Ugandan Minister of Ethics Nsaba Buturu who has rabidly spoken out against homosexuality; the following religious leaders who have fueled the anti-gay campaign in the region: Archbishop of Rwanda, Onesphore Rwaje, Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda, the All African Bishops Conference, Apolo Nsibambi of Uganda, Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi, Archbishop Akinola, Pastor Mulinde of Trumpet Church Uganda, Bishop Lawrence Chai of Free Apostolic Churches of Kenya and Sheikh Ali Hussein of Masjid Answar Sunna Mosque and Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria; Peter Karamaga of the National Anti-Homosexual Task-force Uganda; President Museveni who has showed no support for gay Ugandans saying that homosexuality is a western import receiving support from other African presidents like President Mugabe and Mrs Museveni who in the same vein has called homosexuals an abomination to African culture; American Christian right pastors Lou Engle, Rick Warren, Scott Lively and Dan Schmierer of the ex-gay group Exodus International, for their continued support of anti-gay legislation; South African diplomat Jon Qwelane and President Jacob Zuma.
Finally, responsibility lies with those in power in regional and international bodies who have refused to take a stand on homosexuality as a human rights issue. Last year, the African Union denied the Coalition of African Lesbians observer status. Around the same time, the UN General Assembly Human Rights Committee passed a resolution condemning extrajudicial executions, deleted from this resolution was an amendment that explicitly addressed protections based on sexual orientation.
The lives of all Ugandan Kuchus are now at risk – how will they be protected? Who will protect them? How will there be justice for David? One way is to ensure there is a sincere investigation into his murder including the role played by the homophobia of MPs and religious leaders and what must be done to protect others. Another is to speak about this as widely and as much as possible.
Condolences to David’s family, his brothers and sisters at SMUG and to all those who knew and loved David.
Rest In Peace David, we remember you for your courage, honesty and unwavering commitment to the struggle for the right and dignity for all of us to be who we are. We remember you, David for the beautiful human being you were and you will always live in our hearts. We have lost a great activist and a great man!
Sokari Ekine is a human rights activist, writer and an award-winning blogger. She blogs at http://Blacklooks.org