Uganda: Love in a tough climate

2014-10-07 08:08
File: AP

File: AP

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Kampala - Seated on a mattress in a room holding all their worldly belongings, Ugandan friends Kim Mukisa and Jackson Mukasa shared secrets and much-needed laughter.

"Can you tell your family?" Mukasa, 20, a short man with big eyes, asked rhetorically when questioned on why he hasn't revealed his biggest secret of all to his parents - his homosexuality.

"I cannot tell my father... you make everyone sit, 'Father, mummy, I'm this'," he mimicked, using hand gestures. "I cannot. They expect you to be something else."

They collapsed on the bed in a fit of giggles.

In Mukisa's home, a small room in a compound tucked away in a slum in Uganda's capital Kampala, the duo may act like they don't have a care in the world.

"We are like brothers, young kids," says Mukasa.

But there's been little laughter in the past eight months for the pair.

‘Sex against the order of nature’

They were arrested in early January, just weeks before President Yoweri Museveni passed a law further criminalising homosexuality in the socially conservative east African nation, and accused of living "as husband and wife", according to one local report.

They were charged with engaging in sex against the order of nature, and their trial began in May.

The anti-gay law signed by Museveni in February has since been revoked on a technicality, but the pair have been charged under a 1950s penal code which remains in force and prescribes jail for those found guilty of homosexual acts.

There have been no convictions under the old code, according to the Uganda-based Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF). Yet, the case of these two men drags on in court.

Last week it was adjourned again, this time to 22 October.

"I think it might get thrown out," said their lawyer, Fridah Mutesi. "At least I hope so."

Mukasa said he thinks the prosecution can now "not be bothered" with the case.

‘There is no witness’

"There is no police file, there is no witness, and every time we come to court they tell us the state attorney is not around," he said.

The pair insist they are just friends, but that hasn't stopped the weight of the law from bearing down on them.

It has been about two years since the pair met in a Kampala bar. Mukisa, 25, had a boutique at the time.

"I love fashion," he explained, sporting a blue shirt with the top buttons undone, revealing a brown singlet, with a leopard print jacket and jeans.

He would keep stock at his house. So when Mukasa wanted some new outfits Mukisa directed his new friend to his house.

"We talked a lot and became friends, then brothers," remembered Mukasa.

The pair claim it was a former friend struggling with his own sexual identity - not openly disclosed - who reported Mukisa to the police, although they say the witch-hunt by neighbours was already under way and that their then-friend was forced to make a statement.

Medical examinations

"I welcomed so many boys at my house for fitting clothes," said Mukisa, explaining why he may have been a suspect.

At about 06:45 in early January, the chairperson of his area knocked on his door, told him to put all his belongings outside and leave the home.

"There were four boys carrying big sticks." He recalled how he was beaten by a mob.

Mukasa, who was at his own home at the time, was also arrested and forced to undergo medical examinations.

"Oh my God, we didn't feel good," he recounted.

The pair spent the five next months in a squalid jail, where they were "teased and abused", before being released on bail.

"We shall never, ever forget being put in prison," said Mukasa.

 'They don't want us to exist'

Now they are out, but life is still tough, after their images were splashed across newspaper pages and used on television. They find it hard to walk around their own neighbourhood, and are struggling financially.

"We used to have assets, but now we have no assets," said Mukisa.

Both are the eldest in their family. But Mukisa's parents no longer welcome him into the family home.

A hotel receptionist at the time of his arrest, Mukasa was later sacked from his job and disowned by his Christian parents, sisters and brothers.

"They don't want us to exist because I'm nothing, I can't produce," he said.

But Mukasa is still looking for a job to help support them, after his father was in an accident last month.

Mukisa and Mukasa don't believe a new law will be approved by parliament, as MPs have vowed. But either way they want to leave Uganda.

"We are going, I'm fed up," said Mukisa.

"I'll feel my future is brighter when I'm out of this country," added Mukasa.

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