WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe, a frequent visitor to Africa who has a long relationship with the president of Uganda, said Tuesday that he hopes the country abandons “harsh” legislation to establish prison sentences for homosexual activity.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said in a statement to The Oklahoman, “I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days, and it is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”
Inhofe traveled to Uganda last month with other members of Congress and met with President Yoweri Museveni, according to an Inhofe press aide. However, Donelle Harder said Inhofe did not raise the matter of the anti-gay bill. She said he focused his discussion with Museveni on the status of the Lord's Resistance Army, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Status of Forces Agreement between Uganda and the United States.
President Barack Obama issued a statement Sunday saying his administration had told Museveni that enacting the legislation, which would level criminal penalties, including the possibility of life in prison, for homosexual activity, would “complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.”
The president said, “The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people. It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights.”
$400M in U.S. aid
The United States provides about $400 million per year in aid to the country.
According to Reuters, Museveni has not said when he would sign the legislation. The wire service also quoted one Ugandan official as likening Obama’s comments to blackmail.
Inhofe began traveling regularly to Africa about 15 years ago, and goes to the continent at least twice a year, visiting a variety of countries. Inhofe told a U.S. House committee in 2005 that his interest was “more of a Jesus thing,” but he has since sought to downplay the role of his faith and focus on policy issues.
In his statement on Tuesday, he said, “Many know I have a special place in my heart for Africa. My work with Uganda started many years ago to help bring an end to the Lord's Resistance Army and defeat Joseph Kony, who for decades has been kidnapping, mutilating and forcing African youth to become child soldiers in terrorizing Northern and Central Africa.
Fighting outlaw army
“Through efforts with my colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives, I have been able to secure resources to support Ugandans, who have been the largest troop contributor to pursuing the elimination of the LRA. This is where my focus and relationships with Ugandan officials have been.”
The statement issued by Inhofe on Tuesday is very similar to the one he made in 2011 when the anti-homosexuality bill was under consideration by the country’s parliament. At that point, it included death as a possible sentence.
“I do not, nor have I ever, supported or condoned this legislation,” Inhofe said then. “It is my hope that Uganda will abandon this unjust and extraordinarily harsh legislation.”
Reuters reported that homosexuality is already illegal in 37 African nations.
An earlier version of this story, relying on information from Inhofe’s communications director, reported that the senator had not met with the Ugandan president last month. On Feb. 20, the aide said that information was mistaken and that Inhofe and other lawmakers had met with the president.