Ugandan police raided the Makerere Walter Reed Project this week, a U.S.-military-funded operation that provides HIV and AIDS assistance to gay individuals in the country. If a statement by government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo confirming the raid is any indication, it could signify a new initiative by the country to enforce its new laws criminalizing LGBT individuals and organizations.
The raid, as Buzzfeed noted, happened on Wednesday according to a spokesperson for the Walter Reed Project. At least one individual was detained, but it's not clear whether that person was a U.S. citizen or a Ugandan. To make things even more confusing, Ugandan police at first denied that the raid happened. Deputy police spokesperson Patrick Onyango told Ugandan media that the person conducting the raid was a "conman" dressed as a cop. However, a spokesperson for the Ugandan government confirmed the raid on Friday, and directly linked it to the organization's aid to LGBT Ugandans:
Police burst Water Reed Project in Makerere University#training youths in homosexuality— Ofwono Opondo (@OfwonoOpondo) April 4, 2014
Top diplomat allegedly involved#paying one hundred thousand Ug shillings each masturbation— Ofwono Opondo (@OfwonoOpondo) April 4, 2014
LGBT activist Frank Mugisha told the AP that the facility in question was known to be a relatively safe place for LGBT individuals to seek treatment: "A lot of LGBTI people found it comfortable to go there for anti-retroviral treatment," he said, adding on Twitter that the center had "temporarily closed" after the raid (The "I" in LGBTI, in case you were wondering, usually stands for intersex.).
This is kind of an awkward week for the Ugandan government to enforce its anti-gay laws against a U.S. project, given that the U.S. just sent a team to Uganda to review its aid in the wake of the Anti-Homosexuality Act's enactment. The World Bank has already postponed a $90 million loan to the country because of the law. But the law itself is popular among many Ugandans, even if it does threaten western aid. This week, for instance, the Inter-religious Council of Uganda threw a giant party, attended by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, to celebrate the law.
The country's new anti-gay laws were years in the making, and have a group of American activists to thank at least in part for their creation. The law allows for life imprisonment for anyone convicted of "aggravated homosexuality," and outlaws most LGBT groups in the country. Its origins trace back to 2009, when a small group of American anti-gay activists (including Massachusetts' fringe gubernatorial candidate Scott Lively) traveled to the country to promote the conspiracy theory that gay activists in the West were targeting Africans for "recruitment." Uganda's Parliament responded with an earlier version of the bill that made homosexuality punishable by death. After failing to pass through Parliament several times since 2009, the bill suddenly passed late last December. President Museveni eventually signed it into law.