FEATURE - Gay activist murder prompts Ugandan reflection

KAMPALA Sun Jan 30, 2011 10:44pm IST

Related Topics

Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers ride their camels as they rehearse for the "Beating the Retreat" ceremony in New Delhi January 27, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

"Beating The Retreat" Rehearsals

Rehearsals are on for "Beating the Retreat" ceremony which symbolises retreat after a day on the battlefield, and marks the official end of the Republic Day celebrations.  Slideshow 

KAMPALA (Reuters) - "I think I'll be safer here at home" -- those were some of the last words Julian Pepe heard from her friend and fellow gay rights activist David Kato. That night his head was beaten in with a hammer.

"He just didn't feel that he could leave his house anymore," says Pepe.

"He was that frightened. I wanted him to meet me in town to talk about our security as things had gotten worse after the Rolling Stone publication."

The Ugandan newspaper, not to be confused with the U.S. music and politics magazine of the same name, was so-called because "it is a stone that is rolling to smoke out the homos," its editor told Reuters.

Kato's photo was printed in October on the cover of an issue calling for gays to be killed. The headline was "Hang them".

It is still unclear whether the murder was provoked by his sexuality. The police say preliminary investigations point to theft and they have arrested one man and are seeking another -- a well-known thief who had apparently been staying with David. Mukono, where he lived, is notorious for robberies by "iron-bar gangs".

Some people don't agree. They whisper that a police cover-up is to be expected in a poor country keen not to jeopardise the Western aid upon which it relies.

Rumours are spreading around Kampala that Kato's computer was left untouched, unlikely if the attack were a robbery.

People also point to a government-aligned paper reducing a story that made international headlines to just a single, small article on page three.

Others blame the international media, accusing it of sensationalising the death.

In one sense, whether or not homophobia motivated David's killer is unimportant. A global spotlight has shone on the country in a way it rarely does and many Ugandans are unhappy with what it highlights.


Alan Kasujja, host of a breakfast radio show in Kampala, used his broadcast on Friday to urge Uganda to turn its back on homophobia and focus on other issues.

"I have tons of friends who are gay," Kasujja told Reuters. "These are people who I have gone to school with, who I have worked with. They are our brothers and sisters, our children.

"So am I supposed to join ill-informed, undereducated people who advocate for them to be ostracised? Sorry, I cannot be part of that," he said.

Alan says his listeners were divided over whether David was a victim of hate, or robbery. Though many listeners expressed reservations about homosexuality, they said that Uganda should not be known for violence.

Some texted the show, however, telling him to stop promoting "deviants", a reflection of a culture of hate that many say has been encouraged by the Christian right in the east African nation -- often funded by Christian groups in the United States.

Kampala's Red Pepper newspaper headlined its story on the murder: "Self-confessed bum driller murdered", accusing Kato of "luring" men into gay sex.

People from all over the world reacted to the news on Twitter, pushing it into the top 10 subjects on the social media site -- a rarity for African stories.

David was "courageous", people said. He was "inspiring", "unbowed", and perhaps most wrenching of all given his last moments of life "a peaceful soul".

Two gay Ugandan men, poring over the newspapers on Friday morning, smiled ruefully when they saw the Red Pepper story and shrugged their shoulders.

"This is what we have to deal with day-to-day," said one, who did not want to be named. "But I listened to the radio this morning and I read Twitter yesterday and I felt some hope. Maybe this is so awful, it can change things."

The two friends finish their tea and push through the swinging doors of the cafe and out into the blistering heat.

One pauses and turns his head back.

"Do you promise you won't use my name?" he asks. "I know David didn't mind. But David ... David was... I don't know." He shakes his head sadly. "I don't know."

(Editing by Matthew Jones)


After wave of QE, onus shifts to leaders to boost economy

DAVOS, Switzerland - Central banks have done their best to rescue the world economy by printing money and politicians must now act fast to enact structural reforms and pro-investment policies to boost growth, central bankers said on Saturday.

Reuters Showcase

ONGC Share Sale

ONGC Share Sale

ONGC share sale scheduled for this fiscal - oil minister  Full Article 

The Apple logo is pictured inside the newly opened Omotesando Apple store at a shopping district in Tokyo June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino/Files

Record Earnings

Apple iPhone sales trample expectations as profit sets global record  Full Article 

'Umrika' At Sundance

'Umrika' At Sundance

From Oscars to Sundance, Sharma and Revolori discuss India's 'Umrika'  Full Article 

Australian Open

Australian Open

Smooth Wawrinka, ill Serena through to Melbourne semis   Full Article 

India's Male Tenor

India's Male Tenor

India's lone male tenor aims to sing opera in local key  Full Article 

Japan Hostages

Japan Hostages

Mother of Japanese captive begs PM to save son held by Islamic State  Full Article 

Tripoli Attack

Tripoli Attack

Frenchman, American among those killed in Tripoli hotel attack - Libyan official.  Full Article 

U.S. Blizzard

U.S. Blizzard

Blizzard hits Boston and New England, spares New York despite forecasts.  Full Article 

Spying Row

Spying Row

Spying program leaked by Snowden is tied to campaign in many countries.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage