One year later…What have we learned from the murder of David Kato?

LGBT activists and allies are attending the David Kato Kisule (DKK) Memorial in Kampala, one year since LGBT activist and leader David Kato was murdered in his home. Kato’s friends and family, including his mother, are attending the event organized by the Uganda National LGBT Security Task Force and Sexual Minorities Uganda. I just heard from one activist on the ground:

The memorial started an hour ago. Hymns, scripture reading,  prayers, and eulogies are being heard. The mood is sombre; mixture of celebrating life, remembering him and he is surely missed.

The DKK Memorial as we named it, is an event expected to be an outpouring of mixed emotions in remembrance and celebration of a man whose activism shone a light through our movement; a man whose death and the circumstances surrounding it still hurt and arouse anger; a man I respect; my father- as he always related with me.

I feel dispirited and almost failed to write this post.

One year after the murder of David Kato, I have many unanswered questions. I ask to what extent the Rolling Stone magazine  played a role. Was the publication of names, pictures, and addresses of Ugandans known or suspected to be gay an end to means orchestrated by his killers?

The Rolling Stone, at the time of David Kato’s  murder, was a little known bi-weekly publication “selling about 3000 copies that you had to spend time on the streets of Kampala to find a copy.” In fact, it was international media that introduced most Ugandans to the magazine and its editor Giles Muhame. “It was not even widely available outside Kampala” as one journalist observed. Knowing this, it seems more logical to argue that the Rolling Stone could have had little to do with inciting people to “Hang” a gay activist. I would like to argue that Rolling Stone’s publication of names and pictures of those known and suspected to be gay was a series of an already hatched plan to murder David Kato.

Celebrating David Kato

The death of David Kato has galvanized a breed of new activism and synergies in the Ugandan LGBT community. On my recent visit to Uganda, I met and interacted with a number of young activists and organizations whose joining the movement was a response to the death of this great activist. The movement has certainly grown bigger and stronger thanks to ongoing organizing by the Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. It is encouraging to know that what began as a make-shift entity to respond to the Anti-Homosexuality bill has not only become proactive in action but more grounded in a multi-dimensional sexual rights advocacy. Members of the coalition feel that it is time to move Beyond the Anti-Homosexuality bill and build a movement of sexual rights activists who will influence policy and change repressive laws that hinder the freedom of sexual minorities.

The coalition is also working to achieve wider recognition in Uganda as a group of scholars, lawyers, politicians, and social justice activists. It is in the interest of the coalition to make the Ugandan LGBT movement recognized at home. So far, the struggle for LGBT rights in Uganda is more recognized abroad than it is at home. Total change will only be realized when Ugandans recognize and respect the rights of LGBT persons. We certainly need more African voices on board.

The general situation of LGBT persons in terms of security and awareness of rights has improved. What is often read and heard in international media is not what is on the ground. It is not what I saw on my recent visit. LGBT persons in Uganda are not in hiding. When people like Secretary Hilary Clinton speak out against human rights violations in Africa, they send a strong message to our governments that persecution of LGBT persons is a human rights violation. This comes with some degree of protection from the state because our governments know that the world is watching. I spoke with some activists who feel protected by the state (the Police) than ever before. Even if there’s still a lot of work to be done by government, it is important to acknowledge that today, LGBT activists can engage the police. According to a report from the Hate No More campaign launched in 2o11 by Freedom and Roam Uganda, activists have held meetings with the police and some police official have shown interest in being educated and engaged on LGBT issues.

The situation of LGBT persons in Uganda is getting better. Not worse. It is important that international allies, donors, and partners know that their support and resources are making a difference.

I am having a difficult time telling foreign journalists and bloggers that the situation of LGBT persons in Uganda is getting better. As a group of activists, we recently visited a Ugandan LGBT community living in the ghettos of a Kampala suburb called Bwaise.

LGBT activists arriving to meet with the LGBTI community in Bwaise- one of Kampala's slum areas.

Here, they have managed to organize themselves against homophobia by getting involved in community development projects and have been accepted by would-have-been homophobic heterosexuals. This LGBT ghetto community also asked me to write a story on how the BCC through their 2011 documentary on Uganda titled “The World’s Worst Place to be Gay?” and journalist Scott Mills “used” them and promised them help but forgot about them even if “the documentary made a lot of money around the world.” In their own words, this community is disappointed that foreign journalists such as Scott Mills should travel to Uganda and prey on the plight of Ugandan LGBT persons and do nothing to give back to their communities. By failing to acknowledge the progress we have made as movement (albeit still ongoing tough struggles) and continuing to label Uganda as “the world’s worst place to be gay” and ignoring the positive stories we are witnessing, we are destroying the very lives we want to save.

A friend and journalist working for the New Vision recently wrote a story on the plight of a blind widowed HIV+ mother with 4 children in the rural areas of Western Uganda. ( Nassar didn’t just tell the story. He asked people to help. Since the publication of the story, the New Vision has raised millions of shillings from Ugandans and abroad toward building a house for this family, treatment, and school fees. This is what bold journalism is all about. This is what journalists like Scott Mills should be doing when they come to Uganda. Let me also add that as a movement, we are fed up of being used as pawns by Western journalists who use our stories for their own selfish interests.

Bold journalism means that journalists should be able to translate stories they write into tangible results. What does it cost for the BCC to raise money for condoms and lubricants for the gay men Mills interviewed? Regardless of Western support, we need to have awareness of imperialist tendencies (what I call subtle racism) that is sometimes tied to the “help” we get.

I am convinced that the international community is genuinely interested in our freedom and that some journalists want to tell our stories in a way that raises our voices for liberation. However, I feel that NOW is the time to engage local media and potential allies on the African continent. The acceptance of African LGBT movements by Africans should be our priority. The international community has played its role. The stage has been set. It is time to translate this support into meaning change at home.

I was speaking at a conference at Union Theological Seminary in NYC when an American journalist walked up to me and said her editor doesn’t want to publish stories that portray the “getting better” situation for LGBT persons in Uganda. For the past three years since the introduction of the Bahati bill we have talked about how bad things are. Can we now begin to celebrate the progress we are making?

A colleague recently commented on my facebook update on the negative impact that international media has on African LGBT movements. He said:

Frankly it would have helped if our people on the ground had responded to the travesty of a documentary that Scott Mills produced. The silence from our end was as deafening as it was a tacit endorsement of Mill’s nonsense.

Nothing can be further from the truth. It is the tendency to believe that every ally has good intentions and not being able to question. It is important that African LGBT activists understand the intentional and unintentional harm that international media is doing to African LGBT movements and to condemn it whenever and wherever it happens.

In self-criticism, I know that most African LGBTs are not bold enough to condemn the kind of “Mill’s nonsense” that my colleague echoed. We have allowed the West to dictate our politics and write our narratives that we are losing our identity. I know that the arguments I make here are not popular; they don’t attract sympathy because they portray African LGBT persons as competent and independent when people expect them to be stupid.

After all is said, the best thing about the issues I raise here is that African LGBTs  know what they want and it’s time to claim it.


10 Comments on “One year later…What have we learned from the murder of David Kato?”

  1. Melanie Nathan says:

    Some questions:-

    1.What do you say to the Article that Frank Mugisha himself an Ugandan LGBTI Activist published in the New York times – nowhere did he say things were getting better! In fact it was a very negative portrayal of Uganda’s gay state of affairs. Do Frank and you not share the same opinion?

    2. What about the fact that we as LGBT Worldwide – e.g. in the U.S. constantly report the negative stories so that we can shed light even here in America on the fact that we are second class citizens without equality, that our kids are bullied until the commit suicide -( –

    we must report the negative to get change…. of course I am not trying to compare Uganda to USA – 2 different situations.

    To my way of thinking there is definitely a major upswing in visibility in Uganda, with new missions and NGO’s on behalf of LGBT – but it is those positive attributes that your government is seeking, through legislation to shut down, to use to scapegoat Uganda’s other problems. Uganda Activists MUST, (for as long as criminalization is in place,) not alienate foreign journalists and activist bloggers – who have shed light and made a huge difference in having BAHATI bill exposed to the point where it is still on the shelf, and to the point where Clinton and Obama have spoken out. That would NOT have happened without foreigners work.

    Of course accurate reporting is imperative and one must caution against backlash vs. gays; but it is a very fine line.

    I will continue my own fight to expose criminalization of our natural born orientation – anywhere in the World. And as a matter of correction – some of us have worked hundred and hundred of hours, writing on the issue – helping people get asylum out of Uganda – for years and not made one single cent – not one dollar for our (my) work – if anything I have lost so much income potential as a result. Melanie Nathan

  2. […] the foreign press has been reluctant to notice because it doesn’t fit the popular narrative: it’s getting better for the LGBT movement in Uganda: The death of David Kato has galvanized a breed of new activism and synergies in the Ugandan LGBT […]

    • AfroGay says:

      @Melanie Nathan: If you speak with Frank Mugisha (I have), he will agree that things are getting better, not worse. He might personally be in danger from rogue elements (please see my comment on the op-ed you cite here ( but he, too, knows that the dangers he faces are not state inspired.That said, Frank has chosen to be the public face of gay Uganda and it stands to reason that this carries risks. It’s admirable of him but the life he has opted for carries risk in any country, including the United States.

      Of course gay Ugandans are not living openly as gay men and women. Nowhere in Africa, not even in South Africa where homosexuality is legalized, is that happening. It is simply not the African way to flaunt one’s sexuality and even heterosexuals keep it private. But state operatives know who I am and could pick me up tonight if they so wished. They don’t because they really have no interest in doing so. It is thus arrant nonsense to claim that the government of Uganda wants to round us up and kill us. That was a single man, Bahati, who tapped into a seam of ignorance and used a soft target for his own selfish interests.

      If you ask the Ugandans who say they oppose homosexuality, you will find that nearly all of them don’t know what it is. My experience on the ground is that once they do, they move on to their own business.

      We must be careful not to conflate the rantings of one or two Parliamentarians and pastors to an entire country’s attitude towards homosexuals. Speaking as someone who has lived in both countries, Ugandans have no interest in who is having sex with who. The level of homophobia in this country is not that different from what you will still find in the Bible belt of America.

      The focus in Uganda needs to be on what is being done to ensure that gay men and women receive medical support for communicable diseases such as HIV/Aids, as well as what initiatives can be put in place to help our boys and girls support themselves financially. We are not going to prevent Ugandans from looking at us as a curiosity in my lifetime, but that is not a priority right now, and so “Stop the Hate” campaigns (for instance) are a diversion.

      The immediate priority is what can be done to ensure that LGBTI get the same medical attention as everyone else. Otherwise, we will not have anyone to fight for if our gay boys and girls are popping off like fireflies due to treatable illnesses. Access to public health is our more pressing human right at this time.

      Of course Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are right to speak out for us. But we do ourselves a disservice if we pretend that things are so bad, or that the entire country is against us when that is not true. We are not pretending that life is perfect for gay Ugandans. But if our government could now be pushed to include us in public health campaigns, that would go a long way to making our existence more livable – even with the so called public homophobia that some of us claim is killing us. You will not find any gay man or woman who contradicts me on this with any verifiable evidence.

      At the end of the day, this will remain a Ugandan struggle. We need all the moral support we can get, yes, and the funding from foreign donors is of course vital to make gay organizations in Uganda professional. But it is imperative that our foreign friends understand that ultimately the battle will be won by the people on the ground. Val Kalende and I have nothing to gain from saying things are getting better when they are not. It would be more constructive if those who choose to disbelieve us ask for evidence of what we are talking about.

  3. […] Read the post One year later…what have we learned from the murder of David Kato?, highlighting the death of the Ugandan LGBT activist, in 26 January 2011, and the local and global […]

  4. mboode says:

    deads are not dead but they are living deads, DAVID KATO left a foot path that his work is still live and exisists among us activists. we shall try all our effrts to see that we live in his wishes. we are missing a great mighty man

  5. […] cringe. Thanks to David Kato’s death, we have many emboldened and articulate voices, such as Kalendenator’s, that are engaging them in an intellectual way – with a view to guiding them to precisely the […]

  6. […] from her job for speaking out against the bill and was forced to relocate to the United States, reflects on her blog: The death of David Kato has galvanized a breed of new activism and synergies in the Ugandan LGBT […]

  7. […] from her job for speaking out against the bill and was forced to relocate to the United States, reflects on her blog: The death of David Kato has galvanized a breed of new activism and synergies in the Ugandan LGBT […]

  8. […] admitting that things are looking up, rather than heading south as in, for instance, Liberia. Kalendenetor said virtually everything that the VOA is reporting now about the improving gay recognition […]

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