US Government Warns of Hostile Business Environment over Anti-gay law

Kampala, Uganda I HABARI DAILY I

The United States Government has issued a stern warning to its business community and potential investors interested in Uganda, citing a hostile business environment characterized by endemic corruption and disturbing human rights violations. 

The advisory, issued by the U.S. Departments of State, Labour, Health and Human Services, Commerce, and the U.S. Agency for International Development on October 23, 2023, underscores the deteriorating conditions that may intensify in the lead-up to the 2026 elections.

The advisory message is a call to vigilance for businesses, organizations, and individuals, urging them to recognize the potential financial and reputational risks associated with the pervasive corruption in Uganda. 

It points to endemic corruption, which is detailed in the 2023 Investment Climate Statement, as well as violence against human rights activists, members of the media, health workers, minority groups, LGBTQI+ persons, and political opponents. These risks are exacerbated by interference in the judiciary, manipulation of the courts to settle political disputes, and the involvement of security forces for political ends.

The advisory also highlights the inconsistent implementation of legislation, rent-seeking from officials, and intrusive government security and surveillance as factors that can adversely affect the ability of U.S. businesses and individuals to operate effectively in Uganda.

A significant concern noted in the advisory is Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) on May 29, 2023, which significantly heightens restrictions on human rights, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. It further worsens issues related to the respect for leases and employment contracts. 

The U.S. government expresses deep concern over the AHA’s provisions, which mandate reporting of individuals suspected of homosexual behavior, impose life sentences for consensual same-sex relations, and threaten a 20-year prison sentence for merely “promoting” homosexuality – a term defined so broadly that it could encompass a wide range of activities.

For instance, the advisory points out credible reports of landlords evicting private and commercial tenants on the basis of unsubstantiated claims that they are involved in activities violating the AHA.

The advisory also refers to the 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Uganda, which details security forces subjecting journalists and media houses to violence and harassment. The enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act exacerbates the risks of censorship, as it criminalizes numerous commercial activities relevant to media, broadcasters, the advertising industry, and related sectors. 

The AHA prohibits and penalizes the printing, broadcast, or distribution of “material promoting or encouraging homosexuality,” a term left vague, but which has been broadly interpreted by government officials.

The U.S. government’s advisory reflects the international concern over Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act and its potential consequences for human rights, media freedom, and the business environment. 

It adds to the growing chorus of global voices condemning the law and calling for its repeal. The Biden administration’s message emphasizes the need for investors and businesses to consider these risks when operating in Uganda and to engage with caution in the current climate.

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