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Swedish minister meets Ugandan gay activists

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Swedish minister meets Ugandan gay activists
Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg. File photo: TT
10:14 CET+01:00
Sweden's finance minister has met with gay activists in Uganda at the start of a visit intended to highlight Swedish investment opportunities in the growing East African economy.

When Anders Borg arrived in Uganda on Monday, he travelled almost straight away to meet with activists working for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The country just passed a law that makes homosexuality punishable with life in prison. 

"We met a number of people who work with LGBT rights," Borg told the TT news agency. "It's a relationship that Sweden has had for a long time. Before I left, I met (Swedish LGBT lobbyists) RFSL to hear their view on the matter." 

Sweden gives bilateral aid to Uganda. About 70 million kronor ($10 million) of the 250-million annual aid budget goes directly to the Ugandan state, which in turn uses the funds for research, including support for women's sexual and reproductive health. Nonetheless, Uganda's official stance on homosexuality could make Sweden question the nature of the aid, Borg said.

"There will be questions about us having government-to-government aid," Borg said. "We have to, in our aid strategy, ponder how we can remain active but still in a clear way point out that this is unacceptable legislation."

Sweden's stance on the rights of gays and lesbian has come up against Ugandan attitudes to homosexuality before. In March last year, the Swedish migration authorities called off a deportation order for a Ugandan man engaged to be married to a compatriot with Swedish residence. The couple, who went on to wed in a Swedish church, made headlines in Sweden not least because a government minister, Birgitta Ohlsson, attended the church ceremony.

Jimmy Sserwadda told The Local that he and his husband Lawrence Kaala were afraid Kaala would be harassed or even lose his life if he had to return to Uganda. Sserwadda also said they believed themselves to be the first Ugandan same-sex couple to wed legally. 

In Uganda this week, Borg also took the opportunity to underline that long-term trade and investment between East Africa and Sweden was on the agenda, but said he regretted that recent law changes overshadowed those important talks.

"It's a paradox that one of the reasons for my visit is to change how we view Africa, and that makes it very sad that you end up in a discussion about legislation that must be regarded as a gross violation of human rights," Borg said.

The finance minister, the first foreign government member to visit the country after the law change, will meet both his Ugandan counterpart and the prime minister.

"Of course these questions will come up," Borg said. "I'm actually here to discuss the economy and growth potential, but it is regrettable overshadowed by this decision." 

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