The United States Government has warned its business community and potential investors in Uganda over what it describes as a hostile business environment characterised by endemic corruption and violence against gay rights activists and political opponents.
In a business advisory issued on Monday, October 23, 2023, the U.S. Departments of State, Labour, Health and Human Services, Commerce, and the U.S. Agency for International Development said these actions may become more frequent in the lead up to the 2026 elections.
“Businesses, organizations, and individuals should be aware of potential financial and reputational risks resulting from endemic corruption, described in more detail in the 2023 Investment Climate Statement, as well as violence against human rights activists, media members, health workers, members of minority groups, LGBTQI+ persons, and political opponents,” the advisory reads in part.
“There are risks associated with interference in and intimidation of the judiciary, use of influence in the courts to resolve political disputes, and co-opted security forces. Inconsistently implemented legislation, rent-seeking from officials, and intrusive government security and surveillance likewise can adversely impact the ability of U.S. businesses and individuals to operate,” it adds.
According to the advisory, Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) on May 29, 2023, increases restrictions on human rights, “to include restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and exacerbates issues regarding the respect for leases and employment contracts.”
The US government warns that the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act expands these risks and creates additional opportunities for interference with business operations as it, among other things, mandates reporting of individuals suspected of homosexual behaviour, imposes a life sentence for consensual same sex relations, and allows for a 20-year prison sentence for mere “promotion” of homosexuality, which is defined so broadly as to potentially cover a wide range of activities.
“For example, there have been credible reports of landlords evicting private and commercial tenants based on the landlord’s unsubstantiated claim that there is activity taking place in violation of the AHA,” the advisory reads in part.
Quoting the 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Uganda, which the US government says security forces subject journalists and media houses to violence and harassment, they further warn that the anti-homosexuality act ncreases these censorship risks by criminalizing a wide range of commercial activities that are of particular interest to media, broadcasters, the advertising industry, and related industries.
“For example, the AHA prohibits and penalizes the printing, broadcast or distribution of “material promoting or encouraging homosexuality.” The law does not further define these terms, but in practice government officials have previously criticized media outlets by using a very broad definition of what constitutes promoting and encouraging homosexuality,” the advisory adds.
The latest response from the Joe Biden administration adds to the many worldwide condemnations of the anti-homosexuality act.