By Mick Krever, CNN
Homosexual behavior is “repugnant to the lives of the people of Uganda,” Simon Lokodo, the Minister for Ethics and Integrity, told CNN’s Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, on Wednesday.
A Ugandan bill passed by parliament in December would punish gay and lesbian people with lengthy prison sentences – including, in some cases, life behind bars.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has just signed that bill, according to the minister, but has not yet handed it over to parliament.
“If you want to do your thing, do it yourself,” Lokodo said. “But please, don’t embarrass, don’t involve, don’t bring any Ugandan to this activity, because it’s not acceptable.”
U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement said he was “deeply disappointed” in the law and said that it will be a “step backward for all Ugandans.”
Obama also made a tacit threat to remove the several hundred million dollars in aid that the U.S. gives Uganda annually.
“As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” he said.
“If Barack Obama likes to help Ugandans,” Lokodo said, “let him help without strings attached, imposing … a behavior and a culture that is non-African, non-Ugandan.”
“We had better die poor than lose our dignity.”
Responding to Lokodo, Ugandan Gay Rights Activist Frank Mugisha said that there is a “high level of ignorance” among most Ugandans.
Mugisha, speaking to Gorani from New York, blamed “extreme Christians who have come to Uganda” for skewing the view of homosexuality.
“If you ask ordinary Ugandans about why they fear or why they are very homophobic, they will not have a clear answer to you,” Mugisha said.
“They will just tell you ‘We don’t want homosexuality in Uganda,’ but they won’t give you a very clear explanation. That alone shows that it’s actually because of ignorance.”
Mugisha said that despite the fact that he “could be facing prison if I go back to Uganda,” he plans to challenge the law.
“Even if the law is signed by the president, it still remains very unconstitutional and I am willing, together with my colleagues, to go and challenge this law in our constitutional court.”
Gorani asked Lokodo if the Ugandan government had “bigger problems” than “going after gay people.”
“We do, and we are doing our best to solve our economic problems,” Lokodo said. “But we also want to work [simultaneously] to fight against immoral behavior, or moral decadence.”