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Key findings
  • Large majorities of Ugandan citizens express tolerant attitudes toward people of different religions (93%), people from different ethnic groups (85%), supporters of different political parties (80%), and immigrants/foreign workers (74%).
  • But more than nine out of 10 (94%) say they would “somewhat dislike” or “strongly dislike” having a homosexual neighbour. These views have not changed significantly over the past seven years.
  • In Afrobarometer’s 2015 survey, the vast majority (96%-97%) of citizens expressed discomfort with the idea of having a co-worker, a supervisor, or a member of their religious community who was in a same-sex relationship.
  • Among 37 African countries surveyed in 2021/2022, Uganda ranks last in tolerance for people in same-sex relationships. In five of the surveyed countries, majorities say they would like or not mind having homosexual neighbours: Cabo Verde, South Africa, the Seychelles, Mauritius, and Mozambique.

The Ugandan Parliament’s recent passage of an “anti-homosexuality bill” has drawn vehement condemnation from leaders and activists around the globe, who say that its draconian provisions violate the human rights of the country’s sexual minorities (Independent, 2023; Guardian, 2023; Atuhaire, 2023; Tharoor, 2023).

Threatening Ugandans with prison for same-sex activity and for “promoting” homosexuality, and with the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” the bill would greatly expand the country’s existing prohibition against same-sex conduct. President Yoweri Museveni sent the original bill back to Parliament, which removed proposed criminal penalties for merely identifying as gay and for failing to report suspected homosexual activity to the police, but he has continued to endorse its main provisions and to dismiss international calls for a veto (RFI, 2023; Muhumuza, 2023).

Proposed anti-gay legislation has also made recent headlines in Ghana. But President Nana Akufo-Addo distanced himself from the bill, saying it is “not an official legislation of the government,” during the visit of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who said support for LGBTQ rights is “a human rights issue” (Princewill, 2023: Ghanaweb, 2023).

Uganda and Ghana are among 64 countries in the world where same-sex conduct is illegal (BBC, 2023). In Africa, where more than half of all countries have such laws, proponents of criminalising homosexuality often argue that it goes against African culture or tradition.

But scholars and rights activists disagree, noting that many anti-gay laws – including Uganda’s existing law – are a legacy of colonial-era legal codes (Ibrahim, 2015; Mulga, 2019; Arimoro, 2021) and that recent calls for harsh legislation against homosexuality may reflect the influence of fundamentalist Christian missionaries (Tharoor, 2023).

They also point out that intolerance for sexual differences is neither universal across the continent nor immutable, as the number of countries that have decriminalised same-sex relationships continues to grow, including South Africa (in 1998), Cabo Verde (2004) , Lesotho (2012), São Tomé and Príncipe (2012), Mozambique (2015), the Seychelles (2016), Botswana (2019), and Angola (2019) (Rahketsi, 2021; Gomes da Costa Santos, 2013; Parliamentarians for Global Action, 2019; Alo, 2020).

Findings from the most recent Afrobarometer survey show that Ugandan adults of all ages and education levels overwhelmingly continue to express intolerance for same-sex relationships, think they should be illegal, and are willing to report their own family member or close friend to the police if they engage in homosexual activity. Their level of intolerance for sexual difference is the highest among 37 African countries surveyed in 2021/2022.

Makanga Ronald Kakumba

Makanga Ronald Kakumba is a research associate for Hatchile Consult Ltd., Afrobarometer’s national partner in Uganda.