The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

Morality plays and money matters: towards a situated understanding of the politics of homosexuality in Uganda*

Joanna Sadgrovea1 c1, Robert M. Vanderbecka1, Johan Anderssona1, Gill Valentinea1 and Kevin Warda1a2

a1 School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, United Kingdom

a2 School of Religions and Theology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, United Kingdom


Since the drafting of Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill in 2009, considerable attention has been paid both in Uganda and across the African continent to the political and social significance of homosexual behaviour and identity. However, current debates have not adequately explained how and why anti-homosexual rhetoric has been able to gain such popular purchase within Uganda. In order to move beyond reductive representations of an innate African homophobia, we argue that it is necessary to recognise the deep imbrication of sexuality, family life, procreation and material exchange in Uganda, as well as the ways in which elite actors (including government officials, the media and religious leaders) are able to manipulate social anxieties to further particular ends. We employ a discourse analysis of reporting in the state-owned newspaper New Vision, first considering how the issue of homosexuality has been represented in relation to wider discourses regarding threats to public morality and national sovereignty. Then, through fieldwork undertaken in Uganda in 2009, we explore three key themes that offer deeper insights into the seeming resonance of this popular rhetoric about homosexuality: constructions of the family, the nature of societal morality, and understandings about reciprocity and material exchange in contemporary Ugandan society.


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* The research for this article was funded by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme. We are grateful to the constructive and encouraging comments of three anonymous reviewers. Special thanks go to Will Jackson for support, encouragement and engagement.