While Rick Warren, the divine inspiration-inflated Prop 8 pastor, mounted the national podium to spread his particular brand of limited goodwill over the land, his Ugandan colleague, Reverend Martin Ssempa, continued to spread his version of the will of God over Uganda. Though Reverend Ssempa's God embraces caring for the sick, He also apparently favors persecuting homosexuals and preventing Ugandans from obtaining condoms, thereby increasing the rate of HIV infection.
That at least seems to be the net effect of the erstwhile Bush administration's emphasis on abstinence-only HIV programs, and Ssempa's campaign to publish the names, pictures, and addresses of homosexual activists in the paper and on a now defunct Ugandan website. kobsrugby.com (the domaine is available for purchase for those who like combining sexual McCarthyism with fumbling around in a scrum of men in tight pants).
Ssempa, you may recall, is the evangelical preacher who marched into Makarere University and did battle with an AIDS prevention display which manifested itself as a scrap-metal dummy with a condom-covered drainpipe penis. Reverend Ssempa grabbed for and pulled the condom off that drainpipe penis, set the box of condoms next to it aflame, and burned them in the name of Jesus. Then he handed out bibles to the rubberneckers.
His antics may seem clownish, but Reverend Ssempa's cred as a Ugandan anti-HIV crusader is undeniable: he lost a brother, a sister and a niece to HIV. Another brother is ill now. It's a sad commonality he shares with many Ugandans, and gives him some emotional authority to speak about the effects of HIV on families. The history he tells of himself also makes it easy to identify with him: before becoming an evangelical Christian, he led a hedonistic, nightclubbing, existence (he was also a prize-winning breakdancer, he likes to note) that he now invokes when castigating sexual relations outside of marriage. Then he found the Lord, and settled into the kind of domesticity that he believes the Lord intended for everybody: heterosexual, and (to the best of anyone's knowledge) monogamous.
For Ugandans who do not fit into that model by dint of their sexual preference, Ssempa leads marches calling for their punishment; homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. Leaders of LGBT groups have been harassed and arrested; he also has demanded that homosexuals not be included in anti-AIDS programs. As someone who works closely with born-again Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni, Ssempa, as the special representative of the First Lady's task force, went to Washington in April of 2005 to testify on HIV in Uganda.
In his testimony, he put forth the theory that a billion dollar AIDS/condom industry was foisting itself on an unwilling Ugandan culture:
"SO, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? THE PROBLEM IS THAT MOST OF THE PEOPLE IN USAID AND CDC DO NOT LIKE THE ABC MESSAGE. THEY LIKE THE CONDOM SOCIAL MARKETING MESSAGE.WHY? WHY?I BEILEVE IT'S BECAUSE THE UGANDA ABC PROGRAM WAS ESTABLISHED BY AFRICANS FOR AFRICANS. THIS ANGERS MANY SO CALLED ''PROFESSIONALS'' IN THE AIDS COMMUNITY WHO HAVE PROMOTED CONDOM SOCIAL MARKETING.AIDS PREVENTION IS NOW A BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY BASED UPON SUPPLYING HIV PREVENTION PROGRAMS THAT CENTERS ON THE DISTRIBUTION OF CONDOMS" (hysterical all-caps his)
Representative Barbara McCollum of Minnesota questioned Ssempa, and the great condom conflagration of Makarere University made a reappearance:
"..... it is true. I burned condoms. But what critical piece of element is left out is the fact that those condoms had been banned by the government a few days earlier, that they would pose a significant risk to the population at large. So I was simply fulfilling what the government had ordered, a recall, a destruction of those condoms.
Ms. MCCOLLUM. The government requested you to go to that campus—I believe it was a campus—and the government personally asked you to burn the condoms?
Mr. SSEMPA. It issued a call to recall and destroy all condoms from public. And what happened, I work with college students. It was a season of freshmen. In fact, in that particular article, Helen Epstein says it is a fresh pack of condoms. It was not a fresh pack. It was a deteriorated, recalled pack of condoms that posed a significant, hazardous, life-threatening experience to anyone who would have used it, so that is what happened.
Ms. MCCOLLUM. I am glad you had time to look at the lot number and verify that, and that was not your property that you destroyed. And in your opinion, you thought you were doing something that was good."
The rubber firebug pastor did not mention to Ms. McCollum, and Congress, that the Ugandan government recall didn't happen until a month AFTER he cremated the condoms. *
Ssempa wasn't the only anti-condom, pro-abstinence-only witness to testify that day. Then-Global AIDS Coordinator Randall Tobias testified as well. Of his testimony, and trajectory, this probably says it all :
"I think it is somewhat ironic and hypocritical that he would patronize an escort service while he was denying funding to organizations who want to help prostitutes, and supporting a policy that obviously forbids fraternizing with prostitutes" -Jodi Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Health and Gender Equity, Washington, D.C
After the massage-loving (there was no sex! he insisted as he left DC to explain himself to his wife) former AIDS czar departed, President Bush appointed as his replacement Mark Dybul, M.D., a respected physician who happened to be both gay and uncloseted.
Although Dr. Dybul's orientation displeased some members of the faith-based organizations receiving PEPFAR funds, he accepted invitations to address them, speaking at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church and meeting privately with the Executive Director of Christian Connections for International Health
PEPFAR OFFICIAL WELCOMES CCIH FEEDBACK ON GOVERNMENT’S AIDS PROGRAMS
At a private meeting between Dr. Mark Dybul, Deputy Coordinator and Medical Director of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in the State Department Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, and CCIH Executive Director Ray Martin, Dybul expressed appreciation for CCIH’s efforts to educate the public about the evidence-based rationale for an ABC approach to HIV prevention.
Though funding increased, the same problems with faith-based organizations receiving funds for promoting abstinence-only and discouraging condom use continued. Undoubtedly Dr. Dybul would have had problems walking this tightrope between ideology and science, but he appears to have thrown himself into polishing Pepfar's, and the President's, image. Here he is at a press conference in Geneva in 2007, and note the return of a certain massage-loving bad penny:
"So people should not be under the impression that all this President has done, and this administration has done, is on HIV/AIDS. There is a person responsible for all of these activities. My former boss, the first Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Tobias, is now the Director of Foreign Assistance - the first such position - to ensure that we have integrated and full programs that deal across the areas of development. He is also the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development at the same time."
With the faithful unfaithful Tobias in charge of USAID and directing a new office for distributing foreign aid, the dangerous ideologically driven policies (this is not even getting into the anti-needle exchange and anti-prostitution pledge controversies that kept organizations from using their funds to help addicts and prostitutes, many of whom are children) continued.
LOOKING FOR CHANGE
Dr. Dybul was given first the order to rescind his pro-forma resignation--he wrote a cheerful note to his staff telling them he'd see them after the weekend--and then, one day after Hillary Clinton was confirmed to be Secretary of State, told to un-rescind his resignation, which he did, amidst a swirl of rumors, cheers, recriminations, and rejoicings.
Homosexuals continue to suffer under harsher and harsher restrictions in many African countries: Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Uganda. They can be arrested and imprisoned for life. Religious leaders like Martin Ssempa continue to lead rallies calling for their prosecution
Keeping PEPFAR funds out of their hands will not be an easy task, if the Obama administration chooses to take on that task at all. But if they are committed to human rights, they have to.
"I once attended Sunday services at the church of Martin Ssempa, one of Warren's protégés in Uganda and a major force in that country's devastating move away from safe-sex campaigns. It is a heartbreaking thing to watch a tongue-speaking faith-healer promise a room full of sobbing people – many of them poor, many infected with HIV – that Jesus can cure them, if only they believe in him unconditionally (belief demonstrated, of course, in part by tithing generously)." --Michelle Goldberg, writing for the Guardian
It's all just a little bit--forgive me, but just a wee little bit--