Africa in the News: Harsh Anti-Gay Law Passes in Uganda, South Sudan Enters Peace Talks, and Africa in 2014

Punishments for Homosexuality in Uganda Now Include Death

Last week, the legislature in Uganda passed a law against homosexual acts, which will now carry punishments that include life sentences in prison.  Until now, homosexual acts have been against the law in the country and could be punished with more than a decade of jail time, but this new law greatly increases the severity of punishment.  Due to these new harsh penalties, many gay Ugandans and foreigners increasingly fear for their safety. “The witch hunt had already started,” a member of the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law has been quoted as saying. Uganda already has a history of anti-homosexual bias and violence: David Kato, a prominent gay activist, was killed by police in 2011.  Interestingly, this new law was introduced into the legislative docket in 2009, although wasn’t passed then in large part due to European threats to cut foreign aid. 

South Sudan Representatives Meet in Ethiopia for Peace Negotiations

Peace talks that could potentially end the violence in South Sudan are being held in Ethiopia today, January 3. On one side are the rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar and on the other, a delegation from current government, headed by President Salva Kiir.  The two sides are said to be discussing the possibility of allowing for greater humanitarian action inside South Sudan.

Fighting erupted in South Sudan three weeks ago after President Kiir announced that there had been an attempted coup. Tensions had been high in the country for months, however, since Vice President Machar was dismissed from office in July.  The root of the conflict far predates both of these incidents and, in fact, has ethnic dimensions:  Kiir’s supporters are largely Dinka; Machar’s supporters are largely Nuer.

So far, an estimated 1,000 people have been killed and 180,000 people have been displaced, many of whom are without basic necessities such as clean water.  At least two states in South Sudan, Jonglei and Unity (an oil-rich area), are under rebel control, and there are rumors that rebel fighters may attack Juba in the near future.  Many U.S. embassy staff members have been evacuated, although according to U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Susan Page the embassy will not be shutting down entirely.

Africa and AGI in the New Year

The Brookings Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) has published its annual Foresight Africa report, a compilation of essays on the most important issues for Africa in the coming year.

On January 7, we will also host a related discussion (which will be webcast online) on what African and global policymakers should watch out for in Africa in 2014. The event will feature leading Africa experts, including: Makhtar Diop, World Bank vice president for Africa; Robin Renee Sanders, former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Congo; Bright Simons, Ghanaian social entrepreneur; John Prendergast, co-founder of Enough Project. Brookings Visiting Fellow John McArthur will moderate the discussion.  You can register for the event and watch the event live here and join the conversation on Twitter using #ForesightAfrica.

On January 9, Brookings Senior Fellow Amadou Sy and Peter Quartey from the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research in Ghana (one of AGI’s partner think tanks) will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations on strengthening economic communities in Africa. Both scholars will speak on the merging of African economic communities and the impact of this issue for U.S. policy.