Go Back

View from the street: The power of the message – for good and ill

Person Holding Multicolored Heart Decor

Anna Dickens

Anna Dickens

Associate partner

Last week, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni was due to either sign into law or veto the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which the Ugandan parliament passed by a margin of 387 to two.

But on Thursday he did neither of those things. Instead, he sent it back to parliament with proposals for “improvements”.

The bill is the latest and most extreme of the draconian, homophobic laws that have become common in many African countries. It conflates homosexual sex with paedophilia and prescribes the death penalty in some cases, hands out jail terms of up to 20 years for those advocating for or promoting the rights of LGBTQ+ people, and allows for life imprisonment in cases of “repeated sex offenses among consenting adults”.

President Museveni – who has been in office since 1986 – made it clear he wasn’t against the measures within the bill, nor the severity of the punishment. Instead, he wanted parliament to further examine the issue of rehabilitation. In the bill’s current format, those convicted under the age of 18 can be given reduced sentences if they are “rehabilitated”. Bear in mind, this is a place where corrective rapes are known to happen.

This bill is a startling illustration of how a well-funded lobbying campaign – in this instance divorced from facts – can not only write policy but re-write history.

Ahead of the vote on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill last month, a parliamentary conference was hosted by an Arizona-based organisation called Family Watch International which, among other things, produces documentaries to promote its agenda, including one entitled Cultural Imperialism: The Sexual Rights Agenda.

Family Watch International – and other organisations like it – argue erroneously that at its core Africa is a Christian, heterosexual continent and homosexuality didn’t exist there prior to colonialism. They view defending and extending the rights of LGBTQ+ people on the continent as an act of cultural and moral imperialism.

The cultural imperialism message has been pushed to Africans on a well-funded wave of influence for more than a decade. An investigation by openDemocracy found right-wing US Christian groups have spent US$54m lobbying in Africa since 2007. The success of their influencing was clear when Museveni parroted the cultural imperialist message by saying, “I would like to congratulate our members of parliament for rejecting pressures from the imperialists.”

Given that Family Watch International also produced a documentary called Understanding Same-Sex Attraction, which features a host of conversion therapists, I am not holding out much hope for the Ugandan parliament’s review of the rehabilitation measures contained in the bill.

Before we think this is just Africa’s problem, remember conversion therapy still happens in the UK, despite a ban having been promised for more than five years. Last year we saw an influx of US-linked Christian influencing groups – like 40 Days for Life – protesting and lobbying against The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill.

Well-developed and deployed messages can be incredibly persuasive influencing tools. When false and polemical narratives are used to spread hate and restrict human rights, it is important to shine a light on and learn from these examples.

Thankfully, influential messages are also used for good, to promote positive innovations and ideas that make our lives and communities better.


Our weekly View From the Street, alongside a useful look-ahead to the coming week, is sent to our subscribers every Monday morning. To get it first, sign up on our website,  scrolling down to “Subscribe to our briefings”.


Want to find out how we can help your business? View our services here, and get in touch if you want to find out more about Charlotte Street Partners.