Accepted paper:

Obsession with (sexual) change in Uganda: sexuality as an instrument of power

Author:

Julia Vorhölter (University of Göttingen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes recent measures adopted by the Museveni government to discipline and regulate the sexuality of Ugandan citizens. Based on ethnographic research, I show how these measures shape local practices and discourses and how they relate to broader socio-cultural changes and power struggles.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, the Ugandan government has proposed a number of laws, which attempt to control and sanction ‘dangerous’ or ‘abnormal’ forms of sexual behavior and which define and target specific ‘sexual subjects’. The much-debated “anti-homosexuality bill” is only one of a number of such attempts. Further examples include legal measures, which are related to AIDS (the sexuality of ‘ill’ persons), defilement (the sexuality of youth), prostitution (the sexuality of women) and pornography (the sexuality of ‘perverts’). In this paper, I argue that the recent proliferation of discourses and laws on sexuality in Uganda must be seen in relation to broader socio-cultural changes and power struggles. Drawing on Foucault and based on ethnographic fieldwork in (Northern) Uganda, I show how a) sexuality is instrumentalized in various (social, political, cultural and economic) power struggles, b) discourses on sexuality infiltrate various spheres of social life, and c) the sexual conduct of the population is taken as a target for intervention by local authorities, state officials and international actors. In contemporary Uganda, the interconnection between sexuality and power, individual and population, and related political strategies to produce and counter change becomes especially evident in the above-mentioned societal discourses on homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, youth sexuality, women’s sexuality and pornography. All these discourses link various local and national crises to the changed and ‘uncontrolled’ sexual behavior of the Ugandan population and thus imply that a tighter control of these ‘threatening’ forms of sexuality is necessary to re-establish social order and stability.

panel P056
Obsession with change