Uganda, apparently, has a Minister of Ethics and Integrity. The story that lead me to this interesting discovery was about a sex worker conference
, sponsored by NGOs from the United States, Kenya and Uganda, that the Ugandan government recently cancelled. The Minister of Ethics, Nsaba Buturo, was on hand to explain the ethics of this decision to the press. In his words, the government position is that "... we don't take any delight at all in the idea that prostitutes are coming together to devise ways of spreading their vice." Explaining further what he means by the concept of vice, the Minister went on: "We call it a vice because in Uganda it's an illegality which is punishable by seven years [in jail]". Warming to the theme of the officially impermissable, the Minister waxed on further: "Uganda's made a decision that homosexuality
, prostitution and those things are not our way of life. Anyone who violates them really will deserve what they get." In the case of homosexual conduct, that can mean life imprisonment
. It is not surprising that the Minister has a high opinion of the official government view of such things -- it is not just that it pays his salary, but he also believes that God installed it
The news agencies -- operating under their strictures of neutrality -- did not evaluate or question the validity of the Minister's statements. But it does seem unlikely that the workshop, organized by the (George Soros) Open Society Institute East Africa Initiative
, had the theme How to Make Every Ugandan Woman a Sex Worker and Every Ugandan man a John,
rather than (say) how to protect sex workers from the usual exploitation, disease, violence and government harassment. A Minister of Ethics -- of all people -- should know that something being illegal does not entail that it is morally wrong, given that many immoral practices or policies (think of say, colonial ones) were once legal. And there would be no need to condemn or criminalize prostitution or homosexuality if they did not form at least some part of Ugandan life, and East African observers will point out that sex work is a longstanding part of the informal economy in the region, and who knows, maybe Uganda government employees have been clients over the years.
The Minister seems to be a principled deontologist of a special sort -- one that is little concerned about the human rights of sex workers and apparently not concerned about whether his government's crackdown is likely to improve their lot. In the end, the Minister is not offering an ethical judgment based on reflection and analysis; it is simply the condescending voice of a protected elite being visited on the vulnerable poor.