When legislator David Bahati introduced the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the Parliament of Uganda in 2009, Martin Ssempa—founder and pastor of Makerere Community Church in Kampala, Uganda—was among its most aggressive advocates. In 2010, he screened gay pornography during a church service in an effort to shock congregants into joining the anti-LGBTI crusade.
Ssempa did graduate work in the United States, earning a master’s degree in counseling from the evangelical Philadelphia Biblical University (now known as Cairn University) in 1994. His rise to fame began in 1997, when a radio station in Kampala hired him as host of a political talk show, giving him a national platform. In the early 2000s, he was cultivated by conservative religious and political leaders in the United States. Rick Warren’s California-based Southern Baptist megachurch, Saddleback, invited him to speak on several occasions, and in 2005, the U.S. Congressional Committee on International Relations asked him to testify regarding efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.
While Ssempa preached an abstinence-only message, Uganda suffered setbacks in its battle against the HIV epidemic. Rather than reconsidering his approach, Ssempa expanded his U.S.-style culture-war agenda. In August 2007, he led a protest of hundreds of people through the streets of Kampala, demanding that the government punish LGBTI people. Soon after, he posted online the contact information, along with names and pictures, for individuals that he referred to as “homosexual promoters.”
Some U.S. conservatives have distanced themselves from Ssempa in the wake of his promotion of the death penalty for LGBTI people. Philadelphia Biblical University, for example, which awarded him an honorary degree in 2006 for “his ministry of compassion to HIV/AIDS victims in his native land,” issued a statement in 2009 saying that it “categorically condemns any position that calls for violence against human beings created in the image and likeness of God, or violent solutions to socially controversial issues.”
When Ssempa’s supporter, Rick Warren, bowed to public pressure and criticized the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Ssempa responded to Warren with his own open letter, in which he suggested that Warren was sacrificing his conviction for concern about his public image. “Rick you are our friend, we have bought many of your books and have been blessed by them,” it read. “Do not let the pressure of bloggers and popular media intimidate you into becoming a negotiator for homosexual and pedophilia rights in Africa.”
For more details, see American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.