For a man who was arrested and deported by the Ugandan government under “emergency orders”, David Cecil seems quite mild. His small build and curly shoulder-length hair make him look like a member of a mediocre street rock band.
After staging the first play in Uganda which addressed the theme of homosexuality, The River and the Mountain, the British film producer was arrested and deported back to the UK without a proper police investigation or court hearing. He left behind two children, aged one and two, his girlfriend of eight years, and his business. Uganda’s Media Council insisted that the play promoted homosexuality and was against the national culture.
“They saw me as a cultural imperialist,” Cecil says. “The intention of the play was to have a conversation about these issues in the safety of theatre.” He says he did not expect such an extreme reaction, because “It is a play. It is fiction.”
Still thousands of miles away from his family, he has now launched legal proceedings in Uganda challenging the decision by the Internal Affairs minister to deport him, and eventually hopes to return.
Cecil says Uganda remains his favourite East African country because it has “a good balance between liberty and African culture”. Currently, the Uganda Penal Code, while not directly outlawing homosexuality, criminalises “unnatural offences.” Anti-gay rights activists have used the law to mount a crusade against homosexuality.
Cecil’s opinions on gay rights, which he describes as “complicated”, have brought him on a collision course with both human rights activists, who believe he is not committed enough to the cause, and the Ugandan government. “I think people who support homosexuality do not understand the anxiety in African countries about the disintegration of the family,” he says.
“Community is the best part of society and the reason I am so attracted to Uganda.”
He adds: “I did not come to Uganda to piss anyone off. It is a vibrant African country that belongs to Africans. All I wanted to do was make my humble contribution.”
Cecil first visited Uganda in 2007 after meeting a friend who told him it was a beautiful country that had transformed his life. Now, as he waits for the courts to decide on whether or not he can return, he lives in uncertainty, not knowing whether to move on and get a job in Britain.
“The irony is that for six years, I worked hard in Uganda,” he says. “I wished I could have some kind of holiday and my wish has come true.”
He adds that while he does not support the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that was proposed by Ugandan MP David Bahati, the solution is not legislating either for or against it. “When you legislate, you leave the power of guidance to the state. It becomes a question of legal or illegal and it is devoid of humanity,” he says. “Legislation will only antagonise people.”