The pastor using pornography to fan the flames of gay hate in Uganda

The government wants to cool the debate on homosexuality. But influential clergyman Martin Ssempa has other ideas

The congregation was bigger than normal this week at the Christianity Focus Centre in Kampala. Perhaps numbers had been swelled by the prospect of an unusual kind of show-and-tell fast becoming the mainstay of the Martin Ssempa roadshow.

Uganda's "passionate pastor", as he calls himself, had revelations to share with the 200 or so men, women and children who turned up on Wednesday. His ambition to mark the week with a "million-man march" in support of a parliamentary Bill to further criminalise homosexuality had fallen flat over security concerns. But he had a sideshow quite capable of causing a stir in itself.

"The major argument homosexuals have is that what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is nobody's business," the squat, shaven-headed preacher said. "But do you know what they do in their bedrooms?"

For the next half an hour or so, he answered his own question with a highly unusual visual aid: a series of black and white photographs from what appeared to be the 1960s fetish scene. The avid Michael Jackson fan, who has impersonated the late star on Ugandan television, flicked through the slides of men engaging in scatological fetishism, giving his horrified commentary. "This one is eating another man's anus," he said, while the crowd by turns gasped, sobbed and fell to the floor.

If the evangelist, son of a rural schoolteacher, was not one of the most influential men in Uganda, the show might have been laughable. As it is, the US-educated pastor and former East African breakdancing champion, who grew up wanting to be a "celebrity", has the ear of Uganda's first lady, Janet Museveni. He numbers David Bahati, the MP who introduced the private members' Bill to combat homosexuality, among his congregation. This is a preacher with influence. His return from the United States, where he met Tracey, his wife and mother of his four children, was his beginning. He says he lost his brother and sister to HIV-Aids, and feared he would also die after a period of teenage promiscuity. Now he is a charismatic champion of abstinence, and one of Uganda's most aggressive proponents of anti-gay laws.

Under foreign pressure, the President, Yoweri Museveni, appears to be quietly backing away from legislation which would make homosexuality punishable by life in prison, and "aggravated homosexuality" (when one partner has HIV) liable to the death penalty. But the pastor has been getting louder by the day.

His latest slideshow stunt earned him widespread opprobrium. But it also got him what he was looking for, worldwide attention. He also turned his rhetorical guns on the White House. "Recently in America, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton stood up and said, 'How can Uganda make a law against homosexuality?' I want us to tell Barack Obama, who has African ancestry, that in Africa sodomy is an abomination."

The challenge may have won the approval of the congregation, but there are wider signs that the tactic may backfire. His talent for controversy has already lost him at least one prominent supporter, US evangelist Rick Warren, who has been retreating since Uganda's anti-gay Bill started attracting global criticism and now repudiates Pastor Ssema. But at home, that hardly matters. Ssempa – or Martin Ssempa PhD, as he signs himself – claims the support of 95 per cent of the country. Aged 42, but with the energy and mannerisms of a man half his age, he has been described as talking so much you would think he was a politician. In many senses, he is. Since setting up his community church near Kampala's Makerere University he has been studiously building his own youth constituency with a Billy Graham-style sex- and alcohol-free abstinence rally every Saturday night, that regularly attracts 2,000 students.

So Ssempa's stunts are not without their audience. But gays and lesbians should not feel unduly picked on. He also preaches against Islam, feminism, Catholics and Satanists, who, he says, hold meetings under Lake Victoria, where they are promised riches in exchange for human blood, which they collect by staging car accidents. For most people, that would be outlandish; for Martin Ssempa, it is barely out of the ordinary.

Suggested Topics
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
people

Far-right organisation has defended its actions on Facebook

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you looking to work in Edu...

Nursery Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunity for a nursery manage...

EYFS Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - Benf...

English Teacher

£4848 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Outstanding...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker