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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform