KAMPALA - "Learned behaviour can be unlearned," said David Bahati. "You can't tell me that people are born gays. It is foreign influence that is at work."

Bahati has just presented his anti-homosexuality bill 2009 to Uganda's Parliament.

The bill, which will be debated within a fortnight and is expected to become law by February, will allow homosexuality to be punishable by death.

"Most people have misunderstood the bill. The section of the death penalty relates to defilement by an adult who is homosexual and this is consistent with the law on defilement which was passed in 2007. The whole intention is to prevent the recruitment of under-age children, which is going on in single-sex schools. We must stop the recruitment and secure the future of our children."

There is wide support for Bahati's law which, while being an extreme piece of anti-gay legislation, is not unique.

Nigeria has a similar bill waiting to reach its statute books and already allows the death penalty for homosexuality in northern states, as does Sudan. Burundi criminalised homosexuality in April this year, joining 37 other African nations where gay sex is already illegal. Egypt and Mali are creeping towards criminalisation, using morality laws against same-sex couples.

However, South Africa held its first gay pride in 1995 and it has now legalised civil same-sex marriage.

The Ugandan bill extends existing laws to make it illegal to promote homosexuality by talking or writing about it, and forcing people to tell the authorities about anyone they know who is gay.

The bill, said Bahati, 35, an MP from the ruling party, aims to "protect the cherished culture of the people of Uganda against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sex promiscuity on the people of Uganda".

In March, Bahati met several prominent anti-gay United States Christian activists who attended a conference in Uganda where they pledged to "wipe out" homosexuality.

The conference featured Scott Lively, president of California's anti-gay Abiding Truth Ministries and co-author of The Pink Swastika, which claimed leading Nazis were gay.

Also there was Don Schmierer, on the board of Exodus International, which promotes the "ex-gay" movement, believing people can change their sexuality and be redeemed. The third extremist evangelical to attend was Caleb Lee Brundidge, who is linked to Richard Cohen who believes that psychotherapy can "cure" homosexuality.

Bahati's bill was drawn up within weeks of the conference, but it has only just begun to cause waves within America's powerful evangelical community. Legalising killing gay people has triggered a bad press for the bill.

Rick Warren, the most powerful evangelical in America, this weekend said: "As an American pastor, it is not my role to interfere with the politics of other nations, but it is my role to speak out on moral issues," adding that the bill was "unjust, extreme and un-Christian towards homosexuals".

"That is a remarkable statement from Warren," said Mark Bromley, of the Council for Global Equality. "But there is still a pattern of homophobia that is being replicated in many parts of Africa."

Lively released a half-hearted condemnation: "It should be no surprise ... that modern Ugandans are very unhappy that homosexual political activists from Europe and the US are working aggressively to rehomosexualise their nation."

The Ugandan law, he said, was "unacceptably harsh", but he praised those who drafted it. "If the offending sections were sufficiently modified, the proposed law would represent an encouraging step in the right direction ... it would deserve support from Christian believers."

Around 85 per cent of Ugandans are Christian - 40 per cent Catholics, 35 per cent Anglican. Muslims make up 12 per cent of the population.

In Entebbe last week, 200 religious leaders, under the powerful umbrella group Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, demanded diplomatic ties be severed with "ungodly" donor countries, including the UK, Sweden and Canada, who are "bent on forcing homosexuality on Ugandans".

Joshua Kitakule, the council's secretary-general, said: "Those countries should respect our spiritual values. They shouldn't interfere. All senior religious leaders have been given copies of the bill to read and educate people in churches and mosques."

For Ugandans such as Pastor Martin Ssempa, who organises anti-gay rallies, the bill brings legitimate moral force to bear on the "corrupting influence" from Western societies.

For John Bosco Nyombi, 38, it means he is unlikely to ever see his family or his homeland again. "I had a life, a job, a house, a car, all that is gone," he said. The former banker fled Uganda for London after a crowd of his friends were rounded up and arrested in a police raid on a Kampala gay bar.

For developing nations, the attraction of right-wing organisations with dollars to spend, combined with fears over a creeping "Westernisation" of societies, is increasing the demonisation of gay people.

Much of the recent anti-gay activity in Africa has been in response to the increased politicisation of gay Africans.

COLONIAL LEGACY

* Anti-homosexuality laws were inherited by countries Britain colonised.

* In Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Zimbabwe, Gambia, Nigeria, India, Singapore and Sri Lanka, colonial-era sodomy laws are still in place and forbid "the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or an animal", as outlined in an English act of 1861.

* Britain has since amended the act and repealed sections 61 and 62, which criminalised homosexuality.

- OBSERVER