I am a firm believer in aid being used to leverage countries to improve their human rights. I understand that some people might not like my opinion on this matter, but I am standing by it as no one has come up with a better solution to achieve real results.
Homosexuality is outlawed in most African countries and discrimination against gays and lesbians is rife on the continent, with South Africa being the only country that recognises gay rights and same-sex marriage, at least on paper. Lately the news has been filled with stories of government sponsored homophobia across Africa.
With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon telling African leaders that they must respect gay rights and the UN passing a gay rights resolution (proposed by South Africa), the topic of homosexual rights is higher on politicians’ agendas than ever before.
“One form of discrimination ignored or even sanctioned by many states for too long has been discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Ban told the African Union in January, adding, “Confronting this discrimination is a challenge. But we must live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration.” Remember that the UN was set up after World War II as a way to promote dialogue between countries to avoid gross human rights violations, therefore protecting LGBTI minorities is well within its scope of work.
South Africa’s former president, Thabo Mbeki, earlier that month also came out against Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, saying that “sexual preferences are a private matter. I don’t think it is a matter for the state to intervene”. The Commonwealth has also stepped in with its Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, also speaking out against the “discrimination or stigmatisation” of gays and lesbians.
Unfortunately, pleas from these individuals and bodies seem to have fallen on deaf ears in Africa.
In recent months, both the United States and Britain have raised the issue of aid being used to leverage countries to improve human rights, particularly for homosexuals. It has sparked heated debate. The idea of rich countries withholding aid to African countries that persecute homosexuals is one that some LGBTI activists say would do more harm than good. I find the fact that some LGBTI groups are outright against this proposal very strange, as it was an outcome of months of lobbying by such groups that led to this. I believe that aid should be withheld if it seems to be the best option.
“American evangelical Christians played a role in stirring the anti gay sentiment that culminated in the initial Anti Homosexuality Bill in Uganda…”
Even though her country still has a far way to go in giving its LGBTI people equal rights, Hilary Clinton sent a strong warning to countries passing anti-homosexuality laws that US foreign aid would be tied to tolerance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. I, for one, think that the United States should concentrate more on cleaning up its own backyard, but I do admire it for taking a stand for the basic human rights of others.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has threatened to withhold UK aid from governments that do not reform legislation banning homosexuality. He said that British aid should “have more strings attached in terms of ‘Do you persecute people for their faith or their Christianity?’ or ‘Do you persecute people for their sexuality?’ We don’t think that’s acceptable… Remember, Britain is now one of the premier aid givers in the world… we want to see countries that receive our aid adhering to proper human rights and that includes how people treat gay and lesbian people. We are saying that it is one of the things that will determine our aid policy and there have been particularly bad examples where we have taken action.” He conceded that countries would not change immediately, and cautioned that there would be a “journey”.
Some activists have argued that instead of withdrawing aid completely, the United States and Britain should channel funds through civil society organisations like LGBTI activist organisations. The flaw in this proposal is that it ignores the fact that governments have the authority to clamp down on civil society organisations. In Uganda, for example, the NGO Board authorises the running of organisations in the country, which are required to renew their status at the end of each year.
Political pressure could lead to closure of organisations receiving the “shifted aid.’’ I also get a feeling from reading the response by some organisations that they are more afraid of the possible loss to their own income than actually helping those they claim to help. Activists also seem to have overlooked the fact that diverting aid from government accounts to NGOs will not solve their original concern that withholding funds from governments will cause these governments to lash out at the LGBTI community.
Some African leaders have accused aid givers of trying to impose Western culture upon them. However, they forget that anti-homosexuality laws were originally introduced by the colonialists, which the British prime minister has already apologised for. Also, much of the anti-gay sentiment in Africa stems from recent encouragement by evangelical Christian movements out of the US. In fact, American evangelical Christians played a role in stirring the anti-homosexual sentiment that culminated in the initial Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda.
Taking money away from governments does not mean you do not support that country. You find other mechanisms for trying to help the poorest with food, education and health care as well as building up business structures. Countries withholding aid should do so for a broad spectrum of human-rights violations and tagged with stricter demands that countries adhere to all standards of human rights freedoms, not solely LGBTI rights, but inclusive of them.
I’m not suggesting that this method is appropriate for every repressive African county, and I believe that consultation with the human rights movements within those countries should also take place first so that the best possible intervention can be found. I’ve learned from experience that it is unlikely that greedy African politicians will pass up an opportunity for cash, as their greed often overrules any “morals” they might claim to have.