This week, the Obama Administration announced that it would include protection and promotion of LGBT rights as part of US foreign policy, including foreign aid packages. As Secretary Clinton announced in a statement,
“Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.”
This announcement comes just two months after British PM David Cameron said that the UK would begin tying its own foreign aid to the LGBT rights policies of recipient countries.
Yesterday, several MPs in Uganda denounced the policy shift, claiming that if “this evil” was a requirement for aid money, they could do without the money. Here are a few reactions- as covered by NTV Uganda:
“…President Obama ran on a platform of change, but we think homosexuality is not the change the world is hoping for” – David Bahati, MP
“..if the US targets its money to that then I think we would rather do minus that money” –Steven Ochola, MP
“…we regret, as Uganda, that such a statement was announced by people who should have cared for the entire humanity” – Rev. Fr. Simon Lokodo, State Minister for Ethics
Uganda is currently the 15th highest recipient of US foreign aid, with the Government of Uganda receiving just under $250m in direct foreign aid from the US in FY 2010/2011. At least one-third of Uganda’s national budget comes from donor resources.
Uganda has a long history of anti-gay policies. Currently, homosexuality is illegal, punishable by up to seven years in prison. Recent efforts by David Bhati and other MPs to increase the punishment for homosexuality have received fire from the international community. The “kill the gays” bill was tabled during the last session of parliament, but is expected to reach the floor for debate once again in 2012. This bill would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death.
In January, prominent LGBT rights activist David Kato was brutally murdered after he sued the Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone, for publishing the names and addresses of 100 allegedly gay Ugandans. While the Ugandan High Court determined that the killing had nothing to do with Kato’s sexual orientation, the killer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi claims that Uganda should have a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” under which Ugandans keep quiet their sexual preferences.
The claim that the US is trying to impose western values and corrupt African conservative ideals is a bit complicated. While the US still has its own issues with gay rights to deal with, specifically regarding marriage and adoption policies, South Africa remains one of the most progressive gay-rights nations in the world. Every South African, regardless of sexuality, is protected under the constitution and allowed to marry and adopt children.
Recently, South Africa has experienced episodes of “corrective rape”, mostly by straight men targeting lesbian women. Corrective rape refers specifically targeting and raping a homosexual person in an effort to force that person to become heterosexual. The judicial system in South Africa has come under fire by various human rights groups for their slow response to the spree of homophobic attacks over the past 5 years. However, last year, the South African Justice Department launched a task force to help improve its response to hate crimes. As a result, it is now mandatory for everyone from police officers to judges and attorneys to undergo sensitization training. Despite the very real threat of homophobia, South Africa remains one of the most open countries in the world for homosexuals.
At a time when the US and Europe are cutting back on foreign aid packages, establishing conditions for providing funding to foreign governments seems like a diplomatic solution to justify budget cuts. But given the close relationship between the US and Uganda, I’m skeptical that the US will significantly cut money flows to the Museveni government over its gay rights policies. Based on responses from MPs, it is clear that the Ugandan government feels the same.