In a move which has surprised many, the British government has gone public on a new policy of tying foreign aid to a country’s LGBT human rights actions. The new policy has received an enthusiastic welcome in the UK, but activists in the ‘global south’ are more cautious.
The move appeared in the right-wing, anti-foreign aid tabloid the Mail on Sunday but has been confirmed to the author by a source, who says the decision on the new policy was made in the summer.
The Mail article names three African countries whose aid is under threat: Uganda, Malawi and Ghana. In all three countries, sodomy laws are relics of British colonization — and this was named as a highly relevant point by Kofi Mawuli Klu, the Executive Commissioner of Panafriindaba, an African think tank, in a heated discussion about the foreign aid move on BBC Radio on October 10.
Malawi has already had its aid cut by the UK. Although LGBT issues were not mentioned by the UK — the cut was described as being due to increasing authoritarianism — the Malawian government explicitly blamed local LGBT human rights supporters for the aid cut.
The UK is threatening to cut aid to Uganda because of the increased repression of LGBT people and the potential passage of the ‘Kill the Gays’ Anti-Homosexuality bill.
The Mail article claims that a British Minister explicitly threatened aid cuts to Ghana because of that country’s increasingly anti-gay atmosphere, which has been highlighted internationally by one regional Minister’s threat to ‘arrest all gay people.’
However a fact-sheet made available to journalists during a Media Open Day at the British High Commission in Accra on March 29 said that the UK government would increase its development assistance to Ghana in the next four years (2011-2015) to £375 million (US $587m).
He claimed that the British coalition government’s commitment to not cut its foreign aid budget despite its austerity program meant it carried “moral authority” when speaking to ‘global south’ countries about “what we expect from them.”
“I’m very proud of the fact we [put] huge pressure on the leader of Malawi about an issue in that country but I’m convinced we can do more. We have got the ability to speak to African leaders, African governments, about this issue that I know concerns everyone here tonight. And it concerns me,” he said.
UK Welcomes Policy
The move has been widely welcomed in the UK. The Mail, which has an explicit agenda against foreign aid, said in an Editorial:
Sometimes political correctness has its uses after all. Currently it offers an elegant solution to the problem of Britain’s enormous and deeply unpopular foreign aid budget.
The Conservatives, still struggling to prove that they are no longer the nasty party, have saddled themselves with huge commitments to untrustworthy and spendthrift regimes. But now it emerges that officials are starting to reduce aid to governments that are hostile to their gay citizens.
Given that such hostility is very common indeed in the Third World, this rule could provide an ingenious way out of several commitments we can no longer afford, and which are doing little good.
The Chair of the LGBT group of the Conservative’s Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, Adrian Trett, said:
It is another positive step taken by the British government in promoting LGBT rights at an international level and highlighting those countries where homophobia, biphobia and transphobia discrimination continues to occur and thus the British tax payer is no longer willing to give financial aid to countries where LGBT rights are not recognised.
An anonymous source close to the Foreign Office said:
It is senseless to use state resources to persecute people because they have consensual sexual relations with each other. If countries can afford to prosecute and imprison people for consensual relations, then they can clearly afford to lose aid.
Furthermore, driving sexual minorities further underground will make it even harder to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS; more money used in this most vital of enterprises will be wasted if further discriminatory and arbitrary anti-gay laws are introduced.
There is no suggestion that countries like Uganda are being asked to endorse ‘gay marriage’; what Uganda and others are being asked to do is to neither execute nor imprison people simply because they are homosexual. This is a perfectly reasonable requirement in the eyes of most Britons, whose taxes fund the aid in question.
The move was unequivocally welcomed by the Nepali LGBT organization the Blue Diamond Society. It urged other donors to follow the British move.
“In fact,” they said, “aid should be denied to any government who persecute their citizens on grounds like gender, race, cast, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientations, gender identity, health condition etc.”
“Freedom to live, identity and expression must be respected.”
Kenyan gay activist and politician David Kuria points out that tying foreign aid to human rights is not something new.
That is what made the [Kenyan President Daniel arap] Moi autocracy give in to internal democratic struggles and human rights activists in Kenya during the late 1980s and 1990s. Indeed the entire “multi-party” wind of democracy was successful because internal struggles received external support.
Cutting Off Aid Could Be Dangerous
But the potential dangers have been shown not only in the immediate backlash seen in comments on African media reporting the Daily Mail’s story — comments such as ‘keep your aid!’ and ‘we will not be dictated to!’ — but on the ground in recent months in Malawi.
There, the government has blamed LGBT human rights supporters for the aid cuts by Britain and others. This diversionary tactic has led to direct threats to two NGO leaders: Human Rights Consultative Commitee (HRCC) chairperson Undule Mwakasungula and executive director of Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) Gift Trapence. Both organizations actively support LGBT rights.
Joseph Sewedo Akoro, Executive Director of The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIER) in Nigeria said:
I am afraid that this strategy will buttress the concept of neo-colonialism in the global south. It will raise the argument of imperialism by the global north and its impact on development of third world countries.
My concern is, what if this strategy of aid cut exacerbates human rights violation on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity?
Many countries in the global south are becoming sick of neo-colonialism and the global north’s imperialism. Therefore, they are planning strategies to become autonomous of foreign aid and challenge the hegemony of the Global north. Should they succeed in this endeavor, this aid cut strategy will be counter productive.
Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha, also concerned about such a backlash, said:
I do not really support countries cutting aid to Uganda because Uganda relies on International aid. But this should be a wake up call for countries in Africa persecuting minorities. [LGBT] Africans need the international support.
Kuria called for greater dialogue with activists on the ground before any move is made on foreign aid:
The internal and external pressure for the basic rights of gay people in Africa need to be coordinated for maximum impact but also and more importantly to ensure that they do not lead to further persecution of sexual minorities.
Can you imagine the glee in a corrupt regime having to scapegoat their misappropriation of resources on aid cut because they have not accepted “men-to-marry-other-men”?
Veteran Jamaican gay rights activist Maurice Tomlinson supports Mugisha and Kuria’s concerns and offered some specific ideas, saying:
Development is about education and support, not the imposition of will.
Britain is certainly capable of and should employ more sophisticated approaches to addressing homophobic governments, instead of simply resorting to cutting aid. Investment in such approaches will minimize backlash against individuals in countries they are seeking to assist.
Direct aid to organizations on the ground engaged in documenting, educating about and responding to human rights abuses against LGBT should be done in tandem with visa restrictions on specific anti-gay politicians and public figures, freezing of personal assets held in the UK, and public condemnation of homophobic statements at international fora.
These targeted approaches will yield better results than a high handed neo-colonial and frankly quite lazy posture of cutting aid which will only serve to alienate entire national populations, along with useful allies.
It took years for Britain’s contagion of homophobia introduced as anti-buggery laws and Victorian morality to poison entire countries against their citizens. This condition [in the global south] will not be remedied by a quick-fix injection (or retention) of aid.
David Chalmers, Director of the new, UK-based international LGBT human rights body The Kaleidoscope Trust was also cautious:
Aid conditionality is a complex and sensitive issue. Some experts in the area believe strongly that singling out LGBT rights explicitly as a factor in decisions on whether aid should be granted can be counter-productive and lead to the scapegoating of the gay community.
These concerns deserve to be taken seriously and the Kaleidoscope Trust is preparing detailed research to help inform the debate. We look forward to discussing our findings with [British] ministers and more widely in due course.
EU Speaks Out Against Homophobia
There have been moves to tie aid to LGBT human rights at the European Union (EU).
At the meeting, the EU’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said:
The EU calls on all States to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions and human rights violations against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
She noted that 80 countries worldwide criminalize homosexual acts and seven use the death penalty against gay people.
EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy said:
We in the European Union can take some pride in being at the vanguard of combating homophobia … It is something that distinguishes Europe from many other parts of the world.
But last year’s renewal of the ‘Cotonou Agreement,’ which delineates political and trade relations between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) was slammed by some MEPs because it excluded an agreement on the human rights of LGBT people.
The European Trade Commissioner Andris Piebalgs had previously said that he intended to include non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the new terms of the agreement – an aspect that was demanded by the European Parliament in a resolution ‘reminding’ Africa that “the EU is responsible for more than half of development aid and remains Africa’s most important trading partner” and that “in all actions conducted under the terms of various partnerships,” that sexual orientation is a protected category of non-discrimination.
Michael Cashman MEP (UK), co-president of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Right, said:
The Commission backed down in the face of governments that increasingly discriminate, imprison, torture and kill people because of their sexual orientation. It is a dangerous signal that there is a hierarchy of rights: some will be defended, but others will not.
In January, Cameroon’s Foreign Minister Henri Eyebe Ayissi summoned the head of the EU delegation in Cameroon, Raoul Mateus Paula, to protest the European Union’s funding of pro-LGBT groups that “violate the laws of Cameroon.”
Photo credit: DFID