Gay Rights in Africa: What is the Donor Community Up To?

Published on 19th January 2010

The dictatorial manner in which  the donor community is handling gay issues in Malawi and Uganda clearly shows that they are not driven by Africa’s best interests but rather, pushing their own agenda. This is a wake up call for African nations to rethink donor intervention in African affairs.

The issue of gay rights in Malawi and Uganda has recently received unprecedented international attention, and rightly so. Two separate issues have ignited the debate within the said countries and condemnation from the international community.

First is Malawi’s arrest of two gay men after their alleged wedding, which according to Malawi authorities was against the law and a crime punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. On the other hand, Uganda has been criticised for its ‘private members bill’ that proposes to punish all gays with life imprisonment.

There is a famous concept that the world is not a bad place because it has bad people but it is because of the good people who do not stand up against evil. In the spirit of this saying, I find it appropriate that international community, including reputable organisations like Amnesty International have stood up for the rights of gay communities, and they have duly called for the release of the arrested homosexuals in Malawi.
Meanwhile, the issue has not only highlighted the huge cultural and ideological gulf between the West and the East, but it has also opened a whole bucket of worms that could have some serious implications on international relations. 

According to Timesonline, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has distanced himself from an anti-homosexuality bill currently before the Ugandan parliament in Kampala after pressure from the Prime Ministers of Britain, Gordon Brown, and Canada, Stephen Harper, and the United States’ secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

Timesonline has also reported that United Kingdom’s ‘Queen’s music composer’, Sir Peter Maxwell Davis, has called on the Scottish government to suspended its aid to Malawi until the government of Malawi frees the gay couple currently in custody under anti-gay laws.

Malawi's Information Minister Leckford Mwanza Thoto holds that the gay couple have broken the laws of the land, hence the ‘government cannot interfere in the court process’ [presumably emphasising the separation of powers]. The minister also adds: ‘we depend on our Western friends, yes, but we are a sovereign country.’

As much as I believe the Western countries are acting in the interest of the gay community, I also think that this case has exposed the fragility of Africa’s so called independent countries. Scotland contributes £3 million of the forty percent budgetary support that Malawi gets from the donor community. In 2008 / 2009, the Ugandan government received £35 million in budgetary support from the UK government. The donor community consequently feels that the African countries [receiving support] must toe their line.

The gay rights issue is cultural if not an ideological. There should be a rational discussion to find ways of dealing with it. Threatening Uganda and Malawi with aid freeze / withdrawal may get the donor community their intended results but it will not change people’s ideologies and beliefs. This can only be done through discussion as equal partnered.

The West must not imply that they are the all consuming ogres of  knowledge to  do the teaching but not the learning from  ‘others.’ Such a mentality and will only breed resistance.

Africa is a home to 17 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who according to Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), often have very limited or no access to food, employment, education and healthcare. The IDMC further states: "large number of IDPs are caught in desperate situations amidst fighting or in remote and inaccessible areas cut-off from international assistance. Others have been forced to live away from their homes for many years, or even decades, because the conflicts that caused their displacement remained unresolved."

IDPs are people who are forced to flee their homes but who, unlike refugees, remain within their country's borders. While refugees are eligible to receive international protection and help under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, the international community is not under the same legal obligation to protect and assist the IDPs.

How does the donor community and indeed the international media explain their reluctance to fight for the rights of these IDPs when they can do it for the gay community?

Museveni has backed down on the proposed anti-homosexual bill under pressure from the donor community; but why did the very same donor community fail to react when Museveni failed to protect an estimated 2 million of his people displaced by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda? 

The donor community has powers to force policy changes but when it applies double standards, Africans must question what it is up to.

By Jimmy Kainja.

Jimmy Kainja  is a Masters of Research (MRes) graduate in Media and Communications at London Metropolitan University.


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