This is my quick response to Jimmy Kainja’s thought-provoking post and comments discussion about gay rights in Africa and the role of donor organizations.

The brouhaha over African gay litigation is simply overreaction to the very same events that happened in the US and EU countries. Being gay didn’t all of a sudden become a lifestyle de jour in the West.

Homosexuals there went through the the very same types of persecution and human rights violations as those in Uganda and Malawi. The same fear, uncertainty, and doubt, is behind these “laws of the land” as it was in the US, Canada, and the UK.

It’s a journey. The difference is that the West didn’t have the noose of donor countries launching threats (wether justified or not). As Sally points out, it is their right to cancel their funds if they don’t like the policy. Likewise, if the infringing recipient governments have a problem with donor strings attached to the funds, they have a right to refuse the funds. But we all know that’ll never happen. The politicians are happy to dance to whatever brought them and keeps them in power.

Without donor funds, governments will have to be forced to be accountable to the people and their majority wishes. Issues like this would be debated into law or quashed by the wishes/lobbying of it’s own citizenry. But since the citizenry is used in this stupid aid game we all play as pawns… we get to suffer because govs have no laws to stand on.

Sally, good pointing out intent -vs- neglect. Aid orgs exist to fund ‘neglect’ – pure and simple, driven by the guilt of privilege and the superficial need to be seen as a do-gooder (there’s a certain cache attached to that in international diplomacy).** They cringe, however, when Malawi & Uganda start going through the same cultural growing pains they’ve already learned how to manage and atone for.

Africa won’t have the luxury of figuring out these issues for itself and by itself. We will be scrutinized and discussed, vilified & judged openly. Why? Because no one wants to remember that we are 53 VERY young nations that have to grow up at light speed and accomplish in a miniscule-amount of time–what took the west three-plus centuries! You’ve heard it: why can’t Africa figure out democracy? Why are there blood-thirsty dictators in Africa? Why is there famine? Is “Brangelina” and Madonna and Oprah going to adopt all of Africa’s children? Ok, maybe not that last question. The point is, “democracy” and all it entails is less than 60 years old as a concept in Africa post-colonialism. Yet we are expected to be on par with the West in less than a lifetime. The same goes for the intricacies of legislating in a modern world. We don’t have the luxury of time or the cone of true sovereignty to deal with our issues.

The gay issue isn’t going away anytime soon. Just like the tide of FUD over gay marriages in the States, it’s just going to evolves and become as divisive as it was everywhere else in the world. It is the normal course of attempting to litigate morality. Who hear dares to remember that interracial marriages could get you lynched in the United States. Hell, marriage is going a tad far, just being accused of looking at a white girl wantonly meant the end of your days as a black man.

Uganda will go through the steps and missteps of trying to figure out how homosexuality fits into its moral fabric as a nation. So too will Malawi determine its fate within its sovereignty to do do. Maybe Kenya will follow, or Mozambique and Angola. But as every country proceeds with its growing pains, we will have to do so under the global microscope of myopic and unrealistic expectations.

So what’s the solution then? Allow aid orgs to dictate how we litigate because they provide for budgetary shortfalls? Or simply risk the “perceived” shortfall that would ensue and enact whatever laws of the land” we feel necessary to protect our “moral fabric?”

** This is totally my opinion. I am well aware of the different types of aid, and such a blanket statement erroneously blankets them all into one pile.

  1. I would be very careful when making blanket statements about development/aid organizations. They are often there to help government learn how to handle neglect. Their intent is often driven by the basic fact that resources are pooled in one area of the world and international development might be the more effective and internationally controlled means of spreading these resources for human development, along with initiatives in the global corporate sector.

    Second of all, the idea of "young" African countries – In theory, it is true. On the other hand, if African countries do not catch up the level of democratic engagement in many Western countries, their chances of evolving in tandem with these countries is limited. You will always be behind or falling behind. Therefore, Africa is faced with a double-burden of being "young," but also of having to develop its own standards for development that are compatible with the big markets they need to enter. China figured it out. So can Uganda.

    Lastly, in a sense, I agree that independent countries should be guided by the citizens within them and not by the moral dilemmas that aid organizations face in bilateral agreements. However, I think equal parts support from those aid agencies sustaining governments like Uganda and the will of the people (clearly strong in Uganda on all issues from gay rights to women's rights) is a good formula. This means pressure on several sides and therefore a chance of greater success.

    Frankly, I am getting a big tired of all these arguments blaming everything on aid and development. The world is not as black and white as this. We are having this argument because people previously perceived it to be so. Here is a particular case where nuances are needed in the debate and blanket statements do make caricatures (thanks @cbracy). Development has been around since before the 18th century in many shapes and forms. It's not going anywhere so instead of laying the developing world's problems on its feet (hrm, just as you did with colonialism), perhaps we can think of brighter arguments that combine the talents of development organizations with the sustainability of the corporate sector, just as we can understand that colonialism helped build the middle class that now rallies against anti-homosexual laws.

    • [trying to re-write my post that disappeared this morn]:

      There is something to be said about rewarding countries with aid for good governance/ human rights. I will be the first one to argue against unequal aid and trade practices (and this goes beyond the global South vs North.) Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that larger economies determine the terms of trade or aid. This doesn't mean we shouldn't fight it. But this argument is neither here nor there.

      For a second let us consider interracial marriages in the US, or post Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Americans, least of all white Americans were not ready for this change. Long after laws were enacted to protect the rights of minorities in the US, racism still continues because there are people who still hold those sentiments from the past. Consider, in many African countries child slavery/labor/abuse and gender violence/discrimination. We know that these practices are rife, even in some cases protected by law (In Cameroon a man who rapes a woman is free from conviction should he marry her?). Yet, we advocate for the rights of women and children, and rightly so. But now we argue an infantile African state in issues of gay rights? Isn't this an inconsistent argument? To argue that we should give Uganda, and other African countries time to figure out their moral compass is to give in to a tyranny of the majority.

      Morality is forever shifting, and it is not the government's responsibility to make law a morality code.

      There is no arguing that gay issues in Uganda, Kenya, etc are still going to be controversial issues, but that does not mean that the state should participate in persecuting them.

      And you cannot call protesting the death penalty on gays and their allies an overreaction.

  2. Quick response. Trying to re-write my post that disappeared:

    There is something to be said about rewarding countries with aid for good governance/ human rights. I will be the first one to argue against unequal aid and trade practices (and this goes beyond the global South vs North.) Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that larger economies determine the terms of trade or aid. This doesn't mean we shouldn't fight it. But this argument is neither here nor there.

    For a second let us consider interracial marriages in the US, or post Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Americans, least of all white Americans were not ready for this change. Long after laws were enacted to protect the rights of minorities in the US, racism still continues because there are people who still hold those sentiments from the past. Consider, in many African countries child slavery/labor/abuse and gender violence/discrimination. We know that these practices are rife, even in some cases protected by law (In Cameroon a man who rapes a woman is free from conviction should he marry her?). Yet, we advocate for the rights of women and children, and rightly so. But now we argue an infantile African state in issues of gay rights? Isn't this an inconsistent argument? To argue that we should give Uganda, and other African countries time to figure out their moral compass is to give in to a tyranny of the majority.

    Morality is forever shifting, and it is not the government's responsibility to make law a morality code.

    There is no arguing that gay issues in Uganda, Kenya, etc are still going to be controversial issues, but that does not mean that the state should participate in persecuting them.

    And you cannot call protesting the death penalty on gays and their allies an overreaction.

    • Nekessa,

      I’ll take your last point first, I whole-heartedly agree that African states have no business legislating morality by any means. Least of all them, when they can’t even legislate their own moral shortcomings.

      There are far bigger social injustices in Africa to deal with that threaten the social fabric than being gay. Specifically targeting a minority population with capital punishment for a lifestyle that harms NO ONE is criminal!

      My point in making is that this issue is as simple as it is complex. From a global perspective, our Western counterparts are dealing with the last remaining vestiges of homosexuality. It’s socially acceptable now on a majority scale, but not without dissenting minority. There will always be a dissenting minority, it’s a given.

      As with racial issues, so too will the sexuality/human rights/donor interference go through its normal course. It’s not going to be a magic bullet of understanding that solves this.

      However, a constructive dialogue driven by the Diaspora will go a long way in sensitizing African leadership. Better yet, let’s be those leaders, by wrestling leadership from the old guard.

      Its a new day in the world, and if we are expected to grow up and play with the global leaders on every pitch… then we need to put our best weapons in position to score!

  3. I'm a European-American who has been following the issue in Uganda and I've kept my mouth shut precisely because I understand that the democracies in Africa are young and require patience. South Africa was lucky to have its first African president be someone who believe in non-violence in the same way that the US was lucky to have its first president be very clear that he didn't want to be a king, which everyone wanted him to be.

    But I do support GLBT people in Africa and denounce the Americans who encouraged the Uganda government's current attempt at genocide.

    Yes, I call it genocide.

    Because it's identical to what Hitler did to the Jews–first rounding them up and then persecuting Germans who didn't turn them in…

    So I follow the lead of Kenyans and Ugandans who are gay or lesbian or who support GLBT rights, and do as they ask rather than do what I think they should do.

    You, on the other hand, need to understand the gravity of the Uganda policy. It's one thing to set social policy. It's a whole other thing to execute people because they're different from you.

    As Nekessa said, it's not an overreaction. It's murder.

    • Hi Jeanne,

      Thanks for your comment. Sorry about the system delays in posting it. I’ve been having some issues with Intense Debate randomly deleting or hiding comments.

      Yes Africa’s nation-states are still young but we are forced to deal with grown up issues.

      As I think about this issue further, the more I think that we seriously need more leadership from the Diaspora. Who better with experience on global issues and best practices to actually advice on how to navigate changing cultural dynamics.

      But I disagree in pushing this to the level of genocide and comparing it to the plight of millions of Jews. I think that’s irresponsible and denigrates the very real failure in humanity that was the holocaust.

      Yes, it is a social injustice, but the holocaust it’s not. Darfur it’s not. Rwanda it’s not.

      Let’s keep the dialog on-point, and find ways to replace backward leadership that permeates the ranks of Africa’s young states. Let’s put there relevant, globally-aware leadership with can bridge the divide between a grown-up world, and the struggling infant that is Africa today.

  4. Did it came to a point that Gay in Africa are discriminated? I think I heard or read something like that. I don't understand with these leaders, they are not fighting for human rights at all. They don't deserve their positions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>