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Should donors rethink aid to states that persecute gay people?

Posted on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 11:00

In recent months, both the UK and US have raised the issue of aid being used to leverage countries to improve human rights, particularly for homosexuals. It has sparked heated debate. We asked representatives from both side of the debate to have their say. Join in the discussion below. The best responses will be published in the March edition of The Africa Report.

YES: David Cameron, UK prime minister (in a BBC interview)

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.

NO: Ahmed Lawan, senator, Nigeria

Our social structures as Africans means we don’t see the practice of homosexuality the same way as westerners do…. As a Nigerian, I don’t think it’s right. Even if I try to see it the way [westerners] do, withholding aid isn’t going to work because for me it’s a serious moral issue.

Western countries should approach this issue in a more diplomatic and polite way than withholding aid. If you are aiming to convince me, you must actually convince me rather than try to ambush me, which means you’ve failed to convince me. Western countries are entitled to their own opinions but they are also crucial to helping African countries. What’s essential for African countries is for democracy to take root and western countries can encourage that.

But the fact is the majority of Nigerians are completely against same-sex marriage. For us as a government, we must therefore do what the majority want because we’re trying to establish democracy.

NO: Linda Baumann, executive director of OutRight Namibia, a gay rights NGO based in Windhoek

If they stop giving aid to countries, what will happen to us as national organisations, in terms of development and work that we’ve been doing all these years? I think donors need to ensure that they strengthen the LGBTI organisations. Donors’ problem is that they want legal and policy reform, but they don’t ensure that service delivery at the same time is actually getting to the people.

It might sound a good idea for them to stop giving Africa aid, but they should know that as the LGBTI community, we have been surviving in this hostile environment and we have maintained our visibility and existence. For me, it should have been an approach of consultation with the LGBTI movement within countries and our regional structures. That is why we are suffering at country level. We will be fading out, and we will end up working within our bedrooms and within our houses. For the past three years it’s been a huge problem to ensure that we get key work done and ensure that the quality of our work is not compromised.

I think what they can do, they can strengthen their policies, or their donor guidelines in consultation with partners to say that part of our requirement is the inclusion of services, or interventions for LGBTI people, which forces mainstream organisations to include us within their work. That’s the only way we will be able to get reform.

What they’re doing, they’re making our lives difficult, basically. This is a very political move.

NO: Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a gay rights group in Uganda

I do not think that countries should cut aid to countries that criminalise homosexuality. Uganda depends a lot on donor aid. But I would be very happy to see conditions agreed upon in advance or the redirection of aid directly to NGOs. Let the country that is giving the aid make sure that the money is used for the right things. If they are giving money to do work on human rights, let it cover a broader human rights. If it is money on health, let health be for all. Taxpayers would not like to see that money that is given to human rights in Uganda is not used for all human rights. In case our government is shunning certain issues, like homosexuality, women’s rights and children’s rights, let the donors identify organisations that can do this work and redirect some of this aid to be able to directly benefit all the people on the ground.

We’ve got a lot of people here spreading propaganda about homosexuality and saying it’s a Western import, Western agenda and that now Western countries are trying to promote homosexuality here using money. [Secretary-Clinton’s message] is not well-received by the ordinary Ugandan person. But by literate, intelligent people, and the government, the message is well-received because they are the policy makers, and they understand the implications.

It is the mindset of the ordinary Ugandan that is really a time-bomb right now that we need to deal with. We need to address the issue of tolerance.

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