African activists oppose cuts to Ugandan aid

Published: May 18, 2011

Responding to the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda by cutting off international aid to the country might not be a good idea.
 
That was the message on Tuesday from LGBT activists from Africa who participated in a panel discussion on the impact of homophobia in developing countries at the World Bank Headquarters.
 
The panel was sponsored by several organizations — including UNAIDS, World Bank GLOBE, Inter-American Development Bank GLOBE and the Council for Global Equality — to observe the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.
 
Speakers expressed reservations about urging multilateral development institutions, such as the World Bank, to cut funding from Uganda if the country’s lawmakers make another attempt at passing a draconian bill that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts.
 
Val Kalende, a lesbian Ugandan activist, said LGBT people in her country have been facing “a lot of backlash” because of international criticism over the proposed anti-gay legislation and cutting off aid may make that worse.
 
In January, David Kato, a gay activist who was working against the measure, was brutally murdered after a publication in the country identified him as gay.
 
“We don’t want our government to come up and start blaming us for the things that have been imposed on them,” Kalende said. “It’s not a question [to which] I can give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but I think it’s important for us to think about how to create spaces of better dialogue in Uganda.”
 
Kalende said she’d rather see an internal grassroots approach in Uganda to confront the anti-gay bill if it comes up again as opposed to restrictions on international aid.
 
“This is an issue of ignorance, and we need to address that within the Uganda kind of context and culture,” Kalende said. “Because without that debate, I don’t think cutting aid would change anything in Uganda.”
 
Joel Gustave Nana, executive director of African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, said he would “think twice” about calling for cutting off international aid because it would reinforce the idea that Western countries are imposing homosexuality on Uganda.
 
“When a condition is put on funding … my president then in Cameroon will not protect LGBT rights not because he doesn’t think that LGBT people deserve to be protected, but just because he wants to stand up for his country,” Nana said.
 
In Malawi, Joel said Germany has put a condition to protect LGBT rights as part of funding to the country, which has only prompted the African country to refuse the aid.
 
“And the Malawian government has said, ‘OK, keep your money,’” Nana said.
 
Kalende also cautioned the international community against voicing a greater outcry against the anti-gay bill as opposed to other injustices in Uganda.
 
According to the Associated Press, opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who finished second in the country’s presidential election this year, has this week been placed under house arrest, although the government denies that he’s being detained.
 
“So we don’t want to present ourselves as special people, we don’t want to present LGBT rights as special rights, we want to create a culture where LGBT rights are deeply entrenched in human rights,” Kalende said. “And I think that is going to bring about the social change that we need.”
 
The anti-homosexuality bill, which was introduced by lawmaker David Bahati, failed in the country’s parliament after the session ended last week without a floor vote on the legislation.
 
But the measure, commonly known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, alarmed observers across the globe after a committee hearing took place on the legislation and it seemed ready for a floor vote.

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