Gay rights: Africa, the new frontier

Published: December 7, 2011

Gay rights appear to have become a new frontier in diplomatic relations between Western powers and African governments, with the US and UK warning they would use foreign aid to push for homosexuality to be decriminalised on the socially conservative continent.

Addressing an audience of diplomats in Geneva, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called for the rights of gay people to be respected.

"Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world," Mrs Clinton said.

"Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality."

    If the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell”

Mrs Clinton did not outline sanctions for countries that fail to reform same-sex laws, but an official memorandum directs US government agencies to consider gay rights when making aid and asylum decisions.

Her comments follow a warning by UK Prime Minister David Cameron last month that the UK would reduce some aid to countries that refuse to recognise gay rights.

Homosexual acts are illegal in most African countries, including key Western allies such as Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Botswana.

Reacting angrily to Mrs Clinton’s speech, Ugandan presidential adviser John Nagenda told the BBC: "That fellow [Mr Cameron] said the same thing. Now this woman [Clinton] is interfering.

"If the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell."

Uganda is a staunch ally of the US, receiving military assistance to fight a local rebel group – the Lord’s Resistance Army – and has sent troops to Somalia to fight the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group.
Evangelical lobby

Mr Nagenda said Uganda would continue to co-operate with the US on security and other issues, but added: "If they are childish enough to take away aid, we’ll see what we do [in response]."

UK-based Justice for Gay Africans campaign group co-ordinator, Godwyns Onwuchekwa, told the BBC that with US Christian evangelical groups increasingly active in Africa, hostility toward gay people has worsened on the continent.

"The evangelical lobby is very powerful and we know that they lobbied Uganda’s parliament in 2009 to introduce anti-gay legislation," he said, referring to a private member’s bill – which was shelved after a local and international outcry – which called for the death penalty to be imposed for some homosexual acts.

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