Aid backlash update: Sex, national manhood, and “policy leverage”

this is un-African: hot lesbian action

Jenerali Ulimwengu, writing in the East African, lays his finger — sort of satirically, I think — on some of the key issues at stake in debating LGBT rights and aid conditionality. It’s about sex and money, to be sure, but also national manhood:

African men are a macho lot, and for many the very idea of a man-on-man sexual partnership is anathema. Woman-on-woman also. A man was created specifically to have liaison with a woman, and a woman was created as a tool, exclusively to serve the man, in both productive and reproductive pursuits. It is inconceivable that two such tools would dream of having a liaison other than with the man. Rather like the tractor dating the combine harvester on the farm. …

But let us push this macho thing to its logical conclusion. No self-respecting African man would let another man pay for his and his wife’s and his children’s upkeep.

Indeed, a man who allows that to happen would be considered as having been married by the provider man, call them economic homos.

Rejecting the one, reject the other too.

He’s talking here about accepting foreign aid. Julius Nyerere, one of African nationalism’s fathers, declared that “Independence cannot be real if a nation depends upon gifts and loans from another for Its development.”

Mwalimu Nyerere

Despite arguments that development aid should be seen as an entitlement, not a dole, as reparations for colonialism (see Jamaican lawyer Anthony Gifford making that case here), it still carries the political stigma of submission, of bowing and bending over before a foreign force.  That’s a symbolic fear, but tie the aid explicitly to enforced reforms in sex and gender, and you have an explosive mix of anxieties and insecurities. Are recipient governments “economic homos”? Down with the homos who made them that way! This is the mess David Cameron has helped create.

Now the backlash hits Tanzania. Nyerere’s country and creation. Tanzania has already ridden the giddy rollercoaster of the UK’s contradictory experiments with aid modalities for some time. In the early 2000s, it “was at the forefront of the global move toward enhancing the efficiency of external assistance. A central element of this was the move toward general budget support” (GBS). What this bureaucratese — from an official British evaluation of aid priorities — means is that donor governments started upping their direct aid to the Tanzanian government, stipulating only that it use the funds to achieve the goals decided in its poverty reduction strategy. This gave the Tanzanian government considerable flexibility in allocating the money: one supportive donor statement maintained that GBS builds democracy,  “strengthens the parliamentary role for decision-making,” and increases “national ownership of the development process.” Tanzania was a test case for this process. By the end of the decade, about 20% of the Tanzanian government’s budget came from GBS aid. The UK was the largest provider.

However, some donors, especially the British Tories, were unhappy with the results. The UK’s evaluation went on to say — getting extremely vague and wooly in its language, and offering not a single statistic:

Whilst general budget support has been  successful in providing increased discretionary funds to high priority areas, improvements  in  democratic accountability, through programmes designed to complement general budget support, have not been achieved and general budget support has had limited impact as an instrument of policy leverage.

The main issue obviously was that governments were nostalgic for that “policy leverage”: the ability to micromanage and dictate to Tanzanian authorities, something more targeted funding could provide.

Hence in early 2011 the UK decided to “reduce its use of General Budget Support (GBS), as the 2010 independent Country Programme Evaluation suggested that GBS was not the most effective way to deliver results in the current circumstances, and recommended a relative reduction.” Instead, more money would go to specific state programs and to civil society, as well as to suspiciously Thatcherite-sounding “support for sustainable private sector wealth creation — the driver of growth –- in order to achieve better results and VfM” [Value for Money].

The planned wealth creation interventions will be designed to catalyse private sector investment, thereby achieving a multiplier effect on our funding, whilst sharing risks with the private sector and promoting the longer-term sustainability of our interventions.

Poor Tanzanians could hardly be expected to rejoice at a program to make rich Tanzanians richer. And the government itself started resenting a civil society that, Cameron told them, would be getting money previously slated for the state budget.

So a ferment of anger commenced to build; the UK’s stated plans had an expressly divisive effect. And now, when Cameron — speaking largely for the ears of British voters — links aid to LGBT rights, everything’s set for an explosion. LGBT people will be blamed for the overall shifts in overseas aid; civil society in general will be reviled as a greedy ally of perverted people; the queers and the colonizers are squeezing the state’s coffers together! Let the scapegoating begin!

It’s begun. Here‘s Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Membe, last week:

“Tanzania is ready to end diplomatic ties with Britain [!] if it imposes conditions on the assistance it provides to pressurize for adoption of laws that recognize homosexuality. … We cannot be directed by the United Kingdom to do things that are against our set laws, culture and regulations…. What Cameron is doing might lead to the collapse of the Commonwealth.”

Here‘s the President of the Zanzibar region:

“Accepting that condition is next to impossible and we will never ever take that option. They can stop their aid if they wish.”

Here‘s Roman Catholic Cardinal Pengo, the Archbishop of Dar es Salaam:

“This country is rich in natural resources such that there is no point to be bulldozed and culturally distorted for the sake of aid. If the available resources would be well managed and utilized, we can sufficiently meet the country’s financial needs.”

All these brave manifestos, of course, point to who’ll be blamed for any aid cut, including the reallocations announced earlier in the year. The British High Commissioner moved promptly to declare that this was all a kerfluffle about nothing, that Cameron didn’t mean to be overheard when he said what he said:

‘I think the Prime Minister’s words have been taken out of context. The UK will not enforce such conditionality in Tanzania nor will it suspend development aid to the country.”

But that’s too little, too late. Cameron’s shot has been heard round the world, and it’s LGBT people caught in the crossfire who will suffer. Already reports, still unconfirmed, of violence targeting LGBT communities have started to leak out of Tanzania. Across the continent, more will likely come.

2 thoughts on “Aid backlash update: Sex, national manhood, and “policy leverage”

  1. An interesting and insightful article. I’m a LatAm expert, not Africa, but certainly understand what the issues are here. It seems Cameron has ignored concepts that have been brewing in health and HIV aid for a number of years…using this aid to assist countries in building health system capacity, and allowing them to do it in their own terms. By building national system capacity to address the health issues they face, some innovative and very workable programs have been developed in a number of sub-Saharan African countries. But when GBS is once implemented, it’s very difficult to take that away and use a different, “strings attached” approach…the change is bound to create a backlash, and especially when tied to an issue like LGBT rights. Aid has to be consistent, and abrupt policy changes such as Cameron has implemented create uncertainty, anger, and resentment…Especially the neoliberal approach Cameron has taken. Much as I’d like to see greater tolerance and acceptance of LGBT people in Africa, the social, cultural, and legal changes have to be led by LGBT people and their families in those countries. That’s a long, slow slog, but it’s the only way to create lasting change.

  2. Pingback: Resources for the unbelievers, on aid conditionality and LGBT rights | a paper bird

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