Resources for the unbelievers, on aid conditionality and LGBT rights

Aid received per capita across the global South, 2007: From wphr.org

I’ve been working desultorily (a beautiful word: say it slowly: it seems to capture being lazy but just alive enough to claim you’re still doing something) on an article on aid conditionality and LGBT rights.

This all comes, of course, from the controversy launched last fall by David Cameron’s declaring his government would cut development assistance to governments that committed violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This statement was idiotic in the pure, Greek sense: Cameron was, in essence, talking to himself. It came without any prior consulting with activists in the countries in question, and was an ill-planned effort to get domestic voices in the UK to shut up and stop pressuring the PM.(They did, obediently.) The ensuing backlash, across Africa and elsewhere, proved exceedingly discouraging about the idea. However, Hillary Clinton’s announcement that LGBT rights were a new US global priority gave new life to the project, and US advocates have urged the Obama administration to enlist American foreign aid money in the cause.

Northern governments have ben conditioning development aid on other issues for a while, especially in the last 30 years– usually affixing economic strings (hire our consultants! buy our goods! privatize your hospitals, if you want our aid!), less often political or rights-related ones.  I’ll raise specific questions in my article about whether something around sexuality- and gender-related abuses makes them peculiarly resistant to being stopped by such linkages. There are also legitimate concerns, though, about whether such linkages ever work the way they’re meant to, or are ever justified. I’m skeptical they do, or are. I’d like to get some discussion going as I finish the article, and so I’ll share some resources here for others who are skeptical, or in favor, or undecided, in hopes you’ll argue or respond. Respond! Use the comments section, or write me directly.

1) First off: here’s an interview with Radhika Balakrishnan, of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, that lays out some of the concerns with conditionality clearly.

2) The October 2011 statement by dozens of African activists opposing aid conditionality in the LGBT rights sphere is here. Hakima Abbas’s “Aid, Resistance, and Queer Power” expands on its points; her essay can be found in this booklet from Sexuality Policy Watch (pp. 16-19) along with “Aid conditionality and respect for LGBT people’s rights” by Luis Abolafia Anguita (pp. 9-15).

3) An especially important paper you should examine is this report by AWID (the Association of Women in Development), succinctly called Conditionalities Undermine the Right to Development. It sets out a wide range of facts and arguments on the issue. Because it’s 128 pages long, I’ll try in the following points to summarize some of the background with which it deals.

4) A lot of people (including many of those pushing for aid conditionality) don’t know about the political negotiations in the last 10 years over the issue of how aid works, or doesn’t. By “political” I mean: Northern and Southern governments have actually discussed the subject, sometimes with each other! In 2005, a major ministerial-level meeting produced the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, responding to a wide perception that aid wasn’t being … well, effective. Over 100 countries joined to affirm five pillars of meaningful assistance: Ownership, Harmonisation, Alignment, Results and Mutual Accountability. (OHARMA?)  OK, enough buzzwords. The key commitment under “Ownership” was that conditions on aid, if any, should be jointly owned. Donors should

draw conditions, whenever possible, from a partner’s national development strategy … Other conditions would be included only when a sound justification exists and would be undertaken transparently and in close consultation with other donors and stake holders.

Pragmatically, this recognized that conditions imposed from outside simply weren’t being met. Three years later, another high-level forum in Ghana produced the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA, a way better acronym). This proclaimed, “We will continue to change the nature of conditionality to support ownership” by developing countries. It mandated donors to “work with developing countries to agree on a limited set of mutually agreed conditions based on national development strategies,” and to “document and disseminate good practices on conditionality.”

Both these documents can be found here, and straightforward summaries are here and here. It’s important to see that the emphasis on joint commitments, as opposed to taking aid hostage, severely limits how far donor governments should use aid to enforce rights goals that aren’t fully shared (or aren’t integrated into development strategies). Do we want LGBT rights to be the basis for backtracking on these principles?

Anti-Debt Coalition activists protest an Asian Development Bank (ADB) meeting, Jakarta, 2009 (Reuters)

5) Civil societies and social movements engaged intensely in the lead-up to the Paris and Accra meetings, as well as a further gathering in Busan, Korea, in 2011. And while you might suppose that women’s movements, for example, would want aid more conditioned on rights policies — since they were urging women’s rights and gender equality as core components of development planning – almost exclusively they called for less conditionality. Part of their reasoning involved the possible devastating effect of slashes in aid. They also saw that conditions foreign governments imposed actually prevented civil society in developing countries from being part of the rights discussion: everything turned into an argument between the donor and recipient governments, with domestic voices ignored. A broad coalition of feminist and gender-equality groups in 2011, for instance, called on donors to

[m]ove away from policy conditionalities towards consistent application of concepts of multiple responsibility, accountability and transparency among both donor and developing countries. This could be advanced, for example, by supporting democratic scrutiny of development goals, policies and results. Policy conditionalities can have negative impacts on people, particularly on women and girls. They undermine the principle of ownership and contradict the right to development and self-determination.

Similar criticisms can be found here.

6) The Paris and Accra documents have come under considerable fire for not going far enough. This (briefer) briefing paper from AWID summarizes some of the critiques. And this analysis by the UK-based Overseas Development Institute looks at the debate over aid effectiveness “through the recipient lens,” by talking to officials in governments that get aid. One criticism is that the Paris-based language doesn’t put sufficient stress on “predictability” of aid — states and societies need to know that money isn’t going to go away when the givers shift their whims. Conditionality is a prime generator of unpredictability in aid. The fact that many Northern donor governments don’t have a cross-party consensus on LGBT rights worsens the prospects in this particular sphere. What happens if Obama imposes conditions on development aid based on getting rid of sodomy laws; then Romney defeats him, and suddenly sodomy laws are OK; then Hillary Clinton gets elected in four years, and abruptly the conditions are back on again? Manic roller-coaster swoops and swerves in the terms of assistance don’t just leave governments confused; they mean that anti-poverty, health or infrastructural programs in country after country can’t plan on future funding, or their own existence. That’s a heavy responsibility for LGBT rights to bear.

7) When advocates talk about “conditionality,” often they mean the set of economic — or combined economic and political — strings that donor governments started attaching to aid in the 1980s and 1990s. International lenders, the World Bank and IMF, were even more radical and reviled movers in this. But surely human rights conditions are a different, friendlier thing altogether?

never in history have so many owed so much to so little money from so few

No. What’s happened for 30 years is that donors tie human rights into a bundle with something called “economic freedom,” or maybe “good governance,” conceived as governing the economy with a particular set of virtues that will make particular classes rich. After all, they’re all “freedoms,” right? Rights thus get bound up with the infamous “Washington Consensus”: Privatize everything!  Shrink the state! Down with protection, up with free trade! Deregulate!  This neoliberal “reform” brings wealth to people who are plugged into global flows of capital. It impoverishes pretty much everyone else — women, minorities, unpopular groups even more than others. When human rights get wrapped up with its strictures, they lose their popularity as well. LGBT rights are already seen, in many places, as imports from the insidious Outside. If wedded to imposed neoliberal policies, their street cred likely shrinks to zero.

A fine example is a United States concoction called the “Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)” This strange being, set up by the Bush presidency in 2004, reveals how fake-friendly you can make aid conditionality appear, with the right rhetoric. It’s a foreign aid agency with a ton of US money, and a mandate to give it out only based on supposedly clear standards and criteria. If LGBT rights are going to be integrated into US giving, the MCC is one place it will start — and advocates are already targeting it to establish LGBT benchmarks for giving.

The MCC grades developing countries on 17 indicators; they must exceed a median score on a number of them to be eligible to apply for money. One set of indicators is called “Ruling Justly,” and includes “civil liberties” and “political liberties.”  This is the human-rightsy side. Another is called “Economic Freedom,” and includes “trade policy,” “inflation rate,” and “fiscal policy.”  This is the telling part. The “trade policy” benchmarks, for instance, come directly, explicitly, from the Heritage Foundation: a right-wing Washington think tank whose mission – self-described – “is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

MCC is all about eliminating trade barriers and denuding countries of defenses against foreign purchase and foreign sales. This means ending protective, import-substitution policies for building strong domestic industries: policies that have been the main means, in the last hundred years, for poor countries to develop. It means prying markets open to invasions of US goods, while eviscerating local producers. (The US government’s cabinet-level Trade Representative, statutorily responsible for doing the prying, sits on the MCC’s board.)  It’s striking, too, that one of the absolute rather than relative indicators the MCC demands is “inflation rate,” where it insists on a strict maximum of 15%. This restricts countries’ power to devalue their currencies and stimulate their economies. It locks the receipients of MCC aid into the same austerity trap that Eurozone nations are writhing against today.

A: Because of all the gay cruise ships that will visit

Even the most humane of the MCC’s indicators — the “Investing in People” silo, evaluating public spending on things like health and education — tends toward the lowest standards (and doesn’t pay even lip service to the concept of economic and social rights). The MCC is mainly a brass-knuckle enforcer of neoliberalism, with some salving concessions to human rights in the form of “Ruling Justly” (a bizarre phrase in itself).   Despite its cheerful visage, it’s a sinister strategy. Some serious caution is called for before letting LGBT rights be part of its package. To tie them to a project likely to inflict penury on subject populations could well be disastrous.

I’m not the only one who says this. For some detailed critiques of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, check out the three articles — by Maurizio Carbone, Emma Mawdsley, and Susanne Soederberg – here. (Because these texts are Rapunzelled in behind academic firewalls, I’ve uploaded them and let down their hair so you can read them. If the authors object, fine, but then they’re bad leftists.) And if you want to find out about your own country’s relations with the MCC, that information (the agency is at least transparent!) is here. My advice: Watch out.

But the difficulty transcends the MCC.  The donors most likely to give a friendly hearing to LGBT-rights conditionality are donors already practicing conditionality based on “economic liberalization or “open markets”: conditions that, steeped in neoliberalism, are abhorrent to most peoples of the global South. 

“Symptoms of Neoliberalism”: Cartoon from Mexico, by El Fisgón

8) My real problem with the arguments for aid conditionality goes deeper. It’s that the advocates stay confined within a tightly limited and lopped version of human rights, very different from the one most people in the world believe in.

Proponents speak as if, on one side, there were human rights lined up neatly: free expression, freedom from torture, freedom from sodomy laws, and so on. Then on the other, there’s development money. The only relation between the two sides is that, if a country respects the rights, it should get its development money. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t get any. Or not as much.

You would never imagine, hearing these folks promote this vision, that development is itself a human right. The UN General Assembly adopted its “Declaration on the Right to Development” in 1986, stating:

The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.

The Declaration and Programme of Action of the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights also dealt with the issue extensively: “Democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing,” it affirmed. And:

States should cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development. The international community should promote an effective international cooperation for the realization of the right to development and the elimination of obstacles to development.

Imagining that human rights are largely unconnected to development, except to legitimate restricting it, fits with a certain Anglo-American perspective in which economic and social rights don’t exist. But if you do believe development is a right, then to endorse conditionality as part of the standard human rights toolkit is, needlessly and destructively, to pit human rights against each other.

The “Quezon City Declaration on AID” — a 2007 manifesto by a coalition of Asian movements and NGOs — states that

The kind of aid we want must be premised primarily on a recognition of the history of colonization of countries across Asia, a history that persists in the continued exploitation by the North of the South, particularly the peoples of Asia and the region’s biodiversity. From this lens, aid becomes a matter of global redistributive justice, a just righting of historical wrongs.

In this light — and from the perspective of development as a human right —  it’s notable that, in 1970, donor countries pledged to devote 0.7% of their GDP to overseas development assistance. Almost none of them do so. In 2010 only five OECD countries met that mark; the US stood mired at less than a third. Surely the first priority of US and European advocates, including LGBT rights advocates, should be to increase their countries’ overall giving to meet their human rights commitments. They shouldn’t use LGBT rights as an excuse for governments to fail their pledges and give less.

It’s only by understanding development as a right that you can see how the Quezon City statement can both call on states to reject conditionalities, and

enjoin both donors and national governments to adopt a rights-based approach to aid giving, which means ensuring that human rights standards and social development principles guide all development cooperation and programming in all sectors and in all phases of the programming process. Right-holders and their supporters such as human right NGOs should be included in decision-making processes relating to aid money and allocation. Attention must especially be given to those whose voices are at risk of being silenced or marginalized vis-à-vis aid: women, children, and adolescents, or non-citizens such as in/formal migrant workers, indigenous peoples, small farmers and fishers, etc.

A “rights-based approach to aid giving” means not using rights to justify cutbacks, but using aid actively and creatively to promote rights, including funding decision-making and participation by the most marginalized communities. The mounting calls for aid conditionality in the LGBT sphere suggest a failure of imagination, an unwillingness to think through creative ways that aid can further rights, not curtail development. We can do better than that.

More on Hillary and Barack

the marriage of true minds: any impediments?

A madwoman sat next to me yesterday, on my flight from Paris to New York. She was in her twenties, and strung tight as piano wire, and professed to be half-German, half-Egyptian. She’d been subjected to a random search back at Charles de Gaulle. This put her in a state of steaming outrage, during which she emitted, to no one in particular, vocal threats: “I hope they bomb that airport. I hope everyone is killed. I feel like I am in Auschwitz.  How dare they serve Coca-Cola on this plane?”  Finally she wrote, in big black letters on a piece of paper, and pinned to the TV screen in front of her:


FUCK YOU

CHARLES DE GAULLE
HITLER’S AIRPORT AND
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
I hope you are blown to bits and
Everybody dies
Coke Kills

I huddled in the aisle seat, thinking in no special order: a) Given all the security, it’s impossible she has a bomb. b) Then why does she keep talking about it? c) Can the stewardesses see that note? d) I need more wine. e) If the stewardesses see this, she will be taken to Guantanamo. f) If we make an emergency landing so she can be taken to Guantanamo, my flight will be six hours late. g) Should I protest if she’s taken to Guantanamo? h) Do I want to go to Guantanamo? i) I need more wine.

Air France handled things surprisingly well, as it happens. Nobody was wrestled to the floor or cuffed. Instead, a senior, marmoreally-coiffed French woman shunted me from my seat and lectured the passenger for almost an hour. I heard snatches of the one-way conversation: “You can of course think zat. But you cannot say it on an airplane. And you cannot expose it zat way for others to zee.” There is nothing like a dressing-down from une française soignée to put even incipient psychosis in its place. The note vanished, the writer calmed down, the plane landed on time, and no one seemed to go Gitmoward. I hope someone was waiting past customs with Valium.

I’d meant to spend the flight thinking about the Obama administration’s new LGBT human rights initiative; and instead I worried about whether seat 27b had a ticket to a Caribbean prison. Yet this made sense somehow. How progressive are the Obamaites in talking about human rights!  They meet with rights NGOs and flatter their fragile egos; they support the touchy issues, the women and the queers; they speechify. But Guantanamo is still there. The military tribunals still promise to happen in a slow parody of justice. Drones still descend from the sky, with a blue whine beyond appeal, to kill people we don’t like. It’s nice to be part of the class that merits concern, not cages; protection, not jet-fueled murder. This administration does demonstrate more real action on human rights than its bloody predecessor.  But the action is just selective enough to leave you wondering why you were singled out, when so many others still suffer the vast yet individuated violence. As Samuel Beckett wrote, musing on the two miscreants crucified on either side of Christ: “Do not despair: one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume: one of the thieves was damned.”

Reading some of the US responses to Clinton’s speech only reinforces this queasy feeling. Take gay activist-at-large Wayne Besen, who writes:

A historic address of this magnitude was desperately needed to counter the rising tide of backwards and barbaric nations that had recently been persecuting LGBT people to distract from their glaring problems. …

The list of countries that recently declared war on sexual minorities include Russia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Iran, and Zimbabwe. For the contemptible despots who run these underachieving nations, fomenting homophobia makes political sense. .. [S]omething drastic needed to happen to turn back the tide of violence and discrimination that plagued these “loser nations.”

Or, as Besen intones elsewhere,

The LGBT community rarely thrives in backward places that promote ignorance over education and medieval views over modernity. As these intellectual swamps sink, sexual minorities make ideal targets… [P]laces that are leaders in passing anti-gay laws are losers in virtually every other category that defines successful, civilized societies.

I can’t imagine how you could even communicate to Besen that the gays in  “loser nations” like Nigeria or Uganda don’t really like having their countries called “backward and barbaric.”  Besen wouldn’t get it: he’d counter, But the gays are civilized!  It’s the other Cameroonians who live in trees! In other words, he understands why the gays in loser lands deserve to be singled out: they’re better than their compatriots, more successful, more unbarbaric, more like us.

Why would that be so? Well, possibly the foreign gays have a cultural leg up, and have gotten book-learned and Westernized by reading … oh, for instance, Wayne Besen, who’s available on the Internet even in darkest Russia. Or possibly it goes deeper, it’s in the chromosomes, and even in Cameroon the gays are genetically predisposed to be like “us,” park-cruising rather than tree-dwelling, forwards rather than backwards.

Except that isn’t so. As far as a) the chromosomes go, there are plenty of theories about the genetic roots of gayness, but none of them argue it’s linked to a gene for intelligence or Western-ness. And if you tried to contend that, there’d be Wayne Besen to disprove it: clearly not the brainiest fish in the primal soup, and a permanent dilution in the gay gene pool. Moreover, as far as b) culture is involved, I can testify that the lesbians and gays in foreign countries really don’t read Besen ever, at all. Maybe this is evidence for a) after all — maybe their intelligence genetically disinclines them to study him; but then you have to deal with Besen disproving the theory again, because after all he’s gay and he reads himself. Or you’d think so.

By a fearful symmetry, though, the forward Besen and the “backward” lands he criticizes match each other. His rant exactly echoes how the offending parties he condemns rage against the initiative. There, too, people know why Clinton singles out the queers: they’re infiltrating agents of the West, objects of its special and invasive interest. The rhetoric is entirely predictable, because it’s been used so much before. “Africa new frontier for West’s gay rights crusade,” one African news source headlines. In Nigeria, now finalising a draconian bill to ban public expression around homosexuality, legislators rushed to assert their independence:

“Why would America want to dictate to a sovereign country which law to make and which one not to make? How can the depraved ways of a minority become the standard for law making in Nigeria?”

And so on.

Then there’s the question of just how the Obama administration will support LGBT rights elsewhere in the world. Clinton’s speech and the president’s memorandum are rather vague on the techniques. This leaves considerable white space to be filled in by the imagination. On the right, various voices already kvetch because Obama isn’t willing to send the army out to protect the gays. On the neoconservative Commentary site, Abe Greenwald complains:

At the end of this year, the United States will cease to be a military presence in Iraq. Here’s whose influence will grow in Iraq once the U.S. leaves: Al-Qaeda, whose new leader once shot a male teenage rape victim in the head for the “crime” of homosexuality. … Who else stays on in Iraq after the pro-LGBT president has pulled out American forces? Iran, world leader in the public hanging of gay teens.

And, in 2012, when Obama withdraws surge troops from Afghanistan against the advice of our military commanders, what exactly does he think Afghan homosexuals will face in the resurgent Taliban (the same Taliban Hillary Clinton is trying desperately to strike deals with)? The answer is known: they will face something called “death by falling walls.” …

Although George W. Bush is vilified by many in the gay community for talking about the sanctity of marriage, the freedom agenda he instituted did more for global human rights—gay or otherwise—than any speech or memo that might warm your heart.

Never mind that Bush’s own Texas has, statistically, almost certainly killed more teenage gay offenders in recent years than Iran. The point is: the best way to protect human rights is to invade and conquer countries. We’ve already got our hands on Texas. What about the others? By not listing an axis of homophobic evil — bauxite-rich Jamaica! oil-endowed Iran! — Obama failed to make the case for future action. He didn’t even use the homophobes to prolong the invasions we’ve already got going on.

If diplomacy for the neocons is merely a preamble to bombing, for many US and European gays it’s a synonym for money. And in this equation they’re aided by the brouhaha over David Cameron’s incredibly ill-handled statements on LGBT rights and foreign aid last month. This fiasco — threats that Cameron bandied about without even the pretense of a strategy, then tried to abandon after half of Africa reacted in fury — has imprinted itself on the imaginings of activists and reporters alike. If you have an agenda, why not enforce it with cash? Even the US and UK headlines on Clinton’s speech suggested an aid linkage. “U.S. to Use Foreign Aid to Promote Gay Rights Abroad,” the New York Times said.Gay rights must be criterion for US aid allocations, instructs Obama,” the Guardian reported. And of course the chronically inaccurate sporadically truthful blogger Paul Canning spun that spin: “Obama admin to ‘leverage’ foreign aid for LGBT Rights.”

As always, pursuing exactly what Canning says gives an insight into a whole mindset, of which he is the sum, the symbol, and the White Whale. He embraces multitudes, the way a blank piece of paper contains all the dumb things that could be written on it. Canning is very attached to the idea of “leverage,” so much so that when @iglhrc tweeted, “Significantly, neither the memo nor Clinton’s speech said LGBT rights would become a condition for foreign assistance,” his beak bit back:

“It says ‘leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination’. Sounds like conditionality to me!”

But it’s true; neither Clinton nor Obama said a syllable about conditionality. The word “leverage,” which Cameron rolls lusciously on his tongue, comes not from the Clinton speech or the Obama memo, but from the fact sheet the White House press office put out to summarize things for reporters. It has no official weight.   The president’s directive instead ordered:

 Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.

“Ongoing efforts” doesn’t sound like a completely new policy — rather, like existing conversations more aggressively pursued. The US has a very spotty record on linking aid to any human rights issue; ask any Egyptian about America’s long support for the military, or any Palestinian about … well, anything. It would be a peculiar and skewed occurrence if the administration launched a first-ever policy of general aid conditionality in the specific and limited sphere of LGBT rights. And most likely, it won’t happen. The idea of “leverage,” and of supporting LGBT rights at the domestic level, will most likely involve private and particular conversations. Any public aspect is adequately embodied by Clinton’s proposal to launch a fund for LGBT rights advocacy.

Canning, however, wants broad aid conditionality; it gives him a sense of agency; it makes him feel that his emails to the UK Foreign and Colonial Office bear immediate fruit in action, in treasuries trembling and programs withering on the vine. Much as the neocons see diplomacy as war pursued by ineffective means, Canning sees it as money given or withheld under a convenient cover. In either case, the Obama statement becomes a field of dreams, a place where imaginings about Northern power get printed or palimpsested on the global South. It’s fun, it’s fertile, but it’s not quite real.

Trying to look realistically at what Clinton and Obama actually said, I still see occasion for optimism.  The contrast with Cameron’s recent blather is telling. Cameron came up with a quick-fix bit of rhetoric, not to benefit LGBT activists anywhere else in the world, but to silence the Peter Tatchells and Kaleidoscope Trusts, noisy Brits who wanted to see their country dominating the Commonwealth in the cause of justice and freedom. It meant nothing except short-term political gain, and when he got burned loudly enough by the stubborn ex-colonized, he flailed ineptly, trying to dog-paddle backwards and away.  There is, by contrast, little domestic political gain Obama and Clinton can extract from their move; the LGBT vote is largely on the administration’s side already. On Clinton’s part, and I suspect on Obama’s also, there’s a sincere commitment. Her speech was intelligent; it reflected an engagement not just with the issue itself but with the reflexive opposition it inspires. They’re trying to develop a strategy, not just a posture. The reaction from the usual suspects — such as Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania — whlle vocal, has actually been subdued by comparison with the Cameron affair, and this also, I think, displays a feeling that there is something substantive here that can’t simply be shouted out of existence.

The devil partly lies in the absence of detail, and in the scope this opens for disaster. Obama’s memo offers the agencies few patterns or directions for action. They’re supposed to come up with their own plans, and no one knows what that will add up to.  A dozen or so Southern LGBT activists were flown to Geneva to sit and applaud Clinton’s speech; the main measure of success will be whether they, and their innumerable colleagues elsewhere, continue to be consulted on what the US government should do in their countries. What if aid conditionality really does rear its head — what if an ill-conceived proposal for tying all funds to repeal of a sodomy law moves publicly out of the embassy in some unfortunate nation? What if a particular post decides on loud, press-release-based advocacy that backfires and stigmatizes local LGBT groups as servants of a foreign power?

In June 2011, the US Embassy in Islamabad took a pointer from Obama’s proclamation celebrating US Pride that May, where he’d perorated that “we rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” The embassy hosted what it called “Islamabad’s first ever gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Pride Celebration,” to show

continued U.S. Embassy support for human rights, including LGBT rights, in Pakistan at a time when those rights are increasingly under attack from extremist elements throughout Pakistani society.  Over 75 people attended including Mission Officers, U.S. military representatives, foreign diplomats, and leaders of Pakistani LGBT advocacy groups. … Addressing the Pakistani LGBT activists, the Chargé, while acknowledging that the struggle for GLBT rights in Pakistan is still beginning, said “I want to be clear: the U.S. Embassy is here to support you and stand by your side every step of the way.”

That’s from the embassy’s press release. “Every step?” Well, except for steps outside the embassy walls.  It didn’t occur to them that announcing the country’s “first-ever” Pride from behind the turrets of a fortified compound, guarded against a public enraged by American assassinations and bombs, sent a not-very-indigenous message. A South Asian blogger remarked:

Within a few days, the streets of major urban cities of Pakistan … were hailed with the students and political workers of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious political party, chanting slogans at their highest pitches against homosexuals and America. For them it was a golden opportunity to kill both ‘the evils with a single stone’. Banners were displayed in major cities, especially in the federal capital, within a few days demanding persecution of gays and accusing Americans of propagating and imposing this ‘westernized’ idea. The lash back didn’t remain limited to the Jamaat-e-Islami only but sooner most of the political parties joined this bandwagon to form a coalition against the government for their menial political interests. …

Unthankfully, all the sensational and flowery claptrap peddled around this event turned out to be a disaster for the budding underground Pakistani LGBT movement as the US Embassy conveniently over[looked] the repercussions this event would have brought in an already critical country which is fighting against terrorism and radicalization while sacrificing its peace, its liberty, its sovereignty and countless lives of its law enforcement agencies and civilians alike.

protesting US Pride in Pakistan

The idiocy of all this seems obvious; but it wasn’t obvious to the diplomats involved. With an only-broadly sketched plan, there’s ample leeway for an embassy or two to try this catastrophic kind of thing again.

But the devil lies also in the way that Clinton’s initiative necessarily entangles LGBT movements around the world — mostly progressive, mostly loud in their opposition to unjust and oppressive domination, many resolutely radical — with the US, its rights record, its power, and its imperialism.  And the truth is, this may be terrible, but we are at a point where such imbrication could no longer be avoided. We’re stuck with being fully a part of the world we live in, and with trying to maintain our ideals and values despite, not through and with, our friends.

When I started lobbying the UN about fifteen years ago, queers had no power. Nobody offered them the slightest regard; nobody noticed their politics or positions; with the possible and partial exception of the Dutch, there wasn’t a single country willing to make even a rhetorical genuflection to the rights of LGBT people as a serious issue anywhere in its foreign policy.  This absence of clout was wonderful, inspiring. The lightness of being it brought was not only bearable, it was beautiful, an afflatus of innocence that bore one ecstatically aloft in places the merely practical could never reach. Trying to advocate in this atmosphere of glorious irrelevance, one was never corrupted by the blandishments of power; no one wanted your support, so there was not the least temptation to sell it. In powerlessness lies moral purity; the former is the latter’s fount and succor. One can easily be absolute for truth and right when nobody pays attention.

Now, of course, there are states that pay attention to us. And for better or for worse, we have to deal with their histories and practices, their virtues and their sins, because these affect us. If we don’t watch out, they will all become our own. When South Africa sponsors us at the UN Human Rights Council, we have to recognize that it is seen as an imperial power on much of the continent it underpins. When the US speaks out on our behalf, our future words thrum with the undertone of its assertions, like a basso ostinato. The echoes of its peculiar idealism and its failures, its invasions and its abuses, from Martin Luther King to Rumsfeld, from Guatemala to Abu Ghraib, are disharmonies that will resound in what we say and do. We have to decide when to speak with them and when to speak against them, and reserve and exercise the right to the latter as well as the former.

We can’t, as movements, reject all those who want to aid us. Maturity means negotiating, not denying, these obstacles. Politics means accepting the burden of having — however little — power. But we also have to be willing to stand up to our friends and risk their enmity in the name of what we see as truth, instead of clapping hands mechanically and taking handouts with uncritical gratitude. Indeed, nobody needs to be grateful for Hillary and Barack’s support. Never thank others for recognizing human rights, unless their case is such that they show real courage or risk some tangible  cost in the act. Otherwise, they’re doing nothing more than their duty, to you and to the world. And a duty demands no recompense. Acknowledge it, but feel no obligation. You owe nothing in return.

Instead, each movement in each country needs to figure out whether it will accept America’s new assistance, and if so, how to do so on its own terms. Hillary and Barack’s one-two performance carries opportunities. More largely, though, and in the ethical sphere, it offers a renewed challenge: to maintain values in the face of power.

“A constellation of conversations”: Hillary and Barack and LGBT rights

The big gay news today is the one-two punch provided by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton gave a major speech for Human Rights Day at the UN in Geneva that was entirely devoted to the question of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. (The initial transcript I saw, apparently taken down by somebody as she was speaking, referred to the latter as “trance gender,” which is a nice touch.) I’ll cite just two passages (from the official transcript):

Reaching understanding of these issues takes more than speech. It does take a conversation. In fact, it takes a constellation of conversations in places big and small. And it takes a willingness to see stark differences in belief as a reason to begin the conversation, not to avoid it….

[T]o LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.
The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy. In our embassies, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with a range of partners to strengthen human rights protections for all. In Washington, we have created a task force at the State Department to support and coordinate this work. And in the coming months, we will provide every embassy with a toolkit to help improve their efforts. And we have created a program that offers emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people.

Obama, meanwhile, issued a presidential memorandum” outlining concrete steps he expects the entire US foreign affairs machinery to take in defense of LGBT people’s human rights.

On an emotional level, I was and am quite moved. It’s my government, after all, and if Hillary doesn’t quite speak for all the American people (amnesiac Texan Rick Perry promptly trumpeted that “This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop … Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money”), having this concern placed by the country’s leaders firmly in the contested, troubled arc of American history and its bend toward justice is a powerful thing — an impressive moment. On the other hand, there are still many questions about what it means. How much are they going to consult with local movements before intervening for them? Are they really talking about aid conditionality (a question both their statements left open, but an implication seized on by most of the mainstream news reports)?

Two things, though. First, there’s actually the suggestion of a strategy here, the product of some attentive political and progressive thought, not just a headline-grabbing rhetorical idiocy like what David Cameron produced last month. And the US is not simply targeting its former colonies or satrapies for moral lecturing. If they genuinely engage with the issue, truly interesting things could happen.

Reactions welcome.

Bend over

 

Mr. Dithers staring across the Red Sea

An unpleasantly vivid cartoon from the Kenya Star, about the Cameron aid conditionality fiasco, indicates how the discourse is going.

The face of Africa, when tilted on its side like this, looks remarkably like Mr. Dithers from the old Dagwood and Blondie comics. It’s perhaps appropriate that the scream is coming from the area of Egypt.

Aid and the China connection: Pink dollar, meet red renminbi

Like a rainbow

A reporter once said that the most boring headline he could think of was one beginning “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.” OK; here’s a Canadian initiative; see if you think it’s worthwhile. As the premier of British Columbia gets ready for a trade mission to China, she’s laid down some rules for business people tagging along:  “Tourism operators marketing trips to the province for Chinese people must agree not to promote casinos, gambling or gay tourism.”

B.C. Tourism Minister Pat Bell …  said the federal government accepted the terms when it negotiated approved-destination status with China last year, and B.C. had no say in the matter.

Approved-destination status allows tourism operators in Canada to market their services in China, and Chinese tour operators to organize and promote travel packages to Canada.

He said B.C. simply wanted to ensure that its tourism operators understood the rules: “We’re not necessarily endorsing the specifics.”

The government soon retracted its requirement. But it was an embarrassing moment, especially with Vancouver trying to hawk itself as a gay tourist destination, like other cities from Cape Town to Tel Aviv. It’s also embarrassing in other venues. Gay conservatives in the US have long contended that the “pink dollar,” the buying power of gay consumers, can eradicate inequality better than the law. As Stephen G. Miller, founder of the right-wing Independent Gay Forum, affirms, “Corporations increasingly are courting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender markets for their buying power and trendsetting value”:

The gay market is a significant demographic. … Free markets work to sweep away the ineffectual, inefficient and irrational (including unprofitable prejudice) when allowed by the state to do so.

Maybe so — but not if they meet a bigger market with prejudices of its own. China right now is the mother of all buyers and sellers, the 800-pound panda (dragon? duck?) in the room. The puny pink dollar can posture if it likes. The red renminbi — China’s victorious currency — rules.

The same is true of China’s aid policies. That‘s the chord this story struck with me — coming in the midst of the global South debate over the UK’s vague promises to tie LGBT rights to development assistance. Chinese aid, to Africa in particular, has become a slowly growing question-mark, a cloud of discomfort, hanging over geopolitical discussions in the West. A blog I noticed last week carried a British gay man’s “Letter to Tanzania,” in which he intones with gravid sarcasm:

To have to lower yourself to accept money from such selfish nations as the UK must be extremely galling.  I’m sure you have only done so for the last 35 years because you simply had no other choice, but maybe, if you’ll permit me to make a little suggestion, it’s time to consider asking the Chinese for more help, or some of the oil-rich nations of the Middle East?  They don’t let pesky little things like gay rights get in their way so I think you’d get on very well.

Ask the Chinese? Uh, don’t worry. African countries will.

China’s aid role is a crucial point not fully considered in the aid debate. Western countries that once had plenty of of “policy leverage” in attaching conditions to assistance now have less, because another donor has come to town.

The motives and forms of Chinese overseas aid are not well understood elsewhere. All that’s fully known is that there’s a lot of it. In a recent report, researchers from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa argue China doesn’t strive deliberately to obscure the aid flows; it’s just that the information is scattered in different papers and websites through the Chinese bureaucracy. Still, it’s difficult to extract simple figures — such as how much money goes to Tanzania or Malawi –from the facts at hand.

However, for the first time, China this year published a white paper outlining its policies on overseas development assistance. Vague in many areas, the document is evidently but perhaps not adequately calibrated to assuage uneasy critics in other industrialized countries.  One can take three overall facts from it:

a) China is overwhelmingly interested in Africa. Almost half its aid goes there.

b) Chinese aid goes heavily to economic infrastructure projects. For instance, the government breaks down its low-interest loans to developing countries as follows:

c) China advertises its aid as no-strings-attached, in respect of rights or any other conditions. It still proudly foregrounds the “Eight Principles for Economic Aid” Mao promulgated in 1964, among them:  “In providing aid to other countries, the Chinese government strictly respects the sovereignty of recipient countries, and never attaches any conditions or asks for any privileges.”

Let’s start with the last point first.

Unconditionality is obviously attractive to many aid recipients, often for all the worst reasons. Robert Mugabe knows that Beijing will never care if his handshakes leave bloodstains behind. China is notoriously unwilling to integrate rights discussions into its aid mechanisms — indeed, to talk about rights at all. (The white paper contains no mention of rights, or of gender for that matter.) When I worked at Human Rights Watch, directors had desperate discussions about the impossibility of opening any channels with China’s rulers. At one point we were urged to make any kind of contact we could — if we met a Chinese official anywhere,  even in a public restroom, to strike up a conversation and try to connect. I have no idea whether any HRW staff got arrested for indecent conduct as a result.

Conditionality in Western aid has a long history. As one US official said in the 1990s, “”Aid appears to have established as a priority the importance of influencing domestic policy in the recipient countries.” However, it’s far from true that all or even most conditions  tied to aid were rights-related. Many were raw attempts to gain economic advantage — which makes the whole subject of conditionality rankle in the memory of some nations. One account notes:

[Njoki Njoroge] Njehu [director of the 50 Years is Enough campaign] cited the example of Eritrea, which discovered it would be cheaper to build its network of railways with local expertise and resources rather than be forced to spend aid money on foreign consultants, experts, architects and engineers imposed on the country as a condition of development assistance.

Strings attached to US aid for similar projects, she added, include the obligation to buy products such as Caterpillar and John Deere tractors. “All this adds up to the cost of the project.”

WIll China in fact be better? Many suspect China’s aid programs carry a similar economic agenda: the attempt to build markets for cheap Chinese goods.The Chinese white paper, as one commentator notices, refers to “financial support of a certain scale to developing countries” in the form of “preferential export buyer’s credits.” The pundit adds,

[T]his means more subsidies to help China’s exporters continue making money. It also means preferential financial packages that will continue to make it difficult for large multi-national organisations – including those from developing countries like South Africa and elsewhere in Africa – to compete with China’s for major contracts.

Economic infrastructure aid reveals the other side of Chinese ambitions. Here, Chinese assistance seems focused on a few areas. For instance, the graph shows that transport stands out: the white paper adds that

By the end of 2009, China had helped other developing countries build 442 economic infrastructure projects, such as the Sana’a-Hodeida Highway in Yemen, the Karakoram Highway and Gwadar Port in Pakistan, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway, the Belet Uen-Burao Highway in Somalia, the Dry Dock in Malta, the Lagdo Hydropower Station in Cameroon, Nouakchott’s Friendship Port in Mauritania, railway improvement in Botswana, six bridges in Bangladesh, one section of the Kunming-Bangkok Highway in Laos, the Greater Mekong Sub-region Information Highway in Myanmar, the Shar-Shar Tunnel in Tajikistan, the No.7 Highway in Cambodia, and the Gotera Interchange in Addis Ababa of Ethiopia.

Many of these projects would be quite useful in moving large quantities of heavy things, as well as energy, from place to place.

This tends to support suspicions that a priority of Chinese aid is to facilitate extracting raw materials and other resources from recipient countries. The pattern of Chinese trade with Africa, which is burgeoning, bolsters this.  Crude oil and minerals are the main things China imports from there.  You can see an emerging picture of the Africa Chinese aid may aim to build. Countries send raw materials to China; in return, they become a market for Chinese consumer goods, which presumably help make the populations happy. The prospective flows of capital, and the vision of mobs kept quiescent by cut-rate cellphones and toys, must be pleasing to many an African oligarch’s reveries.

Not everyone would agree with this. (For a nuanced and more optimistic view of China’s role in Africa, see Deborah Brautigam’s blog here.) But if it bears some truth, there are at least two lessons to be drawn. There’s one for Western governments — and activists in their countries — who want to support LGBT movements, and human rights movements, in the South. There’s another for Western states thinking about the geopolitical future.

First, on a purely pragmatic level — and whatever you think of the ethics of aid conditionality – tying bilateral aid to LGBT rights won’t work. It won’t work because increasingly governments know they can get stringless aid from a different source, China. The best way for Western governments to advance LGBT rights is to aid LGBT rights movements themselves directly. As African states move into the orbit of a flush and generous funder uninterested in rights protections, the same will hold true for almost any human rights issue. If you want to promote it, don’t try bullying officials. Your dollars or pounds, pink or green or whatever, carry no clout against the indifferent renminbi. Fund the advocates; fund civil society.

Then there’s the question of Western countries’ own self-interest.  I am obviously unwilling to make an argument that appeals, even implicitly, to the the industrialized countries’ desire for unrestricted access to the fuels and other raw goods lodged in Africa’s soils.

That interest can’t and shouldn’t be met. We want a world in which countries keep autonomous control over their own resources, and  tend and protect the environments in which those resources are embedded. But, again in pragmatic terms, one can at least appeal to Western countries’ desire to keep China from having unrestricted access, either. This is a geopolitical concern that most of the old industrialized countries share.

The best way to do that is for Western governments to support strong democracies; strong civil societies, but also strong states that are simultaneously responsive to the diverse interests in their own populations, and resiliently resistant to external economic and political pressure. Such societies and such states will indeed make the West pay a fair price for any resources they get, on the countries’ own terms; but they’ll make China do the same. Such proximate equality is probably the best bargain the West can hope for.

The other alternative they have is to rely on the outworn oligarchies they’ve supported for decades, perhaps with new faces and new uniforms, but with the same old kleptocratic manners and brutal morals. That seems to be the route Western states are taking now. How much are they really concerned with full democratization, and how much with clinging to “political leverage,” and economic leverage too? The example of diehard US and European support for Yoweri Museveni in Uganda is not promising.

The problem is, oligarchies are notoriously ungrateful. They know a cash cow when they see one — they grew up milking them — and if the Chinese market appears before their kraal, swollen and mooing, the temptations of a dried-up West will seem desiccated and despicable. China has as much money as the West has now, and will soon have more. Oligarchies can be bought. Buying democracies is harder.

In Zambia, long lusted after by the industrial world for its copper reserves, Michael Sata — locally known as “King Cobra” — ran three populist presidential campaigns partly based on condemning Chinese economic intrusions. He called for investigations of working conditions in Chinese enterprises, and demanded economic independence for Zambia. In 2006, China threatened to cut diplomatic ties if he were elected. After two losses, Sata finally won in 2011, toning down his rhetoric somewhat. (He also survived a campaign controversy fed by his Christianist opponent after he appeared tentatively to support LGBT people’s rights. In a presage of current aid controversies, opponents accused him of selling out — for Danish money.)

Is Sata’s imperfect populism, defending African autonomy against all comers, a way forward for the continent?

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.

Santorum spotted in Ghana: Panic follows

Off with their headlines: from Ghana's press

“I love a moral issue,” Elaine May would say, back in the great days of Nichols and May. “It’s so much more interesting than a real issue.”

That pretty much describes the dynamics of a moral panic. It provides endless things to talk about, none of them real. Ghana continues down this path, amid a panic about homosexuality now fed by David Cameron’s ham-handed promises to tie overseas aid to LGBT rights. People are describing things that don’t exist, ignoring things that do, and venting paranoid ideas in pompous, concerned, and official tones. Those suffering from the frenzied arguments and the UK’s ill-timed intervention, of course, are the actual LGBT people of Ghana — real enough, but constrained to listen as their lives are described in terms that range from Biblical wrath to pseudomedical quackery.

Yesterday, for instance,  Rev. Godson King Akpalu, President of the Ghana Mental Health Association (GMHA) told reporters that “homosexual and lesbian perpetrators” are mentally ill.

Rev. Akpalu said the Ghana Mental Health Association will classify the perpetrators and supporters of these “dirty acts” as suffering severe mental problems and should be referred to a mental health facility for early treatment before suicide sets in.

He said given the opportunity, even mental patients would choose an opposite sex partner, emphasising  that, “We as a nation cannot sell our birthright for a handful of meals and drag our posterity into curses and shame. …  [H]ow can we in the name of foreign aid from a Godless people flout the laws of God which we all abide by from our very existence?”

Santorum stains

Judging from the reverend’s words, Rick Santorum has been sighted in Accra, adding to the atmosphere of terror:

The GMHA President said it was common knowledge that some of the men and boys who had fallen prey to such unnatural acts wore “pampers” to hold up the unnatural flow of fluid that gushes out from their anus, and asked whether this made the practice a natural one.

Meanwhile, in Parliamentary debate on Thursday, MPs

condemned homosexuality in no uncertain terms, with a call on the Executive to amend the Criminal Code, Act 29 (1960) to provide for stiffer punishment for those who engage in the practice. They gave the assurance that a bill presented to the House in that regard would be passed swiftly.

Opposition MP Eugenia Kusi said:

“Madam Speaker, I would want us to amend the criminal code to make that act a criminal offence. I know that if that kind of bill comes before us we will not waste time in passing it”. She advised children to stay away from people who claim to be homosexuals and report those who try to woo them into the act to their parents and guardians.

Ghana, of course, already criminalizes homosexual conduct, with Section 104 (1) (b) of the Code defining  “unnatural carnal knowledge” of “any person of sixteen years or over with his consent” as a misdemeanor. (Misdemeanors are liable to variable terms of imprisonment, usually less than three years.)

J. J. Appiah, leading the debate, told fellow lawmakers that

“Human right undoubtedly is supreme and fundamental  to our existence and I am glad to say that it is also our supreme interest as legislators but when these rights appear abnormal and barbaric then measures should be put in place to curtail them. … It has been established that lesbianism is a cause of many sexually transmitted diseases. In the face of this it appears most logical, most necessary, for us as a House to enact laws that would uphold the principles of morality and integrity”.

Oye Lithur

Nana Oye Lithur, a prominent and courageous Ghanaian feminist and human rights lawyer, spoke out against the spreading panic, as she has repeatedly in recent months. According to Ghanaweb

She feared with the increasing emotional sentiments against homos, people might take advantage of the situation by physically assaulting or even killing people suspected to be homos. She said as religious leaders preach tolerance to political leaders in the country they are obliged to use the pulpit to preach tolerance for homos and not hate speech. She said pastors must live according to the biblical quotation of “love thy neighbour as thyself” in their dealing with homos.

She added:

“Not even the President of Ghana can deny anybody human rights irrespective of the person’s sexual orientation, ethnic group, gender and what have you. These are guaranteed in our constitution and everybody in Ghana has an obligation to respect that constitution. ”

Backlash in Ghana: New anti-gay legislation discussed

a Ghana headline from 2003: but we need more laws!

Ghana, in recent months, has been the scene of a mounting moral panic about the “threat” of homosexuality. The press warns about  “increasing growth In numbers” of homosexuals:

Some people make the claim that homosexuality (sexual relations between people of the same sex) became known in Ghana when tourists, international workers and even missionaries flooded the country in the 70s. Those within the group who were homosexuals invited innocent boys to their houses, flushed them with gifts and money and promised to send them to the rich countries. … Many Ghanaians went abroad and returned as homosexuals. Many also went to prison and indulged in gay habits which became habitual, and followed them even after their release from prison.

Girls also pick it from boarding secondary schools. Senior girls have their “supi” and only God knows what they do with them. There are now gay prostitutes in Ghana.

Some people claim that homosexuality is not a disease and it cannot be cured. They claim, further, that even though somebody can entice you to have anal intercourse that cannot make you a homosexual. One is born that way. However, another school of thought insists that one can be addicted through being enticed to practice it.

The Christian Council of Ghana condemns the “detestable and abominable act” :    

Declaring the position of the Council on homosexuality in Ghana, Reverend Dr Fred Deegbe, General Secretary of the Council, said the issue of homosexuality had become so serious that Ghana had witnessed gay marriages . … He said the Council had observed with dismay the claim of homosexuals that nowhere in scripture was homosexuality and the same-sex committed and loving relationships condemned and called for the need for Christians to frown such behaviours.

He explained that some Ghanaian youths have adopted and emulated certain lifestyles including homosexuality being practiced by the western world and there was the need to condemn this abomination from happening on Ghanaian soil. “We Ghanaians and for that matter Africans cherish our rich and strong values on issues such as homosexuality and we must not allow anyone or group of people to impose what is acceptable in their culture on us in the name of human rights”.

The baiting quickly moved into the political arena. When an opposition-party expert on health said the right to privacy protected private sexual acts, and asked “Why should what two people do in their privacy without confronting anybody, be subject to the law?” — a presidential spokesman accused his entire party of “supporting and promoting the activities of homosexuality in Ghana.”   And the Minister for Ghana’s Western Region promptly “tasked the Bureau of National Investigations and all security agencies to smoke out persons suspected to be engaging in same sex.”

He also enlisted the services of landlords and tenants to provide reliable information which will lead to the arrest of homosexuals.  His directive follows months of campaigns against the practice of homosexuality in the country.

Fortunately, that order appeared to be mostly hot air and bluster.

But the British government’s recent public claim that it will link overseas aid to human rights performance, especially singling out LGBT rights as an issue, has served to make the “threat” homosexuality poses explicit. Now the homophobes know what they’re fighting, and they are fighting mad. Yesterday Ghana’s President proclaimed he would forgo foreign aid if necessary: “I will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana.”

Today comes news that the country’s parliament may consider new legislation to keep homosexuality from “flourishing.”

In Ghana, legislators are set to begin discussions on strengthening legal sanctions against practicing homosexuals.

This came after British Prime Minister Dave Cameron threatened to withdraw aid from countries that ban homosexuality. But Ghanaian President John Atta-Mills sharply says his government will never legalize homosexuality.

President Atta-Mills was quoted as saying “no one can deny Prime Minister Cameron his right to make policies, take initiatives or make statements that reflect his societal norms and ideals.  But he does not have the right to direct other sovereign nations as to what they should do especially where their societal norms and ideals are different from those which exist in the Prime Minister’s society.”

Catherine Afeku, an opposition MP, offered a somewhat ambiguous note of caution. She has previously “called for a comprehensive policy from government on the way forward when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.” She echoed previous reminders of protections for private life:

Member of Parliament Catherine Afeku says there seems to be overwhelming support from legislators backing a review of the penal code to address homosexuality. “Ninety-nine percent of the members in the chamber support the statement that as a people, our cultural norms, our societal upbringing, does not accept homosexuality,” said Afeku. “But, once we have brought out the emotional condemnation, we have to put our thinking caps on and look at the law… What people do in their rooms cannot be legislated upon because we don’t have anything on the books right now that will punish that act.”

It’s not clear, then, what any new legislation might do, since Ghana still retains its colonial-era sodomy law punishing “unnatural carnal knowledge.” It could follow the lines of Nigeria‘s or Uganda‘s long-bruited bills: prohibiting organizing around sexuality, advocating for human rights, or any form of public visibility.  Or it might strengthen the existing law’s intrusion into private life.

Or the rhetoric might die down in due time, as the advantages of political posturing recede. What’s certain is that Cameron’s own posturing continues to feed a backlash across Africa. It’s hard not to think: God save us from our friends. And in that spirit, a coalition of sexual rights and human rights groups in Ghana issued a statement today:

Press Release on the British Prime Minister’s ‘Homosexuality Threat’ To Ghana

Accra, 03 November, 2011: The Coalition against Homophobia in Ghana (CAHG), the Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana (GALAG) and other LGBT Networks in Ghana are surprised and in total shock at the increased interest by the UK government to withdraw aid to some African countries who are homophobic. Though the Coalition have no problem with calling on government to abide by the British code of conduct for financial support, we believe LGBT people do not live in isolation in Africa.  We have families and friends who need these aids to survive on daily basis.

Cutting aid to some selected Africa countries due to homophobic laws therefore will not help the LGBT people in these countries, but will rather stigmatize these groups and individuals. LGBT people will be used as scape goats for government inability to support its citizens and some sectors of the economy.

The challenge now is that,

1.     Homosexuality is now being seen as western import due to the continuous threats from the UK government. It is now difficult to convince the ordinary person on the street that homosexuality was not imported into Africa; although we know and have always had African indigenous people who are born homosexuals.

2.     LGBT groups and organizations are finding it very   difficult and risky to organize their programs due to such threats and continuous discussion on radio and television stations in Ghana.

3.     Support from government agencies for LGBT programs with regards to health will be affected since the government will not want to be seen as promoting or supporting LGBT activities in the country.

We believe the UK government can use diplomacy to get some of these important issues across to the countries noted for promoting hate against homosexuals or the LGBT community in Africa. We encourage the UK government to find other alternative way to address the issue other than this option, which is going to increase   the level of stigma, violence and discrimination against LGBT people in Africa.

Though all these noise continue to go against LGBT groups and individuals in Africa, development partners never supports LGBT initiatives on the ground. Embassies and consulates including the EU offices continue to turn deaf ears to LGBT issues insisting that their priorities do not include LGBT people in Africa. 

We are by this release appealing to development partners to channel some support to LGBT groups and organization in countries like Ghana to support local or internal advocacy as well as network building with state institutions.

This we believe will go a long way to help the LGBT people in Ghana and Africa at large.

###

For more information, please contact the coalition on coalition.homophobia.gh@gmail.com

Signed: 

1.     Coalition against Homophobia in Ghana

2.     Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights, Ghana

3.     Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana (GALAG)

4.     Face AIDS Ghana

5.     National Association of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (NAP+)

6.     Development Communication Initiatives – Ghana

7.     Young People Advocate for a Change

8.     Youth and Human Rights -, Ghana

The lines harden

Atta Mills: Not in my back yard

The Ghana News Agency reports more consequences of the UK move. Recalcitrant leaders now see the benefits of carving their homophobia in stone:

Accra, Nov. 2, GNA – President John Evans Atta Mills on Wednesday stated categorically that he as the Head of State he will not support any attempt to flourish homosexuality in Ghana.

“I as president of this nation I will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana.

“As government we will abide by the principles as contained in our Constitution, which is supreme.”

President Mills stated the government’s position on issues of homosexuality in an interaction with journalists at the Osu castle in Accra.

British Prime Minister David Cameron following the Commonwealth heads of state meeting in Perth, Australia threatened a cut in the flow of development assistance if African countries did not relax or reform their laws to favour homosexuality.

He was said to have mentioned particularly Ghana and Uganda for maintaining strict laws against homosexuality.

President Mills acknowledged the development assistance from the United Kingdom to Ghana, but said the country would not accept any aid with strings attached if that aid would not inure to Ghana’s interest or would rather worsen the plight or destroy the people whose lives the money was supposed to improve.

Growing pains: More on British aid

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg with the Queen

Kirk Cameron, the former child star and British Prime Minister, has threatened developing countries with dire consequences if they do not eliminate the sodomy laws that his distant ancestor Alan Thicke brought in his hand baggage on Qantas. Trapped in a loveless civil union with coalition partner and former rapper Marky Mark, Cameron made the move to bolster falling poll ratings among key fans. Possible sanctions include plagues of boils, locusts, and frogs, conversion of first-born children to child stars, and massive increases in agricultural development aid that would reduce the entire population to starvation. “These countries don’t want to be left behind,” Cameron said, referring to the popular series in which twelve contestants from all walks of life, stranded on a remote island in an exotic location after the Rapture, compete in tests of skill to keep God from throwing them into eternal damnation. “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.”

No. No. This is all wrong. It’s late; my mind isn’t working. Former child star David Cameron is the current British Prime Minister. Kirk Cameron, current child star and former Prime Minister, lives in Moldova, where he eats children in his converted castle on the Transylvanian border.

The silliness and posturing over Cameron I’s proclamation that he will tie overseas aid to LGBT rights issues has started. It is risible indeed, but it’s no laughing matter to the people whose rights will be affected.  An advisor to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told the BBC that Cameron had a “bullying mentality”:

“Uganda is, if you remember, a sovereign state and we are tired of being given these lectures by people … If they must take their money, so be it.  … But this kind of ex-colonial mentality of saying: ‘You do this or I withdraw my aid’ will definitely make people extremely uncomfortable with being treated like children.”

The main political consequence? Repressive leaders and regressive initiatives now have a new excuse to couch themselves as anti-colonial assertions of independence. In Nigeria, where a new bill to restrict LGBT people’s rights is moving forward, a news source reports:

One of the backers of the same sex prohibition ban … told USAfricaonline.com that “Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron still think [sic] we are under his colonial rule. Let him keep his financial aid  and same sex agenda. Nonsense. He wants to run our country for us?”

And in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s supporters are wielding Cameron’s comments to undercut opposition leader (and Prime Minister) Morgan Tsvangirai, who recently voiced support for including sexual orientation protections in a new Constitution.

“It is possible that Morgan Tsvangirai could have been told by whites in the UK that part of their support to him would include him publicly supporting issues to do with gay rights in Zimbabwe. That could be the threat he was issued by the British and we all know that Tsvangirai has never been his own man,” said Mr Alexander Kanengoni [an author and former Mugabe propagandist who was allotted a farm in the violent land reforms ten years ago]. …

Zanu-PF spokesperson Cde Rugare Gumbo said it was clear that the British were pushing Mr Tsvangirai to support gay rights in Zimbabwe.  “There is a clear link between what Cameron said and what Tsvangirai is now advocating, and it is not surprising. They (MDC-T) [Tsvangirai's party] are sponsored by the British and the West and they have to toe the line. Failure to do so would cost them British support,” he said.

It’s still not clear what Cameron’s initiative means in practice. When the UK cut back on aid to Malawi in July, after months of bluster about human rights, the reductions were limited to general budget support – a form of assistance that allows governments maximum flexibility in allocating the funds, “to deliver their own national strategies for poverty reduction against an agreed set of targets.”  Money shifted to other channels, and the overall donation figure didn’t change. But the scope of what will happen matters less than the publicity, which makes LGBT people’s human rights look like neocolonial meddling.  As a coalition of African activists wrote last week, their movements have

been working through a number of strategies to entrench LGBTI issues into broader  civil society issues, to shift the same-sex sexuality discourse from the morality debate to a human rights debate, and to build relationships with governments for greater protection of LGBTI people. These objectives cannot be met when donor countries threaten to withhold aid.

Meanwhile, Peter Tatchell has stormed into the fray, with a press release warning that

“The British government is wrong to threaten to cut aid to developing countries that abuse human rights. … Cuts in aid would penalise the poorest, most vulnerable people. Many are dependent on aid for basic needs like food, clean water, health care and education … Instead of cutting aid, Britain and other donor countries should divert their aid money from human rights abusing governments and redirect it to grassroots, community-based humanitarian projects that respect human rights and do not discriminate in their service provision.”

“I stand in solidarity” with the African activists’ statement, he proclaims. This is a welcome move. Tatchell, of course, has a long record of supporting aid conditionality. In a US speech in 2008, he said:

“We must urge the US State Department to make foreign aid and trade conditional on the recipient countries agreeing to respect human rights, including the human rights of LGBT people. Tyrannies should not be rewarded: No US aid for anti-gay regimes.”

And during the controversy in 2010 around a Malawi couple’s brutal imprisonment under a sodomy law (during which Tatchell’s self-publicizing made his white, British visage the possibly uncongenial face of homosexuality over a large swath of Africa), he urged cutting UK assistance: “If [diplomatic negotiation] fails the UK should reconsider its aid and trade agreements with Malawi. There can be no blank cheque for countries that violate human rights.”  But even mountains move: usually after an earthquake that brings down houses on their inhabitants.

However, redirecting aid “to grassroots, community-based humanitarian projects,” as Tatchell demands,  has its own problems. Such redirection is one of the strategies African activists urge on governments in their letter, but is hardly plausible for the full aid package. Some rights and needs — “food, clean water, health care and education” — are arguably the state’s proper business. To saddle NGOs with responsibility for the water supply is not much different from privatizing it: turning something that should be a general good over to particular, and perhaps partial, hands. And while civil society in some places has played important roles in providing health care and schooling the young, treaties and international law still make these core tasks of governing. There is no reason to think that NGOs, without the resources and experience of a state, can do an adequate job on their own. Redirection by itself echoes the neoliberal solutions of the 80s and 90s, practiced at home by Thatcher and Reagan and enforced abroad by the IMF and World Bank. Governments sloughed off responsibilities for their peoples’ welfare; civil society was told to pick up the slack. Advocates who had pushed for improved state action necessarily transformed themselves into exhausted, overburdened service providers. The poor, sick, uneducated and disenfranchised got more so.

Nor is it certain that rights-based and non-discriminatory service providers will be the ones to take advantage when aid to governments, and consequent state capacities, dwindle. It’s a truism that the growth of political Islamism in the post-70s Middle East came in the wake of lender-promoted government retrenchment. As welfare and services shrank, movements flush with Gulf oil money moved in to provide what the state once had, in older days. In the process, they built networks of gratitude, dependency, and political support.   In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, education is already as much the province of Christian churches as of the government. It would not much benefit LGBT people to promote policies to make it even more so.

All this means simply that the politics of aid are unsimple: complicated, full of unpredictable consequences, and fraught with both political and ethical concerns They are not susceptible to simplifying rhetoric. But rhetoric almost childlike in its simplicity is what the UK government is offering the domestic constituencies it strains to entice. Talk about growing pains! — but while British policy struggles to grow up, the pains will be felt in other, distant corners of the globe.