Ban homophobia in Africa: Ban Ki-Moon

Shoot for the Ki-Moon

At the opening of an African Union (AU) summit this morning, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told assembled leaders to respect LGBT people’s human rights. The AFP says:

“One form of discrimination ignored or even sanctioned by many states for too long has been discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Ban said.

“It prompted governments to treat people as second class citizens or even criminals,” he added. …

“Confronting these discriminations is a challenge, but we must not give up on the ideas of the universal declaration” of human rights, Ban told the summit.

Ban has shown more nerve over the years than I’d have thought possible at the beginning. Good for him.

(Un?)freedom tower: The HQ project

All this took place amid the inauguration of the African Union’s posh new headquarters in Addis Ababa — and that blingy building suggests why neither Ban’s admonitions, nor David Cameron’s threats, nor all the pious efforts of those who want to squeeze humanitarian aid in the name of human rights, may in the end amount to much.   The elaborate complex, a glossy imitation of the UN building towering over one of Africa’s poorest cities, cost between $120 million and $200 million (US), and was entirely constructed by China. China Daily quotes  “Zeng Huacheng, a special councilor to the AU headquarters project from China’s Ministry of Commerce”:

“The accessible height of the main office building is 99.9 meters, in reference to the founding date of the AU and the rise of the continent,” Zeng said. “The panoramic view of the conference center is like two hands holding each other, signifying the strengthening friendship between China and Africa.”

Asia Times goes into more detail:

In the thin air of Ethiopia’s low-slung, mostly ramshackle capital, a glittering tower complex is erupting from a warren of corrugated tin roof shacks that many locals call home. …

Though the CSCEC [China State Construction Engineering Corporation] describes its efforts there as “aiding” the African Union, make no mistake, it is building the facility wholesale. Stern-faced Chinese foreman command ever-smiling Ethiopian laborers who are working round the clock to finish the project at breakneck speed for its planned January 2012 inauguration. …

In anticipation of a hoped-for visit to Addis Ababa by President Hu Jintao for the new AU’s debut, [a Gabonese Diplomat]  stated: “We cannot thank China and it’s leaders enough for it …”

As China scours the continent for resources virtually unchallenged, this “gift” to the people of Africa will certainly come with strings attached. In a recent meeting with a high-ranking CSCEC official, Erastus Mwencha, a seasoned Kenyan diplomat who holds the deputy chair of the African Union Commission that oversees the project, hailed it in a recent press statement as a “permanent signature on African soil”.

When Asia Times Online visited the present AU headquarters hugging hilly Roosevelt Street, a representative of its Conflict Management Division lamented the depth of Chinese involvement both in Ethiopia and across the entire region. Africa’s sudden anti-democratic partner is engaged in a slew of road rehabilitation and construction endeavors in many parts of the country.

We are unbuilding socialism: The complex under construction

As I’ve pointed out here, Chinese aid for Africa — of which the new HQ is merely the biggest symbol — comes with few political conditions, certainly not rights-related ones. What accompanies it are economic expectations: that the continent will provide endless, cheap raw materials for China’s boom, as well as new markets for Chinese exports. That’s no good news for ordinary Africans, who’ll find their economies shunted every more firmly into a neocolonial niche of underdevelopment. But the elites who control the African Union’s governments will turn a profit.

As if in an emblem of this relationship, there weren’t even many African raw materials inserted into the building: Save them for export to Beijing!  “Even the furnishings were imported from China and paid for by the Chinese government,” a Ugandan blogger says sourly.   China Daily puts the best face on this:

To ensure construction quality, only the best materials were used and furniture was specifically designed and ordered.

“Details such as the height of a table and the color of a carpet were all discussed with representatives from the AU,” Zeng said.

The lack of political conditions doesn’t mean, though, that Africa’s integration into the Chinese co-unprosperity sphere comes without political consequences. That Ugandan blogger’s comments suggest how neocolonial dependency fosters both patriarchal power structures and cultural protectionism:

Where is the pride in us as Africans having this luxurious new home? Where I come from, and I believe many African men come from similar backgrounds, you are not considered a real man unless you have built your own house which you will call your home. Its only then that you can marry your wife and its only then that you are respected by everyone in the village. …

Yes, indeed, it’s a reflection of a new Africa …  An Africa without a culture, without a moral campus, an Africa without any pride, an Africa that can’t build their own home, an Africa that thrives on begging for food, for money and now for a home. An Africa that is shameful and disgraceful. An Africa that is empty and without a future, an Africa that is everyday selling its soul to powers foreign …

So congratulations to Ban Ki-Moon for speaking out. A glance at the balance sheets, however, shows there’s a long way to go.

Nigeria: Screwing the nation

Nigeria has seen the first successful blow struck against neoliberalism in the New Year. After a week of massive nationwide protests met the removal of a key fuel subsidy for consumers, President Goodluck Jonathan backed down — a bit.  He reinstated the subsidy partially. That, together with reportedly massive payoffs to union leaders, persuaded labor to cancel the strike.

Lagarde in Abuja, with President Jonathan (L) and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (R)

The compromise was far from perfect. Dropping the subsidy initially more than doubled the price of gasoline, from (US) $0.40 to 0.88 per liter; now the price is teetering at around $0.66. The settlement outraged considerable parts of the protest coalition, including students, who remain committed to opposing neoliberal policies.  There’s considerable suspicion in Nigeria that the IMF and World Bank were behind the attempt to scrap the subsidy; IMF head Christine Lagarde visited Abuja in December, allegedly to congratulate Jonathan on his “reform” and anti-corruption initiatives, but more likely to set the terms for allegedly-indigenous structural adjustment efforts. Few believe the government’s retreat means the proposal is in permanent abeyance. Still, a half-victory is a victory. Jonathan, who announced the subsidy removal in a speech declaring, “Let me seize this opportunity to assure all Nigerians that I feel the pains that you all feel,” was made to feel rather more pain than he had banked on.  And even the Financial Times acknowledged that for the subsidy’s “removal to be tolerated” in future, “poverty must be alleviated in other ways.”

Attention immediately shifted to the horrific violence inflicted by the Islamist group Boko Haram on northern Nigeria, including coordinated bombings and shootings in Kano on January 20 that killed almost 200 people in one day. Zach Warner, in ThinkAfrica Press, has a fascinating analysis of the group’s rise. He admits that “Communal violence has been a constant for the last three decades, while the mobilisation of faith-based political identities has been a defining feature of Northern Nigeria for centuries.”  But in recent decades, Nigeria’s central government has eviscerated traditional Islamic hierarchies and power structures in the North, thinking it was eliminating a base for separatism. At the same time, a shift from Northern-based military leadership to democratically elected governments with their roots in the South has starved the region of resource allocation. The result has been spreading poverty, particularly among the young:

Thus, by the time of … the restoration of civilian rule, centuries-old social and political hierarchies of Islamic power had been completely smashed. Olusegun Obasanjo emerged as the only viable leader of the Fourth Republic, engendering a massive power shift to the south after decades of predominantly northern military rule. Elite Muslims were sent reeling; the Sultan [of Sokoto, still the ostensible religious leader of Nigeria’s Muslims] could hardly show his face throughout the region.

Amid such social confusion, young Muslim men again tried to assume their place at the helm of the north. From late 1999 to 2002, twelve states expanded Sharia (Islamic law). Reacting to what they perceived as endemic corruption and moral decay, this crop of younger politicians enunciated a wish to return to Islamic governance outside the strict confines of the emirate structures which they felt were complicit in failed governments and national decline. As John Paden wrote in 2002, the sum effect was a split in Islamic solidarity and “significant confrontations between anti-establishment groups and northern Muslim elites, which in turn, [sic] are causing these elites to reconsider how to strengthen their own politico-religious credentials”.

The resulting alienation is fertile ground for insurgencies.

John Campbell (a former US ambassador) argues that, religion aside, Boko Haram bears conspicuous similarities to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which sponsored campaigns of kidnapping and bombing that kept the country’s oil-producing areas on edge from 2006 to 2010.   Both are symptoms of a disintegrating rentier state, which lives off the oil revenues it appropriates from a single region of the country, but has never tried to redistribute them evenly or fairly—either among the country’s geographic divisions, or among its social classes.  The subsidy protests and the Kano bombings reveal the same rot.

The massive unrest has drawn the public’s eye away from the “Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill,” a sweeping proposal that would criminalize most aspects of lesbian and gay people’s lives.   At some point soon, though, Goodluck Jonathan will have to decide whether to sign it.  The recent tumult reveals the underlying motives behind the law—a classic distraction, to unify fissiparous sects and interests around a common bogeyman, and turn disputes away from raw social reality toward imaginary demons.

Seun Anikulapo-Kuti: Don't fuck with the Nation

LGBT rights activists joined the popular protests to retain the fuel subsidy.  They took heart from reports that Seun Kuti (popular musician and son of afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti)  shouted at a Lagos rally against the move:  “When two men fuck each other, it is better than one man fucking the Nation as a whole.”  It’s hard for political commentary to top that (as it were).   However, I also like the remark of my friend Dorothy Aken’Ova, of the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, INCRESE: “Nigerians now know what is [really] evil.” One can hope.

“We are all One”

Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism

A Sikh writer situates LGBT rights in the tradition:

[T]here’s an important concept in Sikhism called Sarbat da Bhala, which means working for the welfare and well-being of all people. This is a spiritual obligation for us Sikhs. We recite these words countless times, as they conclude one of the central Sikh prayers,  Ardas  (meaning “petition”).

Fortunately, many Sikhs are indeed embodying these words we say so often. A few months after the shooting and killing of two elderly Sikh men in Sacramento, Calif., in March, the Sacramento Sikh Temple offered a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator of a violent anti-gay hate attack in the same neighborhood. Twenty-six-year-old Seth Parker was punched in the face, suffering multiple facial fractures, while the attackers directed anti-gay slurs at him.

A spokesperson for the Gurdwara stated: “The Sikh Community condemns this disgusting attack motivated by ignorance and hate. In light of the recent murders of two Sikhs in Elk Grove and the hate crime conviction in Yolo County (of two men who attacked a Sikh taxi driver), we are especially sensitive to such crimes. We hope that our reward will help bring these criminals to justice.”

Now this is the kind of solidarity that is at the heart of what it means to be a Sikh. …

The oppression of LGBT people is one of the most pervasive and accepted forms of subjugation today. Indeed, many individuals and institutions deem LGBT people a lower class or caste, justifying their discrimination with dogmatic rhetoric of what’s “natural,” “normal” and … what are true “American values.” This is no different than saying turbans are not truly American, so Sikhs should not be allowed to wear them in public. Oppression is oppression. Our struggles are intertwined.

Just as Guru Nanak said hundreds of years ago, “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim,” perhaps today we can also say, “There is no straight, there is no gay.” Indeed, his message was ultimately that we are all One.

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.

Cameron’s “imperial mentality”: A Caribbean perspective

Gifford (second from R) with J-FLAG activists in a 2010 Kingston protest

Watch this video, from Jamaican TV, of an interview with British – Jamaican human rights lawyer Lord Anthony Gifford. As a strong supporter of scrapping Jamaica’s sodomy law, he lays out the arguments against the UK’s noisy and confused promises to tie development aid to LGBT rights.

He’s right that open threats to Jamaica from abroad almost always create a “converse reaction.” But one thing I find troubling is his blanket claim that Jamaica, as a democracy, is in a different class from dictatorships, and can work this out for itself.  “To use this stick against a democracy like Jamaica –we are capable of having this debate within Jamaica … and I think it’s counterproductive.” How exactly does this differ from arguments that Israel supporters (including one of Human RIghts Watch’s founders) use to contend that human rights activists should leave the country alone?

Thirty years ago, Gifford was lead counsel for the plaintiff in the landmark case of Dudgeon v United Kingdom, where the European Court of Human Rights compelled Britain to eliminate Northern Ireland’s sodomy law. And the video below shows  Gifford and my activist friends Maurice Tomlinson and Yvonne McCalla Sobers discussing their new challenge to the Jamaican law before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:

“Stop inciting hatred against us! We are citizens of Malaysia.”

Kuala Lumpur police have shut down Seksualiti Merdeka (Sexuality Independence), an annual festival held to celebrate and discuss the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people. This came after weeks of controversy and campaigning against the festival, with even Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister claiming the event was “immoral.”  The organizers condemn the closing in a press release:

We are saddened that many Malaysians, including people’s elected representatives, have seen fit to relentlessly persecute, stigmatise and discriminate all those who have found a safe space to dialogue and share information and knowledge on human rights during Seksualiti Merdeka’s events.

We are Malaysian citizens who are being denied our rights to our identity and self-determination. …As a United Nations Human Rights Council member, the Malaysian government should be ashamed for endorsing and encouraging such intimidation and scare tactics.

Seksualiti Merdeka stands for everyone who believes they have a right to make their own decisions over their bodily autonomy and bodily integrity. …  Sexuality is an integral part of the personality of every human being. Its full development depends upon the satisfaction of basic human needs such as the desire for contact, intimacy, emotional expression, pleasure, tenderness, and love. Sexual rights are universal human rights based on the inherent freedom, dignity, and equality of all human beings.

 

Read more about the controversy here, here, and here.

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

Groundbreaking inter-American support for LGBTI rights

it almost looks like a rainbow

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the international body monitoring rights in the Americas, has created a special unit to investigate violations of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people. Dozens if not hundreds of activists from across Latin America and the Caribbean lobbied for this result for years. Congratulations to them on their success.

The IACHR press release (Spanish here):

IACHR CREATES UNIT ON THE RIGHTS OF LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANS, AND INTERSEX PERSONS

Washington, D.C., November 3, 2011—During its 143rd regular session, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) decided to create a Unit on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons, in order to strengthen its capacity to protect their rights. 

In recent years the IACHR has closely followed the situation of the rights of LGBTI persons, primarily through precautionary measures, hearings, country visits, and promotional activities. The Commission has sought to protect and promote their rights and has witnessed the serious human rights violations that many of these individuals face in their daily lives. 

The Commission has confirmed that LGBTI persons face serious discrimination, both in fact and in law, in the countries of the region. Among other violations, the IACHR has received information about murders, rapes, and threats to which LGBTI persons are victims. In addition, LGBTI persons face significant barriers in their access to health, employment, justice, and political participation. 

 The new Unit is part of the comprehensive approach the IACHR has adopted through its Strategic Plan, which promotes the harmonious development of all its work areas based on the interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights and the need to protect the rights of all individuals and groups historically subjected to discrimination.

 Next year the Commission will evaluate the Unit’s work and whether sufficient resources exist to make its efforts sustainable, along with the overall functioning of its Strategic Plan, and will decide on whether to create an Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of LGBTI Persons.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.