With Cameron on their side, should gays start popping the bubbly?By FREDERICK GOLOOBA | Monday, November 7 2011 at 11:42
British Premier David Cameron has stirred up the proverbial hornets’ nest by threatening to cut UK aid to Commonwealth members who enforce laws criminalising homosexuality.
At the end of the three-day Commonwealth summit in the Australian city of Perth, he said he wants recipients of British taxpayers’ money in aid to “adhere to proper human rights.”
Until now the Brits, unlike the Americans, have long prided themselves on not attaching strings to their aid.
Not anymore, says Cameron.
To be fair to him, though, he was realistic enough to concede that change could not be expected to come about overnight.
Now, the Commonwealth is an organisation constantly in search of relevance.
And so at this year’s summit, one of the recommendations of an internal report into its future was scrapping laws banning homosexuality.
At the same time, perhaps not surprisingly, pro-human rights reforms were one issue that divided members to the very end of the summit. Interestingly, the anti-gay laws Cameron does not like date from the days of British colonial rule, when the Brits themselves were still happily homophobic and routinely sent gays to jail for their sexual orientation.
Unfortunately for Cameron, the vast majority of the grouping he was addressing himself to, 41 members out of 54, maintain laws banning homosexual acts.
Many, especially the Africans, may be beggars in the general scheme of things, but they are also proud when it comes to matters touching on morality, even if selectively so.
And they have spared no effort in displaying indignation at what they claim is the relatively young Cameron’s attempt to treat them like children.
While conceding that Cameron had a right to his views, Ghana’s President John Atta Mills, in what a Ghanaian friend has called “empty posturing,” emphasised that “societal norms” in his country were different from those in the UK.
He then vowed not to legalise homosexual acts. Closer to home, Uganda’s senior presidential advisor on media relations, John Nagenda, condemned the British Premier’s “bullying mentality.”
So now it seems as if Cameron’s government faces the prospect of its money finding no takers in Africa where leaders seem determined to protect their societies’ “moral fibre” from “corrupting influences.” And they are not alone in their anger.
Reports indicate that Christian groups, among them the UK’s Christian Voice, are offering moral support, apparently in order to ensure that, among other things, Africa’s young people are protected from bad influences from “broken” societies bent on “exporting Western depravity.”
This is all very interesting and revealing. With groups like Christian Voice, African leaders and their anti-gay supporters back home have powerful allies in Cameron’s own backyard.
Also, it is not unusual for sceptics of the Commonwealth to question its usefulness and what unites its eclectic mix of members with their diverse political, economic and social backgrounds.
I have often listened carefully to the organisation’s fans going on about member states being united by the pursuit of “common values,” among them the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, and egalitarianism.
Perceptive observers must have always known that, broadly speaking, this is not entirely true. Taking Africa for an example, the continent has had its fair share of leaders who observe these values only in theory, a good number of them leading Commonwealth members.
Every two years they have trooped to wherever the next Commonwealth summit has been held and affirmed their commitment to values they do not believe in, in the presence of British leaders. And every year, despite terrorising their own people and often starving them of essential services, British aid has continued to flow in their direction.
Granted, there are times when threats to cut off aid have been made.
Room for mnoeuvre
In most cases, however, they remain at the level of threats. But there is also another catch.
When donors threaten to cut off aid, it is always prudent to read the fine print. In this particular case, experts have already clarified that Cameron’s threat applies not to all aid, but to what in the business is called “general budget support.”
This is money given to governments to spend in line with their own presumably poverty-reducing priorities, the kind some presidents divert into financing their election campaigns. It is only a small percentage of the UK’s overall aid budget per year.
This means that even for violators of gay rights, resources will still flow their way. And, of course, Cameron was careful to point out that he did not expect instant change. In doing so, he created plenty of room for manoeuvre for anti-gay governments.
For members of gay communities in homophobic Africa, therefore, it is not yet time to pop the champagne.
Nonetheless, they may want to learn from 1990s movements for democratisation. More than two decades after donors helped them to defeat single-party rule and open the way to multiparty politics, people who oppose many of Africa’s “democratically elected” incumbent governments are still harassed, beaten up, and jailed, just as used to be the case under one-party rule.
That, though, has not stopped the forward march of democracy.
In similar vein, Cameron may sound barmy to many today, but with sustained pressure it is only a matter of time before we see gay rights marches on our streets.
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