African leaders continue to fan the fires of homophobia.
On Monday, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill into law making homosexual acts a crime punishable by up to life in prison. Calling homosexuals “disgusting,” Museveni told the West to stay out of its business, even though 20 percent of Uganda’s budget comes from foreign aid.
“I would like to advise the Europeans and the Western groups that this is one area which should be a no-go area,” he told CNN. Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo went so far as to tweet: “The West can keep their ‘aid’ to Uganda over homos, we shall still develop without it.”
Too many other African nations have made the same decision. According to Amnesty International, homosexuality is illegal in 38 of the continent’s 54 nations. In the last six weeks since Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a law that slaps 14-year prison sentences on homosexuals, scores of gay men have been arrested or beaten by mobs.
In an awful account in The New York Times, a bailiff whipped a man with 20 lashes as the judge claimed this represented leniency under local Shariah law. “He is supposed to be killed,” the judge said. In perhaps the worst statement by an African leader, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh last week took time during a speech marking the 49th anniversary of that country’s independence by saying, “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively . . . As far as I am concerned, LGBT can only stand for leprosy, gonorrhea, bacteria, and tuberculosis.”
There has been plenty of outrage around the globe. Museveni received a personal call from White House national security adviser Susan Rice urging him not to sign the antigay bill, and President Obama warned the laws would “complicate our valued relationship.” Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu of South Africa, which allows same-sex marriage, and US Secretary of State John Kerry both invoked apartheid and Nazi Germany to condemn Uganda’s law. Kerry says he has ordered a review of aid to Uganda.
Indeed, some nations and entities are backing up condemnation by closing their coffers. The World Bank has postponed a $90 million loan to Uganda for the improvement of health care. Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark are redirecting a combined $25 million in direct government aid to independent groups, with Danish trade minister Mogens Jensen saying, “We cannot distance ourselves too strongly from the law and the signal that the Ugandan government now sends to not only persecuted minority groups, but to the whole world.”
But the largest donors, particularly the United States, have not acted. They should.
Museveni is clearly gambling that Uganda’s value as a US ally in counterterrorism means no loss of aid. Moreover, the scapegoating of gay men and lesbian women is a ruse to make people forget about government corruption, such as the 2012 embezzlement of $13 million in donor funds.
In Nigeria, a corrupt government needs to create a bogeyman to distract attention from the fact that half the populace does not have electricity, despite the country’s gushers of oil revenue. Just last week, the governor of the nation’s central bank, Lamido Sanusi, was sacked by Jonathan after having warned that $20 billion in oil sales by the government failed to make it into the treasury. America has not yet used its leverage as a major importer of Nigerian crude to exert pressure on Jonathan to rescind the anti-gay laws.
Instead of cleaning up such corruption, Jonathan, Museveni, and too many African leaders instead are exploiting same-sex relationships as their top weapon of mass distraction. Museveni claims Uganda’s treatment of homosexuals should be a “no-go area” for the West. The United States must say such treatment means no-go for aid.
Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.