Friday, December 9, 2011

Gay Footballs: Obama and Cameron Aiming to Destabilize African Development Sectors?

The COP17 climate talks are taking place at the moment in Durban, presumably to create the illusion that the climate industry sees Africa as having a part in the negotiations. Natural resources continue to be plundered from any country unlucky enough to have discovered them, and the searches are still on for oil and anything else the West can get hold of cheaply. Land is being grabbed at an unprecedented rate so that multinationals can produce food and biofuels in countries that are also recipients of poverty reduction funding, and even food aid, to be sold in rich countries.

The Global Fund (to fight AIDS, TB and malaria) has suspended operations for two years, which will affect a lot more than just HIV programming; the HIV dominated development sector will see former recipients of Global Fund monies scrambling to 'reposition' themselves as big players in health systems, reproductive health, family planning, gender based violence, LGBT and gender issues and whatever else will save their skin. Some will probably even present themselves as experts in poverty reduction, education and climate change; they gotta go where the money is.

The development sector faces huge challenges, not just from issues like the ones listed above, but because many working in the sector are not wholly convinced that their aims are being met. Recognizing that something needs to be done about human rights, poverty, health, education, infrastructure and the like in developing countries is an important first step, one that most, perhaps all working in development have made. But I have met few who have found out exactly what needs to be done; I certainly haven't.

Having said that, I work with people who are involved in projects which, ostensibly, 'make things better', in the fields of health, education, water, vulnerable populations, etc. So I expect them to be concerned about development related issues, especially the ones that threaten development funding or that risk reversing any gains they might achieve through their work. But I haven't found a colleague who knows anything about genetically modified organizms (GMO), land grabbing, biofuels or climate change, except to the extent that they involve funds. Mention certainly needs to be made of 'sustainability', 'risk', 'environment', 'inclusiveness', 'equality' and the like, but that's the responsibility of the grant proposal writer (who happens to be me).

But recently my colleagues have started to talk about development funding, and not surprisingly, because all the newspapers are running the story; a particularly wealthy individual from a wealthy country has said his government (he is the prime minister) is considering withholding development funding to countries who have punitive homosexuality laws. This is a stupid and childish thing for a prime minister to say and he has been back peddling ever since. But the damage is done; all my colleagues can talk about is gays, and how they are being 'forced' to allow gay marriages and do all sorts of things that are against 'their culture'.

Now the US government is making similar noises. I heard one of my colleagues saying that we don't need their money, neither the US's nor the UK's. There's a sense in which he is very wrong, the obvious sense. But there is an important sense in which he is right; Tanzania does not need Western countries to set their agenda in return for relatively small amounts of money that don't seem to benefit the most needy anyway. Aid money already comes with strings, so adding some more strings is not going to suddenly allow some people to benefit, for example, gay people. In fact, these moves are likely to make things a lot worse for gays. It's as if the US and UK governments are using the issue of gay rights to goad African countries into stirring up anti-gay prejudices, knowing exactly the effect their 'threats' will have.

This is only partly about African homophobia. It's also about Western homophobia, in the sense that any mention of homosexuality is highly reportable and guaranteed to polarize views (and curiously distract attention from other issues?). It is such a powerful political tool that the most experienced spin doctor couldn't invent it. But why is this tool being wielded with such force right now? Is it because foreign aid is falling anyway and Western donors need something to hide behind, to deflect the inevitable blows? I'm no pundit and I can't answer those questions, but I would bet on one thing: these moves by the UK and US are themselves homophobic, are totally inimical to gay rights, globally, and they will only make things worse for gay people in African countries.


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