The US is right not to withdraw aid to Nigeria in wake of the country’s new anti-gay law, says Rob Buchanan.
Despite the introduction of the new Nigerian homophobic legislation, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, has promised financial aid will not be withdrawn. This aid is used in the fight against the HIV/Aids epidemic in that country. The British have also announced their decision to increase aid, stating that the Nigerian government itself does not actually receive any of the aid, the money goes directly to contractors and organisations working on the ground.
The so-called ‘Jail the Gays’ law is extremely wide-ranging and seeks to completely obliterate all aspects of gay life, extending to even criminalising the operation of services for gay people, and the congregation of gay people in one place. Apart from this state-sanctioned homophobia, reports of extra judicial killings and mob law are widespread.
It’s worth mentioning too that it isn’t only actual homosexuals and their families (assuming their families haven’t actually informed on them) who are and will be the victims of this law. Straight people will be routinely denounced as gay, for political or financial gain. This type of cancer will eat away at the very fabric of Nigerian society, making it irredeemably open to corruption based on hearsay.
Foreign policy is complex. The provision of aid, especially by Western nations, is seldom a truly altruistic one. Obviously nations like the US and UK do not expect equal reciprocity from African nations. They don’t help Nigeria (or Uganda for that matter) in the hope that someday if they are in need of food, medicine or disaster aid, Nigeria or Uganda will reciprocate. The provision of the aid not only causes stability, which can have financial payoffs, but there are also strings attached. It’s beneficial for all concerned if you can coerce a nation to adopt robust human rights laws. Encouraging fair democracies prevents radical elements corrupting governments and making nations unpalatable for foreign investment.
The ability to give financial aid to needy countries is a potent weapon to wield in a war of morals. When we risk hurting the very people whose lives we seek to improve by withdrawing it, we enter a moral minefield. Blackmailing African governments in to doing the right thing by starving the channels of aid seldom actually hurts the ruling classes responsible. It only effects the most vulnerable.
Making deals with governments, where they trade law reforms for aid, can also play in to the hands of insincere, corrupt rulers who might actually use harsh sanctions on their own people to manipulate the West into giving aid.
But it’s equally reprehensible to ignore human rights violations and lend legitimacy to governments repressing their own people by continuing to prop up their rulers with financial aid.
There’s no perfect solution, but one way forward might be produce a roadmap incentivising the promotion of gay human rights improvements by equating them to increases in foreign aid. Multinational companies also have a hand to play, with the likes of Richard Branson, among others, frequently standing up for gay rights in Africa and making it clear that companies he finances will not do business with countries where LGBT human rights abuses are rife.
The provision of education too is essential for dispelling superstitions that are deeply entrenched in the religion-controlled schooling systems in much of Africa. Multinational sponsored school programs in places like Ethiopia have already made massive differences.
In the longterm, offfering carrots rather than beating with sticks seems to be lesser of two evils in when it comes to changing the landscape of LGBT rights in developing countries.
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