In a rare but welcome display of political unity across the Western World, politicians were quick to condemn the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni’s decision to pass a law imposing harsh penalties for those found guilty of the “crime” of being a homosexual.
US Secretary of State John Kerry led the American protests, declaring that it was a “tragic” day for Uganda, and pledging to review the United States programme of aid donations to the Ugandan government, which currently stands at approximately $400 million per annum.
Norway and Denmark were also quick to withhold aid donations, $8m and $9m respectively, sending a powerful message that these kinds of laws, which reflect a far less tolerant treatment of the LGBT community across the African continent, will not be tolerated in the West.
In the UK William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, declared himself “deeply saddened and disappointed” with the Ugandan President, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg added that it was “an abhorrent backwards step for human rights”.
It has long been an irony that despite pledging to tackle human rights abuses in their own countries when trying to drum up support from abroad, it remains a sad fact that prosecuting homosexuals is often an all too easy way for African politicians to curry favour with their political supporters at home.
The origin of Africa’s intolerance towards homosexual activity has its roots in colonial days, when strict adherence to hard-line interpretations of the bible’s teachings was the norm, and has remained so despite the fact that the colonials themselves, France, Great Britain, Germany and others, have long since accepted the right of the individual to decide his or her own sexual orientation.
Although Uganda is one of the world’s largest recipients of aid donations, having received $1.6bn in 2011 alone, recently discovered oil reserves in the region mean the country’s politicians are less and less reliant on help and guidance from the West, and politicians are freer to pursue their own agendas.
In fact it is a truly distressing situation afflicting politics across Africa; Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has passed a law criminalising same sex relationships, Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh recently referred to Homosexuals as “vermin”, and President Museveni declared yesterday of the West “We’re sorry to see that you live the way you live, but we keep quiet about it”.
Besides South Africa, who have been quick to condemn Museveni’s decision to sign the bill into law, the silence across the rest of the African community has been deafening. Heartening stories have emerged of communities rallying around their gay members, even of churches preaching tolerance, and when common sense prevails the battle against intolerance will surely be won. For now, though, it seems that as long as it panders to the voting majority, anti-gay propaganda will continue to be espoused by African politicians, if not out of genuine outrage at homosexual activity, then certainly to secure the votes of those who simply don’t know any better.