Donors review Uganda assistance after anti-gay law passed

By Adam Green

Donors are distancing themselves from Uganda after President Yoweri Museveni signed a new law imposing heavy penalties for homosexuality. Their decisions will be watched closely by other African countries where homophobic sentiment runs high.
The signing ceremony on Monday, which follows years of debate since a draft bill was tabled in 2009, imposes life imprisonment for homosexuals and lengthy terms for those performing same-sex marriages. It criminalises lesbianism for the first time, and requires citizens to report to the police those they suspect to be gay.
Campaigners have been quick to criticise the law. UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, released a statement saying: “Disapproval of homosexuality by some can never justify violating the fundamental human rights of others”. Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Nobel peace laureate, has likened the bill to Nazi-era policies, while Amnesty International called it a “horrific expansion of state-sanctioned homophobia”.Donors are now weighing their responses. Norway and Denmark are withholding or diverting aid ($9m and $8m respectively). “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,” said Denmark’s trade and development minister, Mogens Jensen, in a public statement.
The Netherlands has frozen $9.6m in aid to the Ugandan legal system over fears such support could inadvertently help the judicial system enforce the harsh new laws. Austria is reviewing assistance.
The US position is slowly emerging. Secretary of state John Kerry said Monday’s signing was a “tragic day for Uganda and for all who care about the cause of human rights”. But the US has a policy challenge on its hands. It sends $400m a year to Uganda,
an important regional ally in the fight against Islamist terrorism. On Monday evening, the US announced that it would begin an internal review of its relationship with Uganda’s government.
Donors have been increasingly uneasy over their engagement with Uganda since a corruption scandal last year, when the government’s auditor claimed that aid earmarked for health centres, schools and roads had been embezzled.
Commenting on whether Monday’s decision would affect UK aid policy to Uganda, a spokesman for the UK Department for International Development told This is Africa: “We ended all budget support payments to the Ugandan government last year. The UK strongly opposes all discrimination on any grounds and Justine Greening [UK Secretary of State for International Development] has been clear that governments receiving UK aid need to meet a specific set of principles, including human rights.” UK foreign secretary William Hague has questioned whether the new law is compatible with Uganda’s constitution and treaty obligations. Dfid now redirects its budgetary support to the east African country through alternative routes, including multilateral aid agen

cies and non-governmental organisations.
Uganda is not alone in reviewing its legal position on sexuality. Six weeks ago, Nigerian’ president Goodluck Jonathan passed a law imposing a 14 year prison term for anyone entering a same sex union, with 10 year sentences for those running gay clubs or organisations.
Homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries. In Kenya, some MPs are calling for tougher enforcement of existing anti-gay laws, and have spoken out in favour of Uganda’s new law. A Pew Research report in 2013 found that homophobia runs very high in Africa. Ninety six percent of Ugandans believe society should not accept homosexuality. Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana came out with similar figures, with Egypt and Jordan scoring in the high 90s, making the African continent by far the most homophobic region in the world.
But aid cuts are a controversial method of punishment. Those imposed on Uganda last year led to the scaling back and cancellation of some government programmes, and reduced growth by 0.7 percent, hitting the entire population. Donors will likely prefer to avoid reducing aid, and instead focus on channeling it through trusted organisations, thereby bypassing the government.
The decisions by donors are not only relevant for the government’s immediate cash flow; they will also be watched by ratings agencies. Standard and Poor’s lowered its sovereign ratings on Uganda on 17 January 2014, from B+/negative to B/stable, on account of the weakening fiscal position due in part to the suspension of general budget support by some donors in 2012. Its last report warned that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill could pose fresh risks to relations with donors. “To the extent that donor relations will be impacted negatively, possibly leading to further donor suspensions or cuts, then there may be an impact on Uganda’s creditworthiness,” says Tatonga Gardner Rusike, associate for sovereign ratings and international public finance at S&P.


Posted by on Mar 14 2014. Filed under African News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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