Western countries and World Bank cut aid to Uganda, local advocates speak out

In response to Uganda's recently enacted anti-gay law, the World Bank and various countries in the Global North are withholding aid from the nation.

Last week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a punishment of life imprisonment for being LGBT. The Draconian law has drawn criticism around the world for being blatantly discriminatory and for promoting a dangerous anti-LGBT environment. Many of those in opposition--including Denmark, Holland, Norway, the Washington-based World Bank, and potentially the United States--are using their financial power to sanction Uganda's actions.

Holland has ceased with its seven million euro subsidy and both Denmark and Norway are redirecting six million euros. The US is reviewing "all dimensions of our engagement, including assistant programs," said Secretary of State John Kerry, and $400 million in donations. Perhaps of most significance, the World Bank recently announced it would postpone its $90 million loan to Uganda's health system.

World Bank spokesman David Theis commented on the decision: "We have postponed the project for further review to ensure that the development objectives would not be adversely affected by the enactment of this new law," The Guardian reported.

The anti-gay law was reportedly created in order to resist what are considered to be Western influences, and Ugandan government representatives have not objected to lessened ties with the global powers at hand. Ofwono Opondo, spokesperson for the Ugandan government, explained President Museveni signed the bill "with the full witness of the international media to demonstrate Uganda's independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation." Opondo even tweeted, "the west can keep their 'aiid' [sic] to Uganda over homos."

Despite Opondo's claim that Western aid is neither needed nor wanted, grassroots Ugandan LGBT advocates fear that the financial blow to one of the world's poorest countries will only exponentially punish who the sanctions seek to support.

Director of Out and Proud Diamond Group (an African LGBT organization) Edwin Sesange told Gay Star News:

Aid in various forms helps all ordinary Ugandans, including LGBT people who we are campaigning for. Therefore the consequences of not being able to access those services financed by foreign aid will directly impact gay, lesbian, trans, and bi Ugandans' wellbeing. Our parents, sisters, brothers, friends, and other relatives will also become victims. By contrast, most proponents of homophobia in Uganda can afford luxurious lives without depending on some foreign aid funded projects…Western leaders need to assess the risks of their strategies before LGBT people pay the consequences.

In the same article, advocate Val Kalende expressed concern that one of the "consequences" to cutting aid would be "the backlash against LGBT people."

International support for the Ugandan LGBT community is necessary, urge grassroots advocates, and can exist in a variety of forms outside of cutting aid. The key is listening to the community at hand to best understand its needs.

This week, five leading LGBT advocates from Uganda, representing the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, released a public document outlining what they consider to be the 20 most helpful ways for westerners to advocate for Uganda's LGBT community. The list includes important topics to learn about, suggests ways to speak out and lobby, and more. Regarding withdrawn aid, the Coalition wrote:

The question of cutting Donor AID has arisen. Our position on this is very clear. We do not support General Aid Cuts to Uganda. We do not want the people of Uganda to suffer because of the unfortunate Political choices of our government. However, we support Strategic Aid Cuts to specific sectors, such as the Dutch Government’s decision to withdraw funding from the Justice Sector. We encourage urgent review of Aid to organizations and government institutions that have failed to demonstrate respect for Human Rights and those that have been actively supporting this bill. We DO NOT support cuts in support to NGO’s and other civil society institutions that offer lifesaving health services or other important social services to the People of Uganda.

The document also references the importance of asylum in nation states that would be safer for people who are LGBT. Scotland, for example, has offered its service to LGBT people under siege in Uganda. James Dornan, Scottish National Party MSP, recently said, "Scotland will make it clear to the UK Home Office that we are ready and willing to welcome anyone who requires refuge from this nightmare."

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