The audacity of sovereignty
The stakes were high; perhaps unnecessarily so. Yet this past week Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni decided to literally spit in the faces of Western powers that have been trying to foist the “new norm” of engagement based on recognition of gay “rights”.
These powers – the US, UK and the Commonwealth countries – have made their position clear: the world, and particularly Africa, should accept gay rights or risk losing aid that the West has been so generous to give.
In October 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC that those receiving UK aid should “adhere to proper human rights”, chief of which these days seems to be gay rights.
Two months later, US President Barack Obama reportedly instructed officials across government to “ensure that US diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, and transgender persons”.
The then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton later said in a speech marking International Human Rights Day that “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time… gay rights, are human rights, and human rights are gay rights”.
She added: “It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.”
“It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished.”
Malawi had foreign aid support reduced because of its stance on gay rights and has had to do a lot of climbing down to keep good books with outside benefactors.
Canada threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Uganda if the anti-homosexuality Bill was passed. There were even shrill ‘holy’ cries from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is on record as stating that he does “not worship a homophobic God”.
Museveni is not foolish or foolhardy; the only attributes that would ordinarily attend those who oppose big powers, if they have no reason to be brave.
His defiance can be put in the same bracket as the forthrightness of President Mugabe who has been vocal on the gay issue and Zimbabwe’s right to political and economic self-determination.
Museveni could be showing the world the audacity of sovereignty.
It should be borne in mind that his country has been pursuing a hardline stance on homosexuality. His senior advisor, Joseph Nagenda, has been lashing out at both at the UK and the US for trying to foist homosexuality on Africa.
He said in 2011: “If the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell.” Nagenda was also quoted by the Christian Science Monitor as saying: “I don’t like her tone, at all … I’m amazed she’s not looking to her own country and lecturing them first, before she comes to say these things which she knows are very sensitive issues in so many parts of the world, not least Africa.
“Homosexuality here is taboo, it’s something anathema to Africans, and I can say that this idea of Clinton’s, of Obama’s, is something that will be seen as abhorrent in every country on the continent that I can think of.” Following Monday’s signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, Canada, the US and Britain made familiar noises.
Canada said: “This Act is a serious setback for human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms and deserves to be widely condemned.
Regrettably, this discriminatory law will serve as an impediment in our relationship with the Ugandan government.”
The UK said it was “deeply saddened and disappointed” while to the US, this was a “tragic day for Uganda and for all who care about the cause of human rights” which “complicates a valued relationship.”
Here comes the real reason that gives Museveni all the aces and the sovereignty that he showed in an audacious manner: Uganda is a strategic country in East Africa and after this storm, nothing serious is likely to happen to the country.
Uganda is a US pivot to East and Central Africa.
Uganda is essential to the defeat of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, to which the US is committed.
Obama undertook this in his first year in office and on October 14, 2011, committed troops to help find Kony.
Already in 2008, the US Treasury had put Kony on a list of global terrorists and in 2010 Congress unanimously passed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009.
This Ugandan pivot is key in securing US interests in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Uganda has oil, too.
Commercially viable oil deposits were discovered in 2006. Authorities say by the end of 2013, Uganda’s proven oil reserves were estimated by the Ugandan Petroleum Exploration and Production Department to be 3.5 billion barrels, expected to yield at least US$2 billion per year for 30 years once oil production commences.
Now this is interesting. Uganda has a considerable geostrategic value. This may not – cannot – be lost over an issue like gay rights; and proponents of the same know it.
Uganda has not been the loveliest of fellows with its involvement in wars in Central and East Africa; not least its dalliance with the US Africa Command project, but it has shown that it has muscle particularly to fight cultural imperialism that is this hullabaloo around gay rights is about.
One lesson there is: African countries could leverage what advantages they have – Zimbabwe is rich and the gateway to Southern Africa – and start standing their ground.
Africa has to be audacious in light of political, economic and cultural imperialism from the West. – The Herald