Gay tolerance as possible UK aid conditionality

This week, the BBC reported on UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement that aid recipients should protect human rights, including the humane treatment of homosexuals. It launched a discussion of what could become a new form of aid conditionality long practiced by donor countries, but more typically in favor of the adoption of certain types of economic policies and governance structures.

Of course, there is a touch of bitter irony in the demand — while a full 41 of 54 commonwealth countries have laws banning homosexuality, in most cases these are legacies of British Imperial law.

In various African countries, leaders rebuffed the proposal.

From the Ghanaian Minister of Trade and Industry, Hannah Tetteh:

Our society does not accept the practice of gays and lesbianism

A Zambian government spokesman said they will not enact pro-homosexuality laws to get British aid. And in Uganda, the proposal caused a “fury.”

This may emerge into one of the great North-South values clashes in the years to come. While democratic practices have often been attached to loan conditions, virtually no leaders  have taken the public stance that they actually oppose democracy, even if they undermine the institution in practice. In the case of homosexual tolerance, however, given low public support, leaders are taking stark and uncompromising positions, and some countries are looking to toughen their approach rather than the reverse.

(See my recent post about the extent of harsh treatment towards gays around the world, especially in Africa.)

4 thoughts on “Gay tolerance as possible UK aid conditionality

  1. I thought this might be particularly relevant in the Malawian case, but what’s interesting is that in Malawi, the British are distancing themselves from this notion. In the Malawian case, at least, there are also general human rights concerns that the UK can claim are barriers for donors.

    Interestingly, though, some LGBT organizations in Africa are opposed to the link between gay rights and foreign assistance, preferring that aid be continued even in the absence of equality.

  2. Hi Evan (and Kim,)

    Interesting posts. It seems David Cameron either doesn’t know about or is out to reverse Neumayer’s (2003) findings that human rights conditions on aid are rarely if ever enforced in bilateral aid allocations.

    Even, I really like your point regarding public stances on democracy versus homosexuality. I am particularly interested in how changes in aid flows for AIDS are pushing sexual diversity issues.

    The Malawi case does seem to be a bit different since the UK has actually initiated aid reductions and the DPP has repeatedly claimed that these aid reductions (as well as the recent protests) are just because of gay rights. Additionally, the claims of local sexual rights activists that reductions in aid might create a backlash against gays is certainly one that you don’t hear much from the donor side. And even though Trapence and Mwakusungura are silent according to the link Kim posted, this has been Trapence’s position for more than a year and was publicized throughout the 2010 sodomy case.

    Regarding Tsvengirai’s position from your other post, Evan: last year, Mutharika made a similar concession in pardoning Chimbalanga and Monjeza presumably because he understood that aid would flow more readily if a human rights approach was adopted, or at least verbalized. For Mutharika, though, this rhetoric seems to be adopted only very strategically and he reverses his stance (e.g., when he extended the criminalization of same-sex sex to female-female sex last spring) when he thinks no one is looking.

    Last, it is worth considering how much a stance supporting gay rights would really undermine Tsvengirai in the upcoming election. In Malawi, I found that villagers had mixed views on last year’s sodomy case, and many supported gay rights as a function of their own dependency ties or their understandings of the social practice of democracy. This nuanced understanding of support for gay rights is more in line with Loftus’ (2000) work in the US which shows that support for gay civil rights is distinct from support for male-male sexual behaviors. Hopefully, Kim and I will get some money soon to go back to Malawi and get some survey data on this! In the meantime, I would be happy to send a draft of this chapter of my dissertation if you’re interested.


    1. Thanks for your comments Tara —

      First off, I am glad you are optimistic that political leaders might act based on the findings of social science research! (Another study I have considered is an experiment forwarding social scientific findings to politicians to see if they act differently in light of new knowledge…)

      Second, I would be very interested in learning more about your research findings on views of the sodomy case in Malawi. I think there are a few separate issues here: attitudes towards sexual practice; attitudes towards lifestyles (co-habitation, coupling, etc); and support for civil rights / equal citizenship. Obviously, these are related, but as you point out, one could express “tolerance” for male-male sex, but not support civil rights — while the reverse would not be true. Please do send, and I would be happy to post a link to your dissertation.

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