Africa,  Homophobia

Homophobia and the aid budget

Following many reports of discrimination and harsh new laws against homosexuality, a number of African countries are facing possible cuts to their aid budget.  Malawi has already forfeited 19 million pounds. The Pink Paper reports:

Now, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said he is willing to reduce aid to Uganda and Ghana unless they also drop laws against gays.
Both either punish or plan to punish homosexuality with discriminatory legislation.
Uganda, which is due to receive £70million in 2011, plans to punish homosexuality with the death penalty. The president of Ghana, which gets £36million a year, has promised to bring in measures to ‘check the menace of homosexuality’.

Cameron’s step has been greeted with disapproval in countries targeted for cuts. Here’s a response from Ghana:

He is now forcing the hands of the government to accept the rights of gays and lesbians in the country, or risk being starved with aid, which is complete blackmail.

Cranmer offers a different perspective on the government’s stand against homophobia:

If we are truly pursuing equality in international development, why link aid to gay rights and not to religious liberty? Why penalise those regimes which hang gay teenagers but permit those who behead Christians to continue with impunity? Aid to Pakistan is presently set at £203million, yet they have blasphemy laws which are every bit as offensive as Malawi’s anti-lesbian laws.

My first impulse was to approve of Cameron’s decision.  And I couldn’t really fault Cranmer’s logic either.  But something niggled. I suppose there are a couple of reasons for my (irrational?) unease over this move.  One is the feeling that it’s regrettable that people who are not directly responsible for homophobia may suffer.  Another is an awareness that such moves may appeal to illiberal as well as liberal instincts – to people who want to cut aid not for reasons connected to human rights, or even for other tough but pragmatic/rational reasons, but because they just don’t care about suffering in other countries.  I found it difficult to find any coverage of this news item in the left/liberal press or blogosphere, but did find this article in the Daily Mail .

I’d find it interesting to read a wider range of perspectives on this issue – it would be a good topic for the Moral Maze perhaps.  Opposing the move seems a bit like saying gay rights shouldn’t be a shibboleth.  So maybe I can assuage my lefty fretfulness about the idea of cutting aid to poorer countries by suggesting that the problem isn’t that gay rights are being made a shibboleth but that they aren’t being attended to consistently.  Saudi Arabia, which has no need of aid, has a pretty appalling record on the issue.  But, far from punishing that regime, the government appears to be uncertain whether alleged illicit payments made to the Saudi royal family should be investigated.