One concept that we don’t discuss much in the “Western” world (a label that I find completely inaccurate and useless) is that of colonialism. Since Canada’s political structure and demographics are made up overwhelmingly of the descendants of European immigrants, we have much less of a post-colonial headache than South American and African countries (and indeed, many Asian countries as well). The United States points repeatedly to its birth as rebellion from its colonial masters, allowing it to throw off the weight of post-colonial detritus. The European countries are the ones who did the colonizing, so their relationship with the subject is quite different. The result of this confluence of historical and political/economic factors is that the only people who really discuss colonialism are members of minority groups.
We’re going to need to understand the issue a lot better:
The UK is showing a “bullying mentality” by threatening to cut aid to countries where homosexuality is illegal, a Ugandan official says. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said at the weekend that those receiving British aid should respect gay rights. But Ugandan presidential adviser John Nagenda told the BBC Ugandans were “tired of these lectures” and should not be treated like “children”.
The issue at discussion here is the proposal to withdraw foreign aid from countries that refuse to recognize universal human rights for homosexual people. The move is lauded by gay rights groups who say that it is hypocritical of countries like the UK to talk about promoting human rights, but to provide aid to regimes that criminalize homosexuality. It is derided, on the other hand, by African leaders who see it as an attempt to force “Western” moral standards on the rest of the world. Uganda is one of the worst offenders, to be sure, but they’re not alone:
Ghana’s President John Atta Mills has rejected the UK’s threat to cut aid if he refuses to legalise homosexuality. Mr Atta Mills said the UK could not impose its values on Ghana and he would never legalise homosexuality. (snip)
Mr Atta Mills said Mr Cameron was entitled to his views, but he did not have the right to “direct to other sovereign nations as to what they should do”. He said Ghana’s “societal norms” were different from those in the UK. “I, as president, will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana,” Mr Atta Mills said.
Because I think it’s important to understand the different perspectives at play here, and because I don’t think the answer to this problem is cut and dry, I will borrow a device from one of my fellow FTBorgs and present this discussion as a dialogue between Mary Washburn from Essex, England and Jason Ngeze from Kampala, Uganda.
Jason: With all due respect, Ms. Washburn, England has no right to dictate its morality to Uganda. We see homosexuality as a deeply troubling social issue that threatens the family structure and basic underpinning of African society. You may not agree, but your society is not built on African traditions. Forcing us to legalize homosexuality is as immoral as Saudi Arabia demanding that England adopt Sharia law in its courts.
Mary: With an equal amount of respect, Mr. Ngeze, Uganda is not in a position to dictate the manner in which we direct our aid. The majority of English people do not share your views, and do not support the idea of their tax dollars being spent in the service of persecuting minority groups. We once struggled with the question of homosexuality, and now understand it to be a natural part of the human experience. Denying rights to your gay citizens is intolerable to us, and we will not participate in it.
Jason: That’s all very well, but you have placed us in a position where once again, the colonial masters are making decisions that the people do not support. England knows very well that Uganda cannot survive without assistance, so now it is using our vulnerable position to force us to comply. Our citizens will suffer if we do not comply with your threat (which this undoubtedly is), but our country and sense of self-governance will suffer if we allow you to bully us.
Mary: While I am sensitive to that, the fact remains that Uganda is a member of the international community and must therefore be open to compromise and political pressure from its trading partners.
Jason: You say ‘compromise’ and ‘partners’ as though you are speaking of equals. England has never treated Uganda as an equal, and is now holding our economic future hostage in order to force your beliefs on us.
Mary: That’s ridiculous. We are doing no such thing. We do not owe you aid. You speak as though we have some kind of obligation to provide you with money simply because you do not have any. If you are asking us for help we are happy to give it, but it does not come without strings.
Jason: And you speak as though England and the other colonial powers are not responsible for the abysmal shape countries like Uganda are currently in.
Mary: What? Decades of war and corrupt political leaders are why Uganda is in such terrible shape. You once had a powerful economy but have squandered it through short-sighted economic policy and lack of effective leadership. That isn’t England’s fault!
Jason: Like hell it isn’t! Colonial presence in African countries completely obliterated the human resource infrastructure available to grow leaders. The power vacuum and the buildup of arms given to us for use in fighting your wars with other colonial powers and your political enemies in the 20th century meant that as soon as you left, opportunistic warlords seized power. You could have helped establish stable governments, but you abandoned us.
Mary: Hardly, we were practically forced out. Now that you have freedom you wish to throw it in our faces that you have failed to thrive?
Jason: But we don’t have freedom as long as you continue to make foreign aid contingent on us abandoning our traditions and identity, essentially forcing us to assimilate into European culture.
Mary: We aren’t forcing you to do anything. If you want to be free from our ‘tainted’ foreign aid, then don’t accept it!
Jason: Ah yes, then we shall be free to starve to death.
As you see, this is not a simple problem with a quick solution. While I find the homosexual attitudes of these African countries repulsive and largely false (homophobia is not ‘culture’, it is superstition), I also recognize how much of an existential threat colonialism is. It is also a useful ‘card’ to play to extort false support from Ugandans/Ghanaians who would otherwise support these moves for human rights, although I sincerely doubt that the move is as calculated as that. What is more likely is that a real resentment to foreign interference, carried by people whose very identities are under seige, is manifesting itself. In order to be able to navigate these somewhat-uncharted sociopolitical waters, we need to be fluent in the language spoken by both sides.
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