Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Aid to Africa, Gay Rights and a Counterintuitive Reaction

Hurrah, a Tory MEP, Charles Tannock, says something sensible, and argues that EU financial aid to African countries should depend on their commitment to gay and human rights. He specifically focuses on Uganda and the case of David Kato who was murdered last month. He reportedly said:

“It is inevitable that in a climate of such bigotry the lives of gay rights activists would be endangered, and so it has sadly proved to be the case with David Kato. He knew the risks of publicly defending gays.

“I am sure that many of my London constituents are deeply concerned about the European Union giving financial aid to a country where such disgusting sentiments are not only tolerated but sometimes apparently officially condoned."

I'm going to say something you might not expect, and which may annoy some of you. I think he's wrong. I think, when it comes to aid for Africa, we ought to be going against our instincts and giving the dosh anyway - even to countries like Uganda; countries that oppress and murder their homosexual citizens.

This isn't because I've flipped but rather because I think we are becoming too focused on the "small picture", and too rooted in a narrow European perspective. We are failing to fully appreciate what's going on in Africa and how rapidly Europe is losing its influence. One word explains this. That word is 'China'.

China is pouring aid into Africa by the bucket-load. A rapidly expanding Chinese economy needs the raw resources that Africa is rich in, and it needs to build the relationships, and ensure it has influcnce in the giant continent that is Africa. It is busy building tomorrow's world, whilst Europe can't look past yesterday's world. The aid from China often comes without the strings that would come with European aid. As you would expect, human rights isn't a major issue for China.

If you were running an African government, who would you take your money from? The with strings or no-strings funder? The one who says nothing but nice things, or the constant critic? It's not hard to see why China is advancing across Africa. This means that a set of values are being perpetuated into the long term that reflect Chinese socio-political and legal concerns. They will be transplanted into the African consciousness and European ideals and values will increasingly be rejected. Only by being in there, by being a friend to Africa, can we say the things that only a friend can say. The things that only a friend listens to.

So, whilst my instinct is to say "hurrah", to agree with the comments of Tannock, my head says "no". Let's keep focused on the bigger picture in Africa and delivering long-term sustainable human rights, and a transformation in attitudes to gender and sexuality.

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