Gay rights advocates in Africa say Western diplomats who threaten to take away aid money over a government’s mistreatment of gays often hurt the cause rather than help it.
Bisi Alimi, a Nigerian LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) advocate based in London, said recent comments made by Gambia President Yahya Jammeh are a good example of this potential harm. On Saturday, Jammeh said he could not be “bribed” with foreign aid to accept gay rights in his country.
Western leaders such as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron have been issuing increasingly stern warnings to countries throughout Africa about the importance of protecting gay rights. Late last year, Mr. Cameron said Britain could make aid conditional upon a country’s relaxing its ban on homosexuality.
The reality is, Alimi explains, “Gambia needs international aid to provide the smallest services for its people.”
“Now the president of Gambia is saying, ‘We will not be coerced into supporting homosexuality because of international aid.’ And that means big backlash on the LGBT people. The moment you are identified as an LGBT person you are seen as a reason for the lack of development.”
Alimi said statements like Mr. Cameron’s allow leaders like Jammeh to blame the gay community for a lack of development.
The Nigerian activist added Western leaders should go beyond making threatening statements to the government and improve their support of LGBT activism on the ground.
“There’s going to be a witch hunt,” Alimi said. “These same governments that are saying if you don’t support gay rights we will not give you money, are not actually protecting those people. And the achievements that these people have made – in terms of gay right advocacy, gay rights activism – is being put into trouble because of statement of somebody very comfortable in the White House, in Downing Street.”
Alimi works as a spokesperson for Kaleidoscope Trust and heads his own African Migrant Organization. He said his groups are trying to work with activists in many African countries to promote grassroots activism. The goal is to engage local political leaders and put a face to the reality of LGBT people, rather than coming at the issue through a top-down approach.
Earlier this month, 19 men were arrested in Gambia and charged with indecent practices after being “suspected of homosexuality.”