In a Presidential memorandum from December 6, 2011, President Obama directed the federal government to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign aid promote and protect the human rights of the LGBT community abroad. Earlier this month the president made good on that promise by doling out a number of funding cuts to Uganda after the recent passage of their Anti-Homosexuality Act which criminalizes homosexuality.
Homosexuality has been a crime in Uganda since British rule, but this act criminalizes lesbianism for the first time. In the proposal stages the act originally contained a death penalty clause, but after international outcry, that provision was changed to life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” The law also targets those who aid members of the gay community, effectively ensnaring civil rights groups.
In response to the law the U.S. government has restricted entry into the U.S. by those it has implicated in the passage and enforcement of the law. The U.S. government has also ended its support of Uganda’s community policing program, fearing that it could potentially be utilized as an enforcement mechanism for anti-homosexuality sentiments in Uganda. That program included $2.4 million in aid. Additionally, funds intended for the Ministry of Health in Uganda have been shifted to NGOs within the country. This coincides with the movement of a planned National Public Health Institute to another African country along with the $3 million in funding which the U.S. would have provided. The Department of Defense also cancelled a joint military aviation exercise with Ugandan forces and the World Bank delayed a $90 million loan to Uganda directed toward improving its health services. Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have joined the U.S. in withholding significant aid to Uganda.
The international response by the western world to the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act has been decisive and swift. However, the Ugandan government, led by President Yoweri Museveni, remains resolute in its anti-gay position. Despite this, Uganda remains in a desperate state of need.
In the 2013 United Nations Development Programme Development Index, Uganda ranked 161 out of 186 countries. As of 2009, 24.5 percent of Uganda’s population was impoverished, down from a 31.1 percent rate in 2005 according to the World Bank. These improvements are significant but they run the risk of faltering without continued international support.
In a statement released in February shortly after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, President Obama called it “a step backward for all Ugandans.” With the imminent fallout from reduced foreign aid quickly approaching, this statement becomes clearer and clearer every day.
— Taylor Dow