On February 25 Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed a bill criminalising homosexuality, meaning the ‘illegal’ and marginalised gay community in Uganda now face the risk of criminal charges and long-term imprisonment. In addition, the current bill outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires the citizens of Uganda to out and denounce gay people. While homosexuality remains illegal in 82 countries in the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, reactions to this most recent anti-gay legislation have the added facet of being publicly entangled with international development aid.
The World Bank, Norway, Denmark and Sweden have currently stalled or redirected around $110m in planned aid to the Ugandan government, and sent a message of opposition to their violation of fundamental human rights. Ties with the US have been similarly damaged – the country is also currently revising its relationship with Uganda. The collective reaction of these world powers has many implications for the delivery of health-based aid initiatives in the future generally speaking.
In Uganda, over the next few months donor countries will be searching for alternative means to ensure that development initiatives can proceed independently of its government’s assistance, through NGOs already operating in the region. These NGOs have a tense and problematic time ahead, with the most recent iteration of the anti-gay sentiment of the Ugandan government threatening development initiatives generally speaking.
The future actions of the World Bank will be of particular interest as the traditionally neoliberal organisation shifts towards a moral platform. The World Bank’s $90m contribution to the aid pool, which was to be used in the Ugandan health sector in conjunction with other government-operated initiatives, has been stalled as part of the organisation’s overarching anti-discrimination standpoint. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim positioned the anti-gay laws in Uganda as part of the global economic cost of discriminatory practices.
“After all, the bottom line is clear: Eliminating discrimination is not only the right thing to do; it’s also critical to ensure that we have sustained, balanced and inclusive economic growth in all societies — whether in developed or developing nations, the North or the South, America or Africa.” (Worldbank.org)
So far, the political rhetoric has not addressed how this legislation and the corresponding reactions of donors will, presumably negatively, affect the lived realities of both the homosexual and heterosexual populations in Uganda. The latest assault against the gay population by Museveni will exacerbate the country’s mounting health issues, and the stalling of aid will halt progress towards development health indicators. In a place where HIV/AIDS remains the highest cause of death, a retraction of aid will intensify issues of health promotion, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and surveillance in this area. The effects of such will ripple through the entire population and the prevailing stigma, shame and secrecy will create real obstacles to health service delivery.
Evelyn Marsters has a PhD in Development Studies from the University of Auckland (NZ) and is currently based in Berlin. Her focus is global health and migration, and she is Deputy Editor at Impolitikal. Read more by Evelyn.