KAMPALA, Uganda — Aid to Uganda is undergoing review as nations around the globe, including Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark, have suspended millions in their aid programs to Uganda in response to the passing of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
This bill was signed by Uganda President Yoweri Museveni on February 24, but was first introduced in 2009. It was put aside temporarily when Britain and other European countries threatened the withdrawal of aid due to a death penalty clause.
The revised version of that bill, which resurfaced in 2014, included life in prison instead of the death penalty. All threats and possibility of aid withdrawal were ignored and cast aside despite a warning from United States President Barack Obama, who said that enacting the bill would affect the relationship between the U.S. and Uganda.
Museveni told CNN, “If the West doesn’t want to work with us because of homosexuals, then we have enough space here to live by ourselves and do business with other people.”
Homosexual acts were already illegal in Uganda, but this new bill toughens penalties, including 14 years in jail for first-time offenders, life in prison for “aggravated homosexuality” and penalties of years in prison for those who counsel homosexuals or conspire to aid and abet homosexuality.
As Obama warned, and as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated on February 24, “We are beginning an internal review of our relationship with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programs, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values.”
USAID Mission Director of Uganda Leslie Reed sent a response memo on February 28 stating that because the U.S. began an internal review of aid to Uganda, grant recipients were authorized to evaluate whether the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would interfere with fulfilling their contract agreements.
While many nations are withdrawing their aid to Uganda because of the bill, others such as Britain have chosen not to do so based on the grounds that the people of Uganda are still in need of aid.
A spokesman for Britain’s Department for International Development said that they would not withhold aid to Uganda because, “The U.K. remains committed to supporting the people of Uganda.” He went on to say that budgetary money would be channeled through alternative routes such as international aid agencies instead of through the Government of Uganda, which they had already cut ties with because of corruption.
Public opinion in the U.S., according to a survey done by YouGov/Huffington Post between February 25 and February 26, is that 62% of Americans support removing financial aid to Uganda while the new law is in effect.
This raises a dilemma, one that many U.S. politicians and those involved in aid to Uganda and to other countries in similar situations find themselves debating; whether aid should still be given to a country in which the laws are unacceptable to western sensibilities, and, whether withholding aid is the best approach to changing those laws while the people of Uganda are caught in the crossfire.
– Heather Johnson