Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Distressing Diplomacy: US Foreign Aid to Anti-Homosexual, Anti-West Uganda Administration

By Shawn Han ChoiPublished April 21, 2014

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has made it clear that he finds certain kinds of human beings categorically "disgusting." Does America agree?
By Shawn Han Choi, 4/21/14

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni passed an anti-homosexuality bill in February 2014, which has been criticized by many citizens and politicians in the United States. Museveni makes his opinion on homosexuals quite clear: "They're disgusting. What sort of people are they? I never knew what they were doing. I've been told recently that what they do is terrible. Disgusting. But I was ready to ignore that if there was proof that that's how he is born, abnormal. But now the proof is not there." Few Americans know that $400 million dollars of US taxpayer money is annually being funneled into Uganda as foreign aid. One questions whether the majority of our citizens would tolerate, let alone support US aid money that often lines the pockets of the corrupt politicians who push these brutal discriminatory laws through the Ugandan government. American citizens should know how much foreign aid our government has given and expects to give to Uganda as well as the precise nature and scope of the gains the country has realized using our funds.

Today in Uganda, individuals engaging in same-sex behaviors can face life imprisonment. In addition, escalating acts of violence and crippling discrimination from the general public threaten not only the human rights of LGBT Ugandans, but also their physical and psychological well-being. The February 2014 legislation builds on the original 2009 version, dubbed "Kill the Gays," which proposed the death penalty for those caught engaging in intimate same-sex behaviors. In an April 19, 2009 edition of Red Pepper, a bolded headline states: "TOP HOMOS IN UGANDA NAMED," along with the "names, identifying features, places of employment, residences, boyfriends and girlfriends" of those outed. Is there anything the US can do to counteract the hatred that has become the norm in Uganda? It's a tricky situation. Politically, Uganda has been a good ally of the United States. According to the NY times, "Mr. Museveni earned the United States' appreciation when he sent Ugandan troops into Somalia in 2012, forming the largest African contingent fighting the Shabab, a group of Islamist rebels," and the strategic military advantages conferred through relations with Uganda hinder the US from taking a direct punitive stance against Museveni.

To add to the complexity, Uganda has signed contracts with UK-based Tullow Oil, Total and China National Offshore Oil Corp, and expects to establish by 2017 an "export pipeline to Kenya's northern port of Lamu and a power plant," according to Minister of Energy and Minerals, Irene Muloni. Unfortunately for the US, this likely means that punitive economic measures will be virtually ineffective, as Museveni believes that his new petroleum development projects will lead to less dependency on Western aid and alliances. This decreased economic and political dependency may mean less military support against Somali radicals and other regional extremists in the future, and it seems Museveni has not only taken a stand against homosexuality, but also against "the West" in general. Zain Verjee of CNN reports that he "was floored at the barrage of criticism belted out to "The West" with statements such as "Arrogant western groups are to blame," "Leave us alone," and "We don't need your (donor) money." These statements possibly hint at Museveni's plans to abandon close bilateral relations with the United States and to strengthen ties with China and Russia, which have histories of activity in the African region. Under current circumstances, there is no clear answer as to what policy measures the US should take.

Perhaps this new legislation is a mere political stunt orchestrated by the Museveni government to gain supporters in the upcoming 2016 presidential elections. Perhaps it will escalate into uglier acts of hatred and violence toward the LGBT community. What matters now is patience, scrutiny, and the informed opinion of the American people. Museveni has made it clear that he finds certain kinds of human beings categorically "disgusting." Does America agree? US foreign policy toward Uganda should reflect the convictions of its citizens. If a government stands against our most cherished values of equality, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness, then it makes little sense to pay for its continued acts of hatred.