Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Uganda fails at humanity (but they're not alone)

Really, Uganda? In 2012, you think it's acceptable to pass a law whereby homosexuality can be punished by death or life imprisonment? As a result, there have been angry calls for boycotts of Uganda and for cutting off all foreign aid.

This may sound like a perfectly reasonable response on the surface, but a more nuanced, less simplistic response would be saner - and less likely to disadvantage people in genuine need.

Firstly, let's examine an economic boycott of Uganda. It's pretty easy to boycott Uganda as a holiday destination, so that's a moot point. But what about not buying goods exported from Uganda to Britain? Will that achieve anything? Probably not. The Ugandan shilling is currently losing value and while oil exports could  boost the economy significantly, any improvements to the economy are hampered by high population growth, poor job creation and underdeveloped infrastructure.

In 2009, Britain exported £50 million worth of goods to Uganda. In return, Uganda exported just £12 million worth of goods to Britain. Basically, Britain is making more money out of Uganda than Uganda is making out of Britain. When you break it down, it looks even more paltry - in 2009, Britain bought £4 million worth of fruit and vegetables, £3 million worth of electrical machinery and £1 million worth of tea, coffee and spices. A boycott of these goods, especially the produce, tea, coffee and spices, is going to hurt Ugandan farmers more than anyone else.

Secondly, cutting all foreign aid sounds like a fine plan in theory. It is always the fallback option of the right and the hysterical whenever a developing country does something douchey. (Except, of course, when right-leaning groups are actually fine with countries expressing the sovereignty by passing homophobic laws and even offer charitable support to such things as therapy to "cure" homosexuality, but I digress).

The good news is that there are ways to continue to assist vulnerable people in Uganda while still taking a stand against the government. By giving foreign aid directly to carefully selected, non-religious Ugandan NGOs, aid can go directly to people who need it without handing cash over to the government. Or why not take a powerful stand and ensure aid goes to groups in Uganda who are fighting for gay and lesbian rights? There are plenty of groups who could use the funds to stand up to the absurd government.

But in the midst of all this, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are anti-gay laws in 76 countries. Yes, 76 countries still live in the dark ages and criminalise consensual sexual behaviour of a significant proportion of their populations and the rest of the world is largely silent. But, hey, Saudi has the oil, the Seychelles is a nice place for heterosexuals to go on honeymoon, who doesn't like a spot of shopping on Singapore's Orchard Road...

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