Sunday, January 31, 2010

Uganda and Homosexualiy: A Response

Several weeks ago I published a post about the West's preoccupation with the pending anti-homosexuality bill ni Uganda while completing disregarding actual instances of violence and upheaval in the country. I received a few replies noting that homosexuality is currently a "hot-button issue" in the States and therefore the (possible) involvement of Americans in the creation of the bill is what makes it so intriguing to the press. I admit I wrote my blog quickly and so did not fully explain my point; I will attempt to do that now.

There is the obvious theme behind the media coverage that the Ugandan parliament is only considering such a bill due to the powerful influence of the American pastors, an offensive suggestion that removes all agency from Ugandans and their ability to think and act independently of Western interference. Furthermore, African nations are often portrayed as violent and unstable regions. Thus, articles that include such phrases as "in a country where already thieves are attacked by deadly mobs" suggest that Uganda is a dangerous place that will only become more so with the passage of an anti-gay bill, which is completely false: Uganda is one of the safest country's on the continent and it is unlikely that the bill would change that. However, the image of Africa, and Uganda, as violent still pushes through in a self-fulfilling agenda: as reports come through largely in pictures and removed from all context, thus removing the possibility of understanding Africa in new ways.

LGBT rights are unquestionably on the minds of many Americans and internationals alike, with Prop 8 being contested in California courts and the recent legalization of same-sex marriages in Portugal. At the same time, considering the level of disappointment resulting from the Copenhagen Climate Conference and the continued involvement of America in the Middle East, so are the environment and oil. Yet scarce attention is given to oil drilling in Lake Albert, situated along Murchison Falls National park, home to several endangered species including leopard, elephant and shoebill stork. Though oil companies and President Museveni have vowed to ensure that drilling with clean and environmentally sound (despite a clear history of oil's negative impact on the continent) the newest oil contracts clearly take no account of the effects on the local populations, climate or wildlife, but rather are another example of company profit at the expense of country development. Also missing from Western media is discussion of the potential human disaster of drilling for oil in an area that straddles Uganda, a relatively stable country, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which notoriously is not. Perhaps the assumption is that particular border has seen conflict for at least the past fourteen years, so what's a little more?

Before joining the Western media's love affair with a potential bill, it's important to step back and see what the media is deleting from the news - and then consider how many innocent people die and how much land is destroyed in the international pursuit of oil and wealth.


  1. the same thing was true in central asia and afghanistan, with western companies competing to build natural gas pipelines from turkmenistan through afghanistan to a facility on the pakistani coast, till warfare rendered that plan moot. exploitation in every sense of the word.

  2. I am not sure if I mentioned this in my previous response or not, but I think part of the problem is the West's tendency to think of Africa as one homogenous semi-country, with no differentiation given to different countries/regions/cultures. If there are pirates in Somalia, then all of Africa has a pirate problem. If one African country has political unrest, then clearly Ugandans are rioting in the streets. I don't think most Americans think that Africa has much to offer (beyond perhaps an artistic contribution) to us and thus feels free to ignore/pity it.

  3. I agree with Foxy Roxy on the Western media's tendency to generalize about Africa. As to the points in your post, I wonder if there are conditions under which you would view mining and drilling as favorable or at least acceptable? I think too often the 'easy' answer to proposed resource explointation is to say "These projects will damage the environment, therefore they should be stopped." However, countries like the US and Russia which heavily invested in mining, drilling and industrial development 100 years ago, have enormously prospered as a result, to the extent that they have since been able to clean up the huge environmental messes those projects created (think reversal of acid rain, reversal of ozone, habitat restoration, river cleanup, etc), install pollution and emissions controls with technology funded by that prosperity, plus seen the environmental benefit of huge decreases in hunting, poaching, wood-burning and deforestation. Obviously that model has depended on governmental stability and responsible industrial stewardship and regulation, and not every country that mines, drills and industrializes will see those results. But perhaps it is more beneficial environmentally to suffer near-term negative impacts (and perhaps control those impacts with foreign technology and aid assistance) than to accept foreign aid which requires refraining from native resource exploitation and prohibits polluting industrial development - i.e. the requirements for accepting the Copenhagen aid. If I were a Ugandan legislator, who trusted my government and future generations to responsibly steward development and growth, more than I trusted the perpetual continuity of foreign aid determined by other countries whose money and politics I could not influence, I could be justified in deciding to take the native development approach even at the cost of a certain level of near-term environmental damage.