Cameron’s threat backfires

by on November 1, 2011  •  In Culture, International

The statement by British PM David Cameron that Commonwealth nations could see their foreign aid from the UK cut if anti-gay laws remain on the books has turned into a mess for utterly predictable reasons.  It has played right into the hands of those who condemn support for sexual minorities as a western disease driven by western propaganda, a line ironically fueled by U.S. evangelists. So, here's the response to Cameron from Uganda, reported by the BBC:

…Ugandan presidential adviser John Nagenda told the BBC Ugandans were "tired of these lectures" …"Uganda is, if you remember, a sovereign state…," he told the BBC's Newshour programme. "If they must take their money, so be it."…

Mr Nagenda said he doubted that the Ugandan parliament would ever approve a bill which proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts."I believe it will die a natural death. But this kind of ex-colonial mentality of saying: 'You do this or I withdraw my aid' will definitely make people extremely uncomfortable with being treated like children," Mr Nagenda said.

And a smart critique from the Institute on Development Studies in the UK:

For activists and advocates of sexual rights, the very recognition of sexuality as a valid aspect of ‘development’ or of rights itself, has been a slow and thankless battle. As such, yesterday’s statement by David Cameron confirming that the British government will withhold aid from countries with homophobic policies might ostensibly be seen as a ‘victory’ of sorts. And yet there is something more fundamental at stake here – the idea of ‘sexuality’ as political object and the perpetration of a racialised discourse of difference that highlights the colonial continuities in ‘Development’.

Cameron’s statement suggests that a progressive politics of sexuality can only be imagined in the form that it has taken in Europe and North America… 

In India, for instance, the Queer movement, which has succeeded in overturning a colonial anti-sodomy law, has been critical of an ‘LGBT politics’. This has been a movement that recognises the politics of sexuality as affecting everyone – not just those who fall into the politically constructed category of LGBT – and being central to the politics of caste, class, race, religious fundamentalism, nationalism and economic development…

In this context, activists and policy makers in Europe and North America would do well to inculcate humility in light of these limitations and open the doors for more creative, radical and brave strategies in the politics of sexuality, especially those arising from the Global South, from such places as India and Brazil…

The UK government’s expression of support for rights of homosexuals in the global south, without reference to local struggles for rights, in such a context feeds into this impulse and enables exactly such an argument. At one level it places the concern for sexuality rights outside the given country, and at another, it disavows the significance and strategies of local activists and movements that are engaged in the project of actualising citizenship.

While the rise of sexuality on the development and rights agenda, is a welcome development, to be truly progressive western forces might do better by supporting Queer movements in the global south, learning from them, and recognising the specificities of Queer struggles.


One Response to Cameron’s threat backfires

  1. Jay November 1, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    Sorry, I am not convinced that there is anything wrong with Britain (and, I hope, the United States) from refusing to subsidize countries that terrorize and, in some cases, murder their gay and lesbian citizens. I applaud Cameron for his efforts.

    It is interesting that Peter Tatchell suggested that Cameron precede his threat with an apology to the Commonwealth nations for having introduced the sodomy laws during colonial rule, making the point that the legacy of colonialism is not the introduction of homosexuality but the introduction of homophobia.

    In any case, I am also incensed that Lonely Planet has chosen Uganda as its top travel destination for 2012. See the blog posting/editorial by Claude Summers on this issue at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *