Uganda’s journey toward same-sex rights

Re-posting my latest writing for the Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post.

See additional coverage at The Dish.

Who’s behind Uganda’s step forward on same-sex rights?

Published August 4, 2014

When Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act on Friday, eyes immediately turned to the country’s longtime president, Yoweri Museveni. Museveni has been under pressure from the donor community, several of whom enacted aid cuts in response to the passing of the law in February 2014. His trip this week to Washington for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit seemed perfectly timed with the legal about-face that was sought by the Obama administration. Was the court’s decision yet another clever political manipulation by the man who has held power in Uganda for 28 years?

The executive branch may be powerful in Uganda, but to give the president all the credit for the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s demise is to ignore the vital role played by concerned citizens and the legal community in Uganda. Ten individuals and organizations — including a journalist, professor, doctor, activists and current and former legislators — petitioned the court to repeal the law on the grounds that it was passed illegally, having contravened parliamentary rules of procedure requiring quorum, and that it violated constitutional rights. Their efforts, combined with those of a robust legal team, were integral to the law’s repeal. Their victory demonstrates the power of domestic actors and the courts in promoting social and legal change.

This path to social change in Uganda – through the time, energy and sacrifice of key individuals and organizations, together with the power of the law – is no different than the path to social change in the United States. The protection of rights, especially minority rights, often comes on the back of legal rulings, sometimes even before the general public supports these rights. Recent research by Rebecca Kreitzer, Allison Hamilton and Caroline Tolbert has found that anti-discriminatory legislation can directly shift public opinion to be more supportive of same-sex rights.

Activists and scholars worry that despite recent progress on same-sex rights in places like the United States, countries elsewhere — most notably in Africa, but also Russia and India — are experiencing backsliding. In an article on the relationship between democracy and gay rights, Bard College professor Omar Encarnación writes, “Gay rights appear to be deepening more than spreading, intensifying in some regions while regressing in others.“ While there has been regression as measured by anti-homosexual legislation in a number of countries around the world, the overall trajectory of gay rights may not be as dismal as Encarnación’s article suggests.

Rather than thinking of gay rights as present or absent, a continuum may better represent the extent to which the rights of the LGBT community are being protected as well as the changing attitudes toward homosexuality within society. Expanding the protection and promotion of rights, including same-sex rights, is an iterative and not necessarily linear process. Advocacy and strategic litigation can result in key legal decisions that protect rights, and these rulings in turn can affect public opinion, followed by further public support of subsequent anti-discriminatory policy.

In the United States, landmark cases in the promotion of same-sex rightsinclude One Inc. v. Olesen, Romer v. Evans, United States v. Windsor andLawrence v. Texas. The latter ruled as late as 2003 that anti-sodomy laws — like the one that remains in Uganda’s penal code — are unconstitutional. Progress has not been without setbacks, in the United States or elsewhere, as the initial passage of Proposition 8 in California (subsequently struck down by the U.S. District Court and appeal dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court) demonstrated all too clearly. Today 12 U.S. states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, the Supreme Court ruling notwithstanding.

While vocal American activists condemn anti-gay legislation around the world, the United States itself has not yet reached the point of full protection of same-sex rights, nor where the whole population accepts homosexuality. The most recent World Values Survey found in 2011 that nearly 1 in 4 American respondents (24 percent) say that homosexuality is “never justifiable.” This figure is much lower than that of Uganda, where close to 9 in 10 respondents completely opposed homosexuality, but still demonstrates considerable hostility towards the LGBTI community in the U.S.

If we look at attitudes toward homosexuality over time using opinion polls, we find that it can take decades for attitudes to shift. Further, negative attitudes toward homosexuality sometimes increase before they decrease. In South Korea, for example, one of the countries with the longest record of opinion polling on the topic, opposition to homosexuality, again, as measured by the percentage of respondents who say homosexuality is never justifiable, jumped from 60 percent in 1982 to 90 percent in 1990 before declining again. It’s worth noting that levels of anti-homosexuality sentiment in South Korea in 1990 are nearly the same as those in Uganda today. In South Africa too, anti-homosexual sentiment increased before declining. Meanwhile, in the U.S., opposition has fallen only gradually over time and has yet to dip below 20 percent.

Anti-homosexuality attitudes over time across four countries. Data not available for all countries in all waves. Data: World Values Survey; Figure: Melina Platas Izama
Anti-homosexuality attitudes over time across four countries. Data not available for all countries in all waves. Data: World Values Survey; Figure: Melina Platas Izama

Democratic institutions took centuries to develop in the United States but have been adopted in a matter of decades in a number of African countries. Likewise, same-sex rights ultimately may be adopted far more quickly in countries like Uganda than they were in the United States. The urgent question for minority rights activists around the world is, how can the pace of rights promotion and protection be increased.

It is not clear that sanctions on governments enacting anti-homosexuality legislation speed up the process of rights promotion, though they might. Journalist and petitioner in the recent Uganda case, Andrew Mwenda, argues that donor threats were actually the “trigger” that forced Museveni to sign the bill in the first place, despite his initial reluctance to pass anti-homosexual legislation. Rather than threats and sanctions, Mwenda advocates for diplomacy on the basis of mutual interests. Encarnación notes a similar concern, writing, “Attempts by the West to export gay rights, especially across Africa, also often play directly into the hands of local politicians eager to brand gay rights as ‘foreign values’ and to rationalize their anti-gay policies as a defense against ‘Western influences.’”

Perhaps, as in the United States, the mostly likely agents of change are domestic actors, be they civil society, legal professionals, the media or others, who employ a country’s own institutions and laws to protect same-sex rights. This course of action relies heavily on the judiciary branch, but as the case of Uganda has shown, such a strategy can be effective even in countries where the executive branch wields considerable power. Civil society actors and activists can also work in tandem with more progressive members of parliament and the executive to quietly support policy and legal reform. These partners in government can play a critical role in reducing the likelihood that government appeals the court ruling or that a new law is brought to parliament.

The Ugandan lawyer leading the case against the Anti-Homosexuality Act, Nicholas Opiyo, says continued debate and discussion on the issue of homosexuality will work toward putting a “human face” to same-sex rights. So too will the growing number of LGBT individuals who openly identify as such, increasing the number of Ugandans who have friends, family and acquaintances whom they know are gay or lesbian.

It is through the efforts of individuals like Opiyo and the other petitioners, at no small cost either personally or professionally, that countries like Uganda will continue to move along the continuum of the protection and promotion of civil liberties and rights for all.

 

 

Enforcing Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

Kim Yi Dionne and I wrote a piece for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog analyzing US-Uganda relations in the wake of Uganda’s newly passed Anti-Homosexuality Act, and in particular, following the raid of the Makerere University Walter Reed Project. The post is copied below.

Kim is Five College Assistant Professor of Government at Smith College. She tweets at @dadakim.

U.S. foreign policy and Ugandan domestic politics collide

By Melina Platas Izama and Kim Yi Dionne

Just weeks after the United States announced additional American troops and aircraft would be deployed to Uganda to hunt rebel leader Joseph Kony, Ugandan officialsstormed a U.S. military-affiliated research institution, the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, in the country’s capital, Kampala. The Walter Reed Project raid highlights challenges to U.S.-Uganda relations, strained both by the fractured nature of U.S. foreign policy toward security allies like Uganda and the lack of coordination across Uganda’s numerous security agencies.

Why was the Walter Reed Project raided? And by whom?
The Walter Reed Project was raided on Thursday, April 3, by plainclothes state agents without a search warrant, reportedly on account of the Walter Reed Project’s work with the LGBTI community. Uganda’s recently enacted Anti-Homosexuality Actprohibits both the practice of homosexuality as well as “aiding and abetting” and “promoting” homosexuality. The law is vague on what constitutes the promotion of homosexuality, leaving interpretation to Ugandan law enforcement. Walter Reed Project staff members were whisked away in an unmarked car and interrogated at a police station. American embassy officials subsequently contacted the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, who was unaware of the incident. Kayihura then instructed the police station to release on bail the Walter Reed Project staffer who had been placed under arrest.

Screenshot of New Vision article taken from <a href="http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/654211-panic-at-makerere-as-quack-cop-arrests-staff.html">Google Cache</a> on April 7, 2014 (Melina Platas Izama and Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)

The next day, the government-owned daily newspaper New Vision reported that the raid was conducted by a “quack cop,” with one police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, denying responsibility. The same day, government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said in a tweet that the Walter Reed Project was raided for “training youths in homosexuality.” He also accused a top diplomat of being involved. Another police spokesperson confirmed the arrest in a segment by Ugandan media house NTV.

tweet1

tweet2
By Monday, April 7, the New Vision story had been pulled from the newspaper’s Web site and both of the tweets above (screenshots) were taken down.

Public opinion toward same-sex practicing people is generally negative, with 97% of Ugandan respondents in the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project agreeing with the statement, “Homosexuality is a way of life that should not be accepted by society.” In the days before the raid, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was the chief guest of a “Thanksgiving service” to celebrate the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Hundreds of people swarmed Kololo airstrip in the center of the capital, many bearing signs with direct messages to President Obama. All heads of religious institutions, including the Catholic and Anglican churches, and the head mufti of the Muslim community, not to mention the evangelical bodies who played a key role in the bill’s success, were in attendance.

(Data: Pew Global Attitudes Project 2007; Figure: Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)

U.S. response to anti-gay legislation
Obama released a statement condemning Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill before it was signed into law, and initiated a review of American aid to Uganda immediately following the bill’s passage. At the same time the aid review was taking place, however, the United States announced a significant increase in military aid to Uganda. As activists and observers have noted, the announcement was poorly timed if Washington wanted to send a clear message to the Ugandan government. Instead, the State Department’s actions look like a slap on the wrist quickly followed by the extension of an olive branch by the U.S. military establishment.

If mixed messages are an ineffective means of impacting policy, however, so too may be the economic sanctions and bullish diplomacy the State Department has attempted to employ thus far. American foreign policy must consider the constraints faced by those who publicly and privately oppose the anti-homosexuality law, including politicians. American policy must find ways to assist those who support rights for sexual minorities without creating a stand-off with either the Ugandan government or public. Such a stand-off can alienate Ugandan rights activists and also whip up nationalist sentiments, bolstering the anti-homosexuality movement.

How is Uganda’s domestic security structured and why does that matter?
The Walter Reed Project raid and initial response by the police and government spokespersons suggest an additional complication — the lack of coordination across branches of the Ugandan security establishment. As noted above, the Inspector General of Police was unaware of the raid until after it had taken place and in the day following the raid, government officials were both claiming and refuting that the Ugandan police had been involved.

An investigative report by The Independent in 2009 found no fewer than 30 separate security agencies operate in Uganda, both constitutional and unconstitutional. The proliferation of security agencies, like the proliferation of districtscabinet portfolios, and members of parliament, serves to bolster a patronage system and ensure that no one institution or individual is strong enough to challenge the executive. However, such fractionalization comes with considerable financial costs, and is both inefficient and unpredictable, as the raid on the Walter Reed Project demonstrates.

Another potential by-product of the proliferation of security agencies is the bungling of international relations. It is entirely possible that, rather than an overarching government strategy to target organizations who serve LGBTI clients, a particular branch or branches of the security sector have taken matters into their own hands. The raid comes at a critical point in Washington’s review of programing in Uganda. Amulti-agency team of Americans was in Kampala last week for the explicit purpose of reviewing U.S. commitments in the wake of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Meanwhile, Uganda’s Ministry of Health has been at pains to assure international partners that the law will not affect Ugandans’ access to health services. Thus, last week’s events suggest an internal struggle in government, between those playing to populist sentiments and those trying desperately not to irrevocably sever relations with donors.

The details of the raid suggest that at least some components of the state, much to the chagrin of the United States, have every intention of enforcing the anti-homosexuality law. Some hoped that the law would remain on the books but largely out of everyday activities of law enforcement. The plainclothes officers involved in the raid were in possession of personal information about Walter Reed Project staff, including where they live, suggesting substantial efforts have gone into gathering intelligence not only on members of the LGBTI community but also individuals who work with the community. Sources inside the police say that they have video recordings showing that the Walter Reed Project is a “gay training and recruiting center.” Some of the videos apparently feature American nationals.

The raid of a U.S. military-affiliated facility is a bitter slap in the face to Uganda’s longtime ally, but perhaps serves well to highlight the failure of U.S. policy on human rights in the region, particularly the protection and promotion of gay rights. Uganda’s political landscape and that of the region is complex. The United States has yet to demonstrate that it has a strong grasp on the stakes or dynamics at play. In the case of the anti-homosexuality law, U.S. sanctions, whether verbal or economic, may be ineffective at best and harmful at worst, as journalist Andrew Mwenda has argued. As noted in an earlier Monkey Cage post, the vast majority of Ugandans support anti-homosexuality legislation, some with fanatic zeal. This is true not only in Uganda but across Africa. U.S. policy must consider the public pressure and incentives the president and other politicians face. Attempting to strong-arm a president or others into overwhelmingly unpopular positions domestically, such as the protection of sexual minority rights, may backfire.

 

 

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law

Below is a copy of the text from a piece published in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

The rise of morality politics in Africa: Talk is cheap and dangerous, but wins votes

Melina Platas Izama

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni today signed into law his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The passage of this bill is part of an emerging trend of morality politics in Africa and beyond, including but not limited to the criminalization of homosexuality. Legislating morality, unlike improving social services like health and education, is nearly costless for politicians. It is also extremely popular. Legislators in Africa struggle to hold onto political power, and the majority of their constituents view them as corrupt, according to Afrobarometer surveys. Electoral pressures, combined with politicians’ poor record of service delivery, make legislating morality an increasingly attractive option. In addition to winning votes, however, laws such as the criminalization of homosexuality can also be used opportunistically against both the public and political opposition.

Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, which has been under discussion since 2009, criminalizes homosexuality and provides a punishment of life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” The law delineates particular same-sex acts as “aggravated homosexuality,” including  sex with a minor or with a person with a disability, or if the offender is an HIV-positive person or a “serial offender,” defined as “a person who has previous convictions of the offence of homosexuality or related offences” (the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014: Sections 1 and 3). In the original bill proposed in 2009, “aggravated homosexuality” was punishable by death, and failure to disclose an offense committed by another person was punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. Both of these provisions were removed in the final version of the bill. However, in a news conference held immediately prior to signing the bill today, Museveni seemed unsure of the bill’s contents, asking his aides in the audience whether citizens were required to report on one another.

The anti-homosexuality bill reflects popular sentiment in Uganda, where 90 percent of respondents said that homosexuality was “never justified,” according to the World Values Survey, and 96 percent of respondents said that society should not be accepting of homosexuality, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Uganda is no outlier on the continent. Kim Yi Dionne and Boniface Dulani, using all publicly available data on attitudes toward homosexuality in Africa, found that although higher levels of education, living in urban areas, and lower levels of religiosity were associated with greater support for same-sex rights, the vast majority of Africans oppose homosexuality. Dionne and Dulani point out, however, that the limited data collected on attitudes toward homosexuality in Africa fails to capture the salience of same-sex issues among ordinary Africans.

Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill reflects trends across the continent in criminalizing (or re-criminalizing, since more than half of remaining “sodomy” laws worldwide are colonial relics) homosexuality. The reasons for the recent spike in anti-gay legislation (not limited to Africa, by the way) are still being debated. Guy Grossman suggests therise in evangelical Christianity and heightened political competition explain the political saliency of LGBT-issues. These bills are undoubtedly politically popular, and thus useful tools for garnering electoral support.

David Bahati, sponsor of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, was one of a handful of parliamentarians to run unopposed in Uganda’s most recent elections in 2011, in a country where competition over parliamentary seats is rising with every election. An average of more than five candidates contested for constituency parliamentary seats in the most recent election, up from less than four in 2006. Around half of the incumbents who ran for reelection were voted out of parliament in 2011. Bahati was subsequently elected vice chairman of the caucus of the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

At the presidential level, backlash and condemnation from Western countries, including the United States, where President Obama issued a statement warning Museveni that signing the bill would “complicate” the United States’ relationship with Uganda, have produced a rally-around-the-flag effect, where even Museveni’s most staunch opponents and a usually critical media have applauded his decision. Some have argued that he is calling Obama’s bluff, leveraging Uganda’s military role in the region. In any case, his signature, appended just weeks after members of his partypassed a resolution in support of his bid for a fifth term in 2016, must be seen in the context of a presidential campaign season that has, for all intents and purposes, already begun.

Recent “moral” legislation extends beyond homosexuality, however, and focusing on the salience of LGBT issues may obscure other arenas in which moral dictates are being employed for political purposes. The signing of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda comes just weeks after the signing of the Anti-Pornography Bill, widely reported by local and international media as the “mini-skirt ban,” despite no mention of skirts in the bill itself. Legislating morality may seem odd in a country where more than three quarters of survey respondents believe “some of” or “most of” parliamentarians are corrupt, according to Afrobarometer data, but perhaps it is precisely because of their credibility deficit that politicians are employing moral dictates as a nearly costless alternative to delivering the goods and services that are so badly needed.

In addition to serving as quick and cheap political wins, these laws can also be easily converted into tools for political witch hunts. Ashley Currier demonstrates how leaders of the ruling party in post-colonial Namibia have used political homophobia to stifle dissent. Uganda’s political opposition seems all too quick to forget that opposition leader and former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye was jailed andtaken to court on rape charges (in addition to treason and terrorism) in advance of the 2006 presidential election. The charges against Besigye were eventually dropped, but with Uganda’s new laws come a new arsenal of offenses; offenses that can mark if not jail a political candidate for life.

Apart from the intended consequences of these laws, unintended, if not unforeseeable, consequences are already becoming apparent. In countries where mob justice is a common replacement for weak or non-existent law enforcement, these laws give way to everyday opportunism. Immediately after the passing of the Anti-Pornography Bill, women wearing short skirts in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, were reportedly attacked, disrobed and robbed. The Uganda Police Force had to issue an immediate warning against perpetrators of these attacks. Although it is too soon to tell whether citizens will also take the new anti-homosexuality law into their own hands, recent events in Nigeria suggest that mob justice against suspected or accused homosexuals may be swift, and potentially deadly.

Faith in Politics

I’ve been traveling and have fallen a bit behind in posting my columns. Below is my article published a couple of weeks ago, and published online March 27, 2012. I’m starting to think a lot about the intersection of religion and politics, so there should be more on this topic soon.

Faith in Politics
The strategic and influential role of religion within our political systems

There is a certain structure religion gives to our lives. At the birth of a child or death of a loved one, we turn to some sort of faith more often than not. When oaths are sworn in courts of law, it is a holy book on which we swear to remain truthful. And when politicians promise to abide by the earthly laws we create, they raise a hand and address a god somewhere.

Faith shapes our lives, but not our governments – at least not directly, and not on paper. Laws uphold and protect only the legal separation of church and state in most countries. This formality can trick us into thinking that religion keeps its distance from politics. But the truth is that the two have never really been separated.

Simply take a look.

There are prayer breakfasts, the invocation of god’s name in such places as national anthems and currencies, and prayers at the start of government meetings and functions. Heaven forbid a U.S. president should end a national address without the words, “God bless America”. Although these are benign examples of the blending of church and state, the clashes can be much more fierce when religion comes head to head with public policy.

In the United States, there are vicious, and even deadly, battles over abortion laws and the teaching of evolution, as opposed to the more biblical creationism, in schools. In France, veils that cover the face (such as the hijab or burka) are banned in public places. In a number of African countries, including Uganda, marriage laws have been unsuccessful at prohibiting polygamy because such a ban is seen to violate religious practices.

These are perhaps some of the most blatant and controversial clashes between faith and the state, but the religious beliefs of political leaders can also sneak into their public policy in less obvious ways. The support of evangelical Christian groups for HIV/AIDS advocacy played a significant role, for example, in shaping and promoting U.S. President George W. Bush’s global HIV/AIDS initiative, The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Even groups like Invisible Children, responsible for the viral Kony2012 video, are not outwardly evangelical, but are nonetheless headed by individuals whose religion plays a prominent role in the way they view their purpose in the world.

While it is tempting, especially for dispassionate analysts and policymakers, to take the separation of church and state at face value, it is necessary to more closely interrogate the ways in which faith shapes not only individual actions, but political systems. How does religion affect our political, social, and even philanthropic lives?

In an environment where voters have precious little information about their elected officials, apparent adherence to religious beliefs and practices can give some indication of the quality of a candidate. In an era of rampant corruption, a candidate who is perceived as religious may be more trustworthy than his or her atheist or less devout counterpart. U.S. presidential candidates, for example, must repeatedly discuss and proclaim their faith. Stories of redemption and renewal, often brought about by religious transformation, also win votes. A story of salvation from alcoholism and other exploits painted an inspiring image of former President Bush that many Americans admired, and one where faith featured front and center.

Indeed, many voters use faith as a prerequisite for their support of a political candidate. 35% of Americans and 45% of Rwandans surveyed by the World Values Survey believe that “politicians who don’t believe in God are unfit for office.”  Moreover, 62% of Rwandans and 42% of Americans agreed that it would be better if more people with strong religious beliefs held public office. As a politician in either of these countries, it only makes sense to announce your faith publicly.

At the same time, going into too much detail about your faith can be almost as career-killing as not mentioning it at all. It is one thing to be Christian, but quite another to be Mormon, much less Muslim. Most Americans and Rwandans are Christian, either Protestant or Catholic. About half of all Americans are Protestant, while a quarter are Roman Catholics, and less than 1% are Muslim. In Rwanda, the numbers are flipped – nearly 60% of Rwandans are Roman Catholic and 26% are Protestant. Another 11% are Adventist, and 5% are Muslim.

Politicians who do not come from the predominant Christian denominations are hard-pressed to demonstrate that their beliefs are not far removed from “mainstream”. U.S. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, for example, has been at pains to assure voters that as a Mormon, his beliefs to not differ greatly from those of more mainstream Christianity. But if Romney thinks he has a hard time, his experience would surely pale in comparison to a Muslim candidate. I would wager the U.S. is about as far from electing a Muslim president as any country on earth.

Perhaps it is not surprising that faith plays an important role in shaping people’s political preferences, even in a secular state. Nevertheless, the process by which faith seeps and soaks into politics and policy is not straightforward. Anecdotal evidence suggests that churches and religious leaders are a powerful force driving the political behavior of their followers. After all, from their pulpits, religious leaders have a great and even unique opportunity to shape public opinion. At the same time, however, most people do not react favorably to the explicit interference of the church in political behavior. About 60% of both Americans and Rwandans believe that religious leaders should not influence how people vote, and nearly 70% of Rwandans do not think religious leaders should influence government.

Thus, there is an ideological tug-of-war underway. On the one hand, citizens living in secular countries subscribe to values of religious tolerance and even the religious agnosticism of the state. On the other hand, they often favor politicians who declare their faith, and punish those whose faith is not in the mainstream. To understand how faith intersects with politics, these two conflicting preferences must be reconciled. The question remains, to what extent do we have faith in politics?

US Development Policy

Today President Obama announced a new US development policy — the first ever issued by a US president. See the press release here.

Am currently wallowing in Political Order in Changing Societies, but hopefully more analysis and links on the policy coming soon. On that note, “The most important political distinction among countries concerns not their form of government but their degree of government.” Agree?

Johnnie Carson is Obama’s Pick for Asst. Secretary for African Affairs


“President Obama’s nomination of Johnnie Carson to be Assistant Secretary for African Affairs is a strong choice. Carson is an accomplished career foreign service officer with an excellent track record on African issues spanning many decades and a range of positions. Carson has a deep understanding of our diplomatic capacities and the importance of regular interagency collaboration. I look forward to considering his nomination and hearing how he and the administration plan to address the many challenges we face on the African continent.”

Says U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommitee on African Affairs. Ambassador Carson worked in the Foreign Service for 37 years (serving in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Portugal, Botswana, Mozambique and Nigeria) before joining the National Intelligence Council, serving as officer for Africa. See his complete bio here.

I understand he has been less than chummy with Museveni, criticising, among other things, his running for a third presidential term. What will Carson mean for Uganda? For Africa?

“Whether there are new ways for Museveni to re-invent himself and his government in the eyes of an Obama administration will now be seen,” says analyst Angelo Izama in a November 2008 article in the Daily Monitor. “President Museveni’s appeal is waning. On the eve of the last election, senior US Africa policy heads, including Johnnie Carson noted that Uganda is a success story gone bad.”

Museveni has allowed the potholes of his regime to grow wider and deeper in recent years, and now he is in for a bumpy ride.

McCain’s Worst Ideas — Gag me


Foreign Policy magazine has recently published what they consider to be each of the presidential nominees’ 10 worst policy ideas. Among them was McCain’s support of the Global Gag Rule (excerpt from the FP article below).

Supporting Abstinence-Only Education and the Global Gag Rule

What he said: Asked on the campaign trail if he thought grants for sex education should include instruction on contraception, McCain turned to an aide for help, saying, “Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception—I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.” The reporter asked, “Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?” After a long pause, McCain replied, “You’ve stumped me.” Town hall meeting, Iowa, Mar. 16, 2007

Why it’s a bad idea: A landmark, 10-year study sponsored by Congress found in 2007 that students in sexual-abstinence programs “were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, reported having similar numbers of sexual partners, and first had sex at about the same age,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Abstinence-only education is one of the core principles guiding the so-called global gag rule, an executive order passed by President George W. Bush in 2001 that prohibits giving foreign aid to NGOs that offer any kind of counseling on abortion as family planning. McCain voted against repealing the measure in 2005. Critics of the gag rule point to reports showing a shortage of contraceptives, clinic closings, loss of funds for HIV/AIDS education, and a rise in unsafe abortions since it was instituted.

Now, I have many issues with foreign aid and the global aid industry, including bilateral donors like the US, and am highly skeptical of the effectiveness of the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). HIV/AIDS has become an obsession of the aid community and has hijacked or otherwise derailed domestic health priorities. While the global gag rule should not be the biggest of our concerns regarding foreign aid, it just goes to show you the hubris of aid policy makers. Abortion is illegal in Uganda — but whether or not NGOs in the country offer any kind of counseling on abortion should be the concern of Ugandans, not Americans who have themselves legalized the practice.

I am not at all confident Barack Obama will help make critical changes to the aid industry — there has been little evidence that he is thinking differently about foreign aid than his party typically has. But I am certain that a President McCain would make the same self-righteous and arrogant blunders as his predecessor. Which experience shows will do little to help those on the receiving end of aid, and which will burn a lot of taxpayers’ dollars on the way.