European officials have been scrambling to appease African leaders ahead of this week’s summit of EU and African leaders in Brussels. The summit is meant to address a host of issues on which the EU and Africa cooperate. Homosexuality is not one of them.
African governments reacted negatively when the European Parliament passed a resolution last month threatening sanctions on countries that punish homosexual acts. The resolution was a response to Uganda and Nigeria toughening sodomy laws and outlawing the promotion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The European Parliament asked that the governments of Uganda and Nigeria no longer be given development aid from the European Union. The request is routed through an arrangement between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States, known as ACP States, and made up mostly of Sub-Saharan African countries.
The Africans promptly countered.
Each society has a human right to defend its culture and traditions and “determine its own moral values and norms” through its democratic institutions, African nations said in a declaration issued a few days later.
The scathing document asked wealthy countries to stop conditioning aid on contentious issues like homosexuality. It was forwarded to European and African governments and political institutions.
The African declaration calls recent pressure on Nigeria and Uganda a “forceful imposition of a unilateral point of view.” It explains that homosexuality is punished in a majority of ACP countries and is contrary to accepted standards of decency in those societies. The declaration accuses Europeans of applying a double standard: European countries prohibit polygamy, yet Africans do not respond to that prohibition by protesting it.
Pressure from Europe over sodomy laws has added a new dimension to African perceptions about their former colonial rulers, who are already considered patronizing by the former subjects.
The Netherlands and Denmark promised to withhold development aid to Uganda and Nigeria because of its new laws. It remains to be seen what the EU will do collectively.
The resolution from the European Parliament is mostly symbolic, but presents a formidable warning to Africans. The Parliament does not have an official role in deciding EU foreign policy or how the European Development Fund is spent—which will dole out 31.5 billion euro to ACP countries through 2020. It does have a limited say on how other development aid is spent.
For its part, the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, finances homosexual advocacy groups in Europe and pressures countries to change their laws on homosexuality. But there are no indications that the Commission plans to suspend aid to Uganda and Nigeria.
Statements from an EU ambassador in Uganda last week show that debate over a response to Africa’s laws is ongoing within Europe.
Kristian Schmidt is reported to have pledged to Uganda foreign minister Sam Kutesa that he will insist on not withholding aid, noting that EU rules discourage unilateral action by individual states.
The tumult over homosexuality is a real threat to EU-Africa partnerships. African politicians across the continent have openly lashed out against pressures from Europe and are debating similar legislation to that adopted in Nigeria and Uganda.