Many EU countries have raised their voices against maintaining development aid for Uganda after the government tightened its repressive legislation against homosexuality despite warnings from the international community, EURACTIV France reports.
Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, signed an anti-homosexuality bill on 24 February that introduces an “aggravated homosexuality” offence punishable by life imprisonment.
The “offence” is targeted in particular towards “recidivist” homosexuals and HIV-infected persons. The new legislation also makes the “reporting of homosexuals” mandatory.
The anti-gay law immediately created an uproar in many countries and put in question development aid from several international donor institutions.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, reacted immediately saying on Monday (24 February) that the United States would reconsider its relations with Uganda, including assistance programmes. Retaliation measures could prove efficient since Washington is one of the major international donors to Kampala.
“The United States have provided more than $485 million in bilateral assistance for the 2014 fiscal year,” the spokesperson for the state department, Jennifer Psaki, told AFP.
Among European countries, many have already suspended aid programmes to the former British colony, including Norway and Denmark.
The Netherlands froze the payment of €7 million in annual aid to the Ugandan judicial system, according to a statement from the country's Foreign Affairs Ministry. The Hague maintained its aid for social projects, which represents around €16 million per year, so as not penalise the citizens of Uganda.
A country under international assistance
Although the question of freezing financial assistance was raised among all donors, the decision is not an easy one to take.
Uganda ranks among the world's least developed countries and depends heavily on development aid. With €2.3 billion of aid every year, the former British colony is among Africa's biggest recipients of international assistance.
“France is not necessarily in favour of temporary suspension of aid because that generally penalises the people directly,” an advisor to the development minister explained.
Unlike the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark, France is a modest donor to Uganda and its bilateral assistance amounts to less than one million euros.
At European level, the issue of maintaining aid was raised by the Netherlands, and consultations are underway between the various diplomatic missions of EU member states.
For now, the European Union is not considering taking sanctions against Uganda by suspending its aid, a European diplomat stressed however.
Although some countries are pushing for sanctions, others still hope to weaken the Ugandan president and are relying on the upcoming EU-Africa summit on 3 April to break the deadlock.
The EU is a major donor to Uganda, with more than €460 million through different aid programmes, such as the European Development Fund.
“The European Union has suspended aid to the government because of a human rights violation,” said a diplomat in Brussels, adding “but aid for social projects that directly benefit the people is always maintained.”
Member states are expected to adopt a joint declaration in the coming days condemning the law against homosexuality.
From the NGOs’ side, sanctions are generally regarded as unhelpful. Oxfam said it was supporting aid programmes “in many African countries out of which 30 have discriminatory laws towards the gay community”.
“Our work consists in advocating for a change of those laws,” the organisation said, adding it would continue its action in Uganda.