Aid to Africa and UK’s gunboat diplomacy

In spite of pockets of criticisms over the rationale for and relevance of various development programmes being undertaken on the continent, the observable difference being recorded by the African continent nay Nigeria, from international development assistance in form of foreign aid in cash, running into billions of Pounds and Dollars and in kind, is said to be quite substantial over the years.

Although such development-oriented projects being initiated and executed by foreign countries and agencies in key areas of life include power generation, HIV/AIDS awareness, maternity healthcare, education, and economic infrastructure among others, continued aid payments to the continent may be hampered by the alleged undiplomatic posturing of Britain on legal reforms in favour of gay rights in Africa.

Being a distressed continent in terms of marked improvement in all areas of human development, it would be recalled that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in 2001, accordingly had described Africa as a “scar on the conscience of the world”. His emotive pronouncement at the time reportedly heralded “a sustained effort on the part of the British Government to work harder, and to spend more on reducing poverty in Africa.” Ever since then, aid to Africa, especially from the UK and other economically advanced nations, called “G8 Countries”, is said to be on an upward trajectory.

Major advanced economies of the world and their international agencies in the vanguard of offering needed strategic support for development, have been the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), and their agencies as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Undeniably, the UK is at the forefront of international development thinking and practice, with its DFID leading the Government’s efforts, for example, with £140million for its programmes in Nigeria in 2010 and 2011, indicating an increase by £40million from the funds for 2008/2009 and £20 million for 2009/2010 for the country. The UK’s overall aid to Africa, which is primarily focused on poverty reduction, is reported to have played an important role in “helping African countries to make progress” towards the much-touted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Public Service Agreement –agreed between the Finance Ministry and DFID– sets out DFID’s objectives, along with a series of targets and indicators against which its performance is measured in 16 indentified African countries where DFID’s poverty-reduction effort is directed. Research has revealed that these countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Lesotho, receive about 89% of DFID’s bilateral aid spending on the continent.

Nevertheless, following the resignation of Gordon Brown last year, gunboat diplomacy in form of a subtle threat of imminent foreign aid cuts to Africa by the leadership of 45-year-old David William Donald Cameron who became the British Prime Minister (PM), apparently as a result of the mounting indifferent attitude of Africans to somewhat forced legal reforms in favour of gay rights (pro-homosexual laws), should be a cause for concern for African leaders and peoples.

Hitherto, homosexuality relatively, is illegal in most African countries including Malawi and several others, except for South Africa, Chad and Gabon. That was why a groundswell of criticisms trailed the UK’s recent financial support to Malawi, which allegedly increased to about £90 million (about K24.1 billion) from around £75 million (about K20.1 billion). The Malawian President and Council of Churches in the country, in strong terms, roundly condemned Britain for “pushing Malawi to the edge to ratify pro-gay laws as a condition for receiving aid.”

Perhaps because of his religious beliefs and sexual orientation, as quoted in a media chat in the UK, that his politics is “not faith-driven,” adding, “I am a Christian, I go to church, I believe in God, but I do not have a direct line…. I do think that organised religion can get things wrong…. I did lots of things before I came into politics which I shouldn’t have done. We all did.”

No wonder then that the Oxford First Class Honours graduate of Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), and “reformer” of sort, may not be blamed for making his ideological leaning known in connection with making attempts at tying continued aid to African nations to official recognition of gay rights in their law books.

Nevertheless, following intense criticisms and attendant bad publicity Cameron’s purported official pronouncement to adopt gay rights as a condition for further support to Africa have been generating in the Black world, Henry Bellingham, United Kingdom’s Minister for Africa, who was said to have visited a number of African nations in this regard to clarify issues, said: “Malawi and other African countries will not be forced or induced into enacting pro-gay laws in exchange for aid.”

Despite that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are entitled to live their chosen lifestyles fear like everyone else in any human society, it is still unacceptable for the UK and its other foreign aid donors to surreptitiously adopt what many Africans consider a social anathema and unpopular sexual orientation as a fundamental criterion for granting further aid to Africa in order to achieve its equality cum reformist objectives.

While one thinks that the latest controversial gay rights agenda of Britain is not neo-colonialism of a different hue, as former colonial masters to many of these African nations, the British authorities deliberately, must learn to be sensitive to local traditions, prejudices, socio-cultural ethos, and ultimate significance of “politically independent” African nations. Peoples and nations of the world, including Africans with previously highly valued, but currently polluted cultural heritage, should be allowed to decide for themselves what is good for their socio-cultural and religious advancement of their peoples.

Although a tacit call on African leaders to institute good governance on the continent and stop depending perpetually on “handouts” from Europe and the Americas, the Nigerian Government at all levels and their agencies, commissions and extra-ministerial departments which oftentimes seek the so-called foreign aid, need to learn a good lesson from the Malawian example: they critically should examine the conditions for getting such further foreign assistance before signing the papers from now on. The National Assembly, in Abuja, also should be conscious of the nation’s peculiar socio-cultural and religious milieu and sentiments and be very careful when considering, debating and passing relevant controversial bills into laws.

All should remember, that today it is Boko Haram, a militant Islamic sect, explicitly discountenancing Western education even with all its positive development and transformative promises, who knows which insurrectionary group may emerge tomorrow to attempt bringing down the country, if the suspect condition is considered here? Nigeria, once again, must be careful not to fall into the trap of gay rights legal recognition-for-aid proposal being advocated by British Prime Minister David Cameron. “A word is enough for the wise,” so says an age-long truism.

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