Aid, resistance and Queer power

Published on Pambazuka News, by Hakima Abbas, April 5, 2012.

If aid is not in the interests of African peoples’, why would aid conditionality be a tool for African social justice?

LGBTIQ Africans are currently at the crux of an ever-increasing conservative (dare I say fascist) assault perpetuated primarily by the ruling elites in collusion, and often financed by, global right wing forces using the apparatus of the state and institutions such as the Church. African progressive forces, through LGBTI and Queer movements and allies in the feminist, academic, human rights and social justice communities, have been resisting this onslaught and attempting to bring to bear a new understanding and discourse on so-called LGBTI issues in Africa notably by contextualizing these in the ever growing democratic regression and class struggle on the continent. 

In light of this situation, global attempts to stand in solidarity with African LGBTI persons and communities have brought these issues to the forefront of international attention. Western policy makers, often at the demand of European and US civil society, have responded with several forms of intervention including the threat of tying development aid to human rights protection of LGBTI persons. These attempts have not always been met with elation by Queer communities or movements in Africa. In order for us to understand some of the resistance within the Queer movement to the use of aid as a stick to African governments to shift their policies and laws towards LGBTI persons, we have to deconstruct and understand the foundation of aid in general, the history of aid in Africa as well as the context and politics of Queer organizing.

In the 1950’s as Africa was gaining independence and attempting to create South-South alignment outside of the cold war allegiances, the development paradigm was gaining grounds in international affairs with the United States of America (US) in particular positioning themselves as the benefactor of both a crumbled post-war Europe and of Europe’s former colonies. The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR) also sought to gain ideological alliance based on socialist principles and effects.

While the war was cold for most of the world, it was cataclysmic in Africa where legitimate governments were overthrown, proxy wars were fuelled, natural resources exploited and economies devastated. With capitalism offering little in the form of social and economic rights for the masses, as was the call during the struggle for independence, what it did offer was ‘aid and development’, while its liberal proponents further expounded the virtues of a singular brand of democracy and human rights (read as civil and political).

… An emerging Queer movement in Africa is engaging in this context and conversation not from the point of view of ‘gay rights’ but from a framework of queer liberation. Attempting to dismantle the binary notions of gender and sexuality to talk about pluralism and complexity. This movement seeks not to separate LGBTI issues from the broad spectrum of issues that affect all Africans including Queer Africans. This implies that what affects Africans negatively is indeed bad for Queer Africans but also, and critically, that the reverse holds strong.

There are a myriad of opinions in the LGBTIQ movement about the use of aid as a tactic. This is exactly as it should be and reflects the plural and multifaceted nature of a steadily growing movement. Just like sanctions for South Africa became a tactic that the liberation forces had to debate and build consensus around internally: whether the effects on Black people could be counterbalanced by the potential victory over the Apartheid system. So, too these are tactics that must be debated, discussed, and decided by the African Queer movement. When difficult measures that will impact whole communities and nations are used, they must be used responsibly, as an urgent resort and always with the decision making of those directly affected. Nevertheless, while aid for LGBTIQ rights and equality are being discussed, significant shifts in global geopolitics almost render the discussion futile. With so-called ‘emerging’ powers wielding as much political and economic clout as former colonial powers, the aid system is likely to significantly transform and aid conditionality may be rendered obsolete. In this context, the Queer African movement must again consider how to make global alliances, with whom and with what tactics, and must continue to engage critically on the nature of genuine solidarity with these allied partners.
(full text).

Links:

LGBT social movements on en.wikipedia;

LGBT rights by country or territory;

Timeline of LGBT history;

Queer heterosexuality.

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