You know the age-old adage about how if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day and if you teach him how to fish he is fed for a lifetime?
The former is what aid agencies tell you they want to do when they set up development programs in Africa and elsewhere they have decided, usually unilaterally, that their money, technical expertize and presence are needed.
What brought this into sharp focus for me was the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez recently. The “poor” came out in numbers almost not seen since Jesus conjured two fishes and a loaf of bread into a feast that fed the 5,000. The jury is still out as to whether Chavez really gave his poor people a fish or taught them how to fish. And it is on that issue that it seems appropriate to segue to Uganda.
It is absolutely true that if you have money to give away, you will always have willing takers.
And so, it seems, it is the case for what passes for gay activism in Uganda. In just a matter of two or three years, the number of gay activists organizations in Uganda has mushroomed from around 5 to more than 30. All of them
seek funding from have foreign constituencies in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Britain trying to … help. Most of the would-be helpers are Chavez-like paternalistic do-gooders with clear terms of reference to showcase their caring credentials.
Some of the donor organizations, however, don’t seem too interested in accountability for the money they disburse. The popular rationale for this tends to be that they can’t demand accountability from the oppressed and downtrodden who are operating in secrecy. The oppressed gays, lesbians, bisexuals (LGBTI) of Uganda would be putting themselves at risk if they so much as cast around for a part-time auditor to make sure that donations are being used for the reasons highlighted in their proposals, wouldn’t they?
Gay activism is the latest “sexy” bleeding heart bandwagon to roll into Uganda. on the back of a pro-gay worldwide wave that is sweeping everything in its path. So far so good; after all what caring soul would decry any efforts to help the downtrodden?
This being Uganda, savvy people haven’t taken long to figure out that there is money to be made in gay activism. I have it on reliable authority that some donors are nonetheless disbursing to groups and individuals enough money to pay 10 teachers’ salaries in Uganda for 8 months - even when they are cautioned that they might be funding little more than a jamboree of conspicuous consumption. I have received e-mails from people complaining that money sent to them for their “security” is being diverted to other purposes by their leaders.
Then there are the fictitious membership roll calls. My phone number and name appear on the members’ lists of two relatively new Ugandan LGBTI organizations. But I am not aware of when I signed up to be their member or attended any of their meetings.
Can the donors really be this gullible?
Yes and No.
Yes, some of the organizations going around cup in hand in the West ‘on behalf of ‘suffering Ugandans’ are run by naive young people, barely out of school, who are out of their depth in dealing with crafty Ugandans. The internet campaigns that have sprung up in the last few months are good examples of this.
No, in 2013 the more experienced donors know that there is waste and misuse of resources going on but gay rights are highly sexy worldwide right now and it is good public relations to be seen to be doing something towards the LGBTI cause in Africa. So they simply turn a blind eye to the more egregious evidence of charlatanism.
I think it is part of a worldwide ideological war between left and right in the Americas (mostly) and Europe that leads to such disregard for standards of accountability that the donors demand of organizations in their own countries and mainstream NGOs in the developing world. If Scott Lively’s Defend the Family is using money to fight the ideological battle for minds in Africa, the argument tends to go, so can the left.
With the right-wing in retreat even in their last bastion, the United States of America, the liberal/left wing has an excellent opportunity to prove their caring credentials by wearing their bleeding hearts on their sleeves. If some of the funds are being wasted, so be it; the wider goal of changing mindsets globally justifies relaxing some of the oversight on the donated funds.
It is a disturbing trend but you will not see it change soon because that is how practically every crooked, thieving, lying, inept regime in Africa has managed to stay in power; with a lot of unconditional help from friends in America, Canada, Britain, and Europe and so on.
As someone told me when I asked her about why the demand for accountability seems more lax with some LGBTI donors than one would normally expect, “it’s the nature of the beast.”