Aid freeze deepens after Uganda's anti-gay bill

A protestor during a demonstration against Uganda’s anti-gay law. Some donors, like Sweden, have suspended aid support for the African country because of its controversial law. Photo by: Kaytee Riek / CC BY-NC-SA

The government of Sweden announced on Wednesday it will withhold all bilateral financial assistance to Uganda in response to the passing last week of a bill that criminalizes homosexuality.

Minister for International Development Cooperation Hillevi Engstroem said in a statement: “Swedish aid is not unconditional” and such a law “violates the fundamental rights of homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people.”

Sweden, which will continue to fund Ugandan civil society organizations that deliver relief to members of the LGBTI community suffering from HIV/AIDS and other services, thus joins the ranks of Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, which also decided to freeze official development assistance and all budget support to Uganda after the anti-gay bill was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on February 24. The law not only bans promoting homosexuality, but makes it a crime to not report same-sex relations and even contemplates life imprisonment for repeat offenders.

Development professionals and other netizens immediately reacted to the announcement on Twitter.

“Good guy Sweden,” tweeted @jillianserena, while @thepoliticalcat wrote that “every country in the WORLD needs to do this” and @carnun said that “discrimination cannot be ignored no matter what the motivation for it, whether religious, moral or cultural.”

At least one Ugandan disagreed — @osundwaj hit back arguing that “Africa is free … we don’t need aid, you think we are poor [but] we have enough resources” and claimed that Sweden is withholding ODA to “destabilize” Uganda.

Other netizens based in Europe like @Okisam or @bjorn_pius questioned why Sweden is freezing aid to Uganda but continues to buy oil from another nation with homophobic laws like Russia, or the fact that Uganda is taking all the attention away from Nigeria, another top oil producer.

According to the country’s open aid data hub, Sweden provided in 2013 a total of $32.7 million in aid to Uganda, the lion’s share (35 percent) of which was allocated to health through the official development agency SIDA.

Of the top 5 beneficiary implementers, 3 carry out HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, which under the new legislation could be considered a felony, depending on the judge’s interpretation. This could become a serious problem for CSOs, even if they continue receiving funds from donors that decide to end direct budget support.

What do you think? Should other donors follow suit and freeze aid until Uganda repeals the anti-gay bill? Please let us know by leaving a comment below, joining our LinkedIn discussion or sending us an email to news@devex.com.

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See more:

How Uganda's anti-gay law can undermine HIV and AIDS response

Uganda's anti-gay law: A silver lining for LGBTI aid?

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    Carlos Santamaria

    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.

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