Friday, February 26, 2010

Africa Faces Water War Threats

Africa – a continent already plagued by conflict – can look forward to even greater discord in the years ahead due to the lack of sufficient water for growing populations. Our government, other donors and international organizations must do something about this issue to prevent problems that will at some point affect us all.

Potential “water wars” already are showing signs of gathering critical mass in areas where rivers and lakes are shared by countries. Thirteen African countries already experience water stress or water scarcity, and 12 more are set to join their ranks by 2025. The most likely flash points are around the Nile, Niger, Volta and Zambezi basins.

The Nile runs through Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, and their combined populations – at current growth rates – could rise from today’s 150 million people to 340 million by 2050. Long before then, however, the long-running conflict over the Nile’s water could spark warfare. As far back as 1991, Egypt warned that it was ready to use force to protect its access to the waters of the Nile. Less and less of the Nile’s water remains once the river reaches the sea.

The Niger River, which flows from Guinea through Mali to Nigeria, is vital for food, water and transport, especially to Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries. Pollution is making the Niger’s water increasingly unusable.

Southern Africa’s Zambezi River is one of the world’s most overused river systems. Nations such as Zambia and Zimbabwe compete fiercely to harness its water power, although at times there is heavy rains and flooding. Zimbabwe caused the region to experience the worst floods in recent history in 2000 when it opened the Kariba dam gates.

Ghana, a star among African countries, is dependent on the Volta River for its hydroelectric output, but regular droughts make its production of electricity from the Akosombo Dam erratic and limit Ghana’s ability to sustain its economic growth. Less output from the dam not only constrains Ghana’s ability to produce its own power, but also its ability to provide power to neighbors.

In some ways, economic development worsens limited water situations. Nearly two-thirds of Africa’s people earn their living in agriculture, which is the sector that uses the most water in Africa, accounting for an estimated 88% of water use. Since its takes about a thousand tons of water to produce each ton of grain, any progress in agricultural output in Africa will further stress limited water supplies.

There are two other sources of conflict involving water in Africa. Thanks to colonial boundary-setting, which used rivers to mark national borders, shifting of rivers due to dwindling water flows can change borders and cause war. Several years ago, Eritrea and Ethiopia engaged in a destructive border war, and shooting broke out a few years later over the Bakassi Peninsula, whose territory has long been disputed by Nigeria and Cameroon. Botswana and Namibia managed to avoid a shooting war over the disputed Sedudu/Kasikili Island in the Chobe River that divides them by resorting to, and so far accepting, a ruling by the International Court of Justice assigning ownership of the island to Botswana.

Water projects are among the largest public works projects known, and like any public works projects, they attract corruption. Unfortunately, corrupt water practices not only rob governments of income, but also prevents citizens from having access to water that should be available to them. Corruption is estimated to raise the price of water services between 10 and 30%. Such unanticipated increases in the cost of providing safe drinking water means fulfilling the Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half the number of people without access to safe drinking water in African countries may not be reached.

When people become desperate for drinking water, even tainted water is seen as a source of life. Unfortunately, drinking unsafe water leads to waterborne diseases such as botulism, cholera, e. coli, dysentery and typhoid fever. These diseases affect large numbers of citizens and can retard economic development, divert government monies that could be spent in profitable pursuits and diminishes the productive population of countries.

American civil society and the business sector must do all we can through our own efforts and through advocacy aimed at our government and international organizations to prevent Africa from drying up before our eyes. We need to support projects to provide drinking water, policies to coordinate the use of shared water, preservation of existing water by eliminating pollution and programs to efficiently use the water that exists, including recycling water where possible.

We must act now or a thirst that cannot be satisfied will overtake societies now poised to join the global economy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Niger Coup Poses Response Dilemma

Military coups in Africa used to be prevalent in the early days of African independence – from Col. Jean-Bedel Bokassa in Central African Republic in 1965 to Sergeant Idi Amin in Uganda in 1971 to Sergeant Samuel Doe in Liberia in 1980 to Maj. Daouda Mallam Wanke in Niger in 1999. Ghana and Nigeria each experienced several military coups in the first decades after their independence.

Military coups have increasingly been condemned not only by Western countries, but also by African nations themselves. Following the 1997 overthrow of Congo-Brazzavile President Pascal Lissouba by former President Col. Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the then-Organization of African Unity resolved not to recognize coup leaders. However, in reality Sassou-Nguesso took a low profile before being elected in 2007. This position was later tested by coups in Mauritania, Madagascar, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea.

Coups in African countries have often been provoked by poor governance and rampant corruption. In some cases, civilians encouraged the military to “clear the playing field,” so to speak, in order to facilitate reform. The military as a reset button for governance may have seemed wise since militaries were considered by many to be non-political, and in the case of Nigeria, well-educated and disciplined. Yet this non-political character, education and discipline did not hold true for all militaries. Moreover, holding the levers of power allowed for greed to corrupt military leaders too. The wealth many generals were able to amass came to be seen by lower-level officers as something to which they could aspire, and the interest in ceding power to civilian governments waned in many cases as a result.

While there always has been some sympathy for military coups ousting corrupt and despotic governments, such as Idi Amin and Milton Obote in Uganda, the recent coup in Niger poses a dilemma for the international community. Deposed Niger President Mamadou Tandja had used unconstitutional means to allow him to seek a third term in office. Tandja was elected in 1999 and served two terms, the last of which expired in December 2009. However, he refused to step down, dissolved the Parliament and gave himself the power to rule by decree.

Western donors signaled their opposition to Tandja’s extension of his mandate and threatened action if he went through with his plans to maintain himself in power. Perhaps Tandja looked at other African examples of extension of power in Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda and Zimbabwe and believed he could tough out the international community’s opposition to his actions. However, he misread the lessons of those other examples. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has presented reasons for repeatedly postponing elections that the international community has accepted. Ugandan President managed to change the constitution to run for a third term. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe won a disputed election, but the crisis was dealt with by the creation of a government of national unity. Tandja used naked power to extend his mandate without even the pretense of constitutionality.

After dissolving the Parliament, Tandja organized legislative elections last September, which triggered the Economic Community of West African States to suspend Niger’s membership, the European Union to suspend development aid and the United States to impose sanctions. Once December came and went, Tandja no longer had a constitutional mandate as president. And there is the rub in this situation.

When armed soldiers seized power on February 19, Niger’s opposition political parties, its largest union and civil society leaders expressed their support for this takeover. This is despite the suspension of the constitution and all institutions. Apparently, they believe that democracy stands a better chance in the hands of the military than in the control of a president who won’t leave when his term has expired. Again the military has cleared the playing field in hopes of restoring order and good governance.

As for the international community that wanted Tandja to step down, the way in which he was removed is being criticized. ECOWAS condemned the coup (having already suspended Niger). The African Union joined in suspending Niger from its ranks. The Americans and Europeans maintained their suspension of aid and sanctions as a means of being consistent in their opposition to coups.

Nigerien sociologist Issouf Bayard was quoted by the IRIN news service as explaining why this coup was necessary.

“We tried to use our political institutions to get him to respect the constitution. Tandja dissolved them. We tried dialogue, which reached a stalemate. The likely outcomes were therefore a popular uprising, strikes that would have paralyzed the country or a military coup.”

So how long will it take the international community to help Niger get back to constitutional democracy?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dual Citizenship Cements Diaspora Ties to Continent

Dual citizenship is embodied in the concept of Pan-Africanism, which promotes the cooperation among and integration of the African people. Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey notably said: “Africa for the Africans – those at home and those abroad.” This would involve both elements of the African Diaspora: those involuntarily taken from Africa in the slave trade that comprise the historic African Diaspora and those who left their African countries voluntarily to emigrate elsewhere in the world that comprise the modern-day African Diaspora. Until the wave of independence among African colonies in the 1950s, there was limited possibility of dual citizenship for the Diaspora except in the only two independent African nations: Liberia, founded by freed North American slaves in 1847, or the empire of Ethiopia when it was not under European domination.

Generally, African official policies on dual citizenship currently refer to laws and regulations governing whether a modern-day African Diaspora member from a particular African country may retain citizenship if he or she assumes citizenship in another country. Specific laws spelling out the rights and responsibilities of a member of the historic African Diaspora who wishes to take on citizenship in an African country, in addition to that of their current country of origin are few and far between.

The United States does not require that a person renounce citizenship in their country of origin so long as they maintain loyalty to the United States. Currently, the largest group of dual citizens in America today is immigrants from Mexico. An increasing number of naturalized Americans from Africa, the Caribbean or elsewhere in the African Diaspora are not automatically forced to renounce their citizenship in their country of origin, although their home country may call for such a revocation of one of their citizens who take on another nationality.

Just as Israel has provided the right of return for all who can establish their Jewish heritage, many in the historic African Diaspora have presumed that a similar right of return should be granted to those whose ancestors left the continent involuntarily. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for a “right of return” that establishes the right of any person to return and re-enter his or her country of origin. However, a lack of records for many members of the historic African Diaspora past a certain point in their family history means a specific, documentable link to an African ethnic group or country has been difficult, if not impossible, to establish. Members of the historic African Diaspora are “children of Africa,” but usually not legally authenticated descendants of any particular currently existing country, kingdom or territory.

In recent years, the African Ancestry company has developed a DNA test that can authenticate genetic linkage to African ethnic groups and the country in which that ethnic group now resides. As the company states, the test indicates where the particular strain of an ethnic group is located today and not where they were when one’s ancestors were taken off the continent. This test does establish a scientifically verifiable link to a specific African country or countries, since tests often reveal multiple ethnic heritages located in more than one country.

To date, there are 25 countries providing ethnic matches to those taking the African Ancestry test. The leading countries with links identified by the test are: Cameroon, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria and Sierra Leone – each representing greater than 15% of results. Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Liberia and Senegal represent between 5-10% of results. Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Somalia, South Africa and Sudan each represent less than 5% of results.

On behalf of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, I head a committee that includes representatives from the Universal Negro Improvement Association – African Communities League (the UNIA-ACL, the late Marcus Garvey’s organization), the African Diaspora Ancestral Commemoration Institute (ADACI) and the African Diaspora Dual Citizenship Committee. We have devised a framework paper for dual citizenship that is being presented to selected African governments for action in creating laws and regulations that will make dual citizenship for all members of the African Diaspora possible.

I’ll have more on this as developments unfold.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Curse, Fate or Human Action?

It seems that so many tragedies strike the countries ruled by the children of Africa – from the earthquake in Haiti to the tsunami that hit East Africa a few years ago to the many wars and incidents of genocide that have struck the continent over the years. One wonders from where these misfortunes spring.

For centuries, believers in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam used the so-called curse of Ham to justify racism against the children of Africa. The Middle Eastern and trans-Atlantic slave trade were based on the belief that African people lived under a curse and were doomed to servitude. This belief surfaced recently in the comments by evangelist Pat Robertson that Haitians were cursed because their liberators made a deal with Satan to gain their independence rather than achieve it on their own.

Or could Africans be the victims of Karmic rebalancing? Africans dominated early history – from the builders of the Egyptian pyramids to the Ethiopian, Songhai and Zulu empires. While Europe endured the Dark Ages and a mini-Ice Age, African empires flourished. Meanwhile, geography has not been kind to Africa or the Caribbean, with desertification, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and earthquakes disrupting societies that seem to be in the wrong place on the planet. Could it just be the Diaspora’s time to suffer a shift in fate?

What about the role of human actions? The promise of African riches brought European explorers to the continent, and they then unraveled the remaining African kingdoms they found and brought on the long period of colonialism. The post independence leadership, accustomed to the inter-tribal warfare used by the colonial powers to divide and conquer, stoked the fires of ethnic conflict. Corrupt leaders, all-too-often manipulated into power by colonial governments seeking to maintain neo-colonial control after independence, ruined not only their own countries, but troubled their neighbors who did manage good governance.

So what role do legendary curses, Karmic balance and human action play in the challenges Africa faces today? The curse of Ham has long been discredited as a justification for oppression of African people. Nevertheless, many believers in Christianity have said they are disgusted by Robertson’s false quoting of a mythical conversation between Haitian leaders and Satan, but do believe that worshippers of religions such as voodoo call upon dark powers that do bring retribution from God. Islam, the other most popular religion in Africa and among its Diaspora, also condemns those who believe in multiple deities as cursed.

Ethno-geographer Jared Diamond, in his award-winning book, Guns, Germs and Steel, made a more than credible case that geography does strongly impact destiny. Africa has fewer of the native farm animals that allowed the Middle East, Europe and Asia to develop more successful agricultural societies. Mountains, deserts, valleys and unnavigable rivers separated various ethnic groups and contributed to the multitude of languages and dialects that hindered the sharing of information and technology that could have advanced Africa. Caribbean countries are small and generally lack sufficient resources to become economic powerhouses. Moreover, lying in the perennial path of hurricanes and now earthquakes causes repeated devastation that makes building on each year’s success difficult if not impossible.

As for human action, Africa cannot blame colonialism alone for retarding progress. Poor governance and ethnic hatred that has gone far beyond reason have held Africa back long after colonial governments ceased to exist. The developed world certainly has done Africa and others in the African Diaspora at least as much harm as good, but it is in the power of Africans to stand together to overcome dependency and manipulation.

Whatever the causes of the depredations of Africa’s children, we are not helpless. Whether we pray for God’s forgiveness and blessing, better prepare to withstand natural disasters or unify to more successfully compete in the global economy, it is within our collective power to better our circumstances.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

African Land Rights Given New Life

During the colonial period in Africa, the European powers and their descendants took over what African land they wanted and thought nothing of making the former residents landless and without means of making a living. After independence, the confusing overlap of traditional land ownership and growing urban and peri-urban lands created conflict that has led to serious clashes and ongoing unrest.

In the platinum-rich Maandagshoek area of South Africa several years ago, clashes among local community people, police and mining interests erupted into violence that led to hundreds of arrests. The Government of South Africa assumed control of tribal lands in order to grant mining rights to companies whose investors included well-connected members of the ruling African National Congress. The government contended that, in an area with astronomical unemployment, hundreds of mining jobs could help the economically depressed people. However, local residents said the mines encroached on their lands without adequate compensation and without prior agreement.

Nearly 30 years ago, the Government of Kenya evicted the Endorois people from their ancestral land in the Rift Valley to create a wildlife reserve. The traditional cattle herders had no recourse, and their longstanding way of life was threatened, along with the survival of their culture. Now the Endorois, the people of Maandagshoek and many others across Africa do have recourse when governments seize their land no matter what the economic calculation.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the body charged with protection of human rights, has issued a ruling that Kenya’s Endorois people, and by extension all indigenous African people, must be either consulted or adequately compensated for land the government wishes to use. In the case of the Endorois, the commission ruled that the Kenyan government must recognize their ownership of their ancestral land and make restitution.

In the last year or so, there has been an acceleration of African land sold or leased to foreigners, especially Asian and Middle Eastern interests wanting arable land on which to grow food. In too many cases, these deals push indigenous people off their land and do not provide jobs to compensate for their lost livelihoods. Supposedly, the infrastructure and share of food grown will compensate the African society at large, and even if that were truly what happens, it wouldn’t compensate the people moved off land their families have worked or on which their livestock has traditionally grazed, sometimes for centuries.

Nomadic people in Africa have long gotten the short end of land deals. Like many American Indian tribes, they didn’t consider themselves to be land owners; they merely were part of a natural system in which they used the land as necessary, when necessary. In a modern land-owning society, however, such traditions are considered obsolete. This is one of the issues plaguing the Saharawi people of Western Sahara. Not having title to land is dangerous when a nation such as neighboring Morocco is intent on making their control official.

The ruling of the commission will be an important check on what we would call eminent domain – the practice of government confiscating land for what it considers the greater good. Even in a country like the United States where due process can often check government excess in this regard, land is still sometimes taken despite the interests of those who own it or have had use of it for a long time.

This is the first time the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights has been invoked to protect the rights of indigenous people. The execution of this ruling will determine if this is genuinely a new day or just another piece of paper to be ignored by governments and wealthy interests who want their own way no matter who gets hurt.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Warrior for Africa Laid to Rest

It is with great sadness that I write this particular blog because it is about a dear friend and colleague who was buried the other day. Ray Almeida was known to many in Washington as an irascible proponent of U.S.-Africa trade who would not back down on his core belief – that Africans must play an effective role in decisions affecting their economic livelihood and survival.

Throughout the struggle to promote the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Ray was a strong supporter of the notion that Africans were not being given voice in their own destiny. The whole concept of AGOA was based on the United States providing trade preferences to Africans as opposed to a negotiated arrangement in which both sides would decide what was best for mutual benefit. It isn’t that the author of AGOA didn’t consult with Africans on the bill, but it was not a treaty. Therefore, it represents what we decide to extend to Africans on our terms and not a mutually determined trade arrangement.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless our side continues to pursue refinements without due consultation. Ray was not so certain the U.S. government was really consulting with our African trading partners. From the very beginning, he attempted to ensure that Africans were a vital part of any civil society events, and he was instrumental from the earliest civil society forums in bringing to the table representatives of African smallholder farmers and other small producers.

From his work with Bread for the World to the supporting role he played with the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa to his term at the African Development Foundation, Ray worked tirelessly to secure funding for African representatives to attend the various AGOA forums. He kept even those of us who agreed with him on the ball in terms of making the presence of Africans in our policy councils an unbreakable commitment.

In addition to his work on trade policy, Ray was a staunch supporter of his homeland Cape Verde. He was instrumental in the formation of the American Committee for Cape Verde in the 1970s, which worked to galvanize Cape Verdean-American support for the then-newly independent African nation. He was a senior adviser for the Cape Verdean Connection, the centerpiece of the Smithsonian Institution’s 1995 Festival of American Folklife. He was awarded his homeland’s highest award – the Order Amilcar Cabral – for his diligent work in helping Cape Verde secure a US$110 million compact. Most of what he has done for his country has been conducted quietly but effectively, without a lot of fanfare and no discernable self-promotion. He just loved his homeland and wanted it to have every opportunity that larger African countries were presented.

I am happy anytime to extol the accomplishments of Ray Almeida. He was my friend and partner in several efforts on behalf of Africa. I’m just sorry it is being done now to memorialize him. We often don’t appreciate people until they are gone, but in this case, Ray had a support group that knew what he had done and what he could yet do. We regret the loss of such a strong advocate for Africa, but more than that we will miss our friend.

A person’s deeds live on, and we remember what they have achieved. However, I believe the true measure of a person is that they are missed by the people they knew and worked with. Even those with whom Ray clashed were devastated by the news of his passing, and we all will carry a wound in our hearts for the loss of our brother, but we must take up his work and carry on.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

NEPAD Passes Away Quietly

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was created in 2001 and introduced with great fanfare trumpeting a new day in which Africa would help itself. NEPAD was promoted as Africa’s means of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and establishing good governance. By the end of the recent African Union heads of state summit in Addis Ababa, though, NEPAD as a stand-along institution was phased out and integrated into the African Union structure relatively quietly and without much public notice.

NEPAD was the result of the melding of two plans for Africa’s economic renewal. One was the Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery Programme, led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. That plan was seen as more of the same dependency on developed nations to fund Africa’s revival. The other was the OMEGA Plan for Africa developed by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, which was viewed as more of a self-help approach to development. The then-Organization of African Unity resolved to combine the two plans at an extraordinary summit in Sirte, Libya, in March 2001, and NEPAD was formally adopted by the OAU at its July 2001 summit in Lusaka, Zambia.

What was it that caused such a promising program for African self-help to go quietly into the night, so to speak? There are three things that stymied NEPAD’s success in achieving its goals and its broad acceptance by the international community. First, NEPAD early on promoted its African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which was designed by Africans to accept examination of the quality of their governance as measured by internationally embraced standards in cooperating countries and hold nations accountable to those standards. However, the APRM was a two-edged sword.

On the one hand, it offered an admirable means for Africa to police itself through its nations accepting responsibility for keeping one another on the right path as they defined it.
Unfortunately, the outside world seemed not to hear the term “voluntary” in the APRM description of its process, and donor countries demanded that NEPAD go straight to nations such as Zimbabwe and measure their governance record as the first step in forcing them into compliance with APRM standards. Governments such as that of President Robert Mugabe refused to submit to being scrutinized by their peers, which made the APRM and NEPAD itself seem like a toothless tiger. Developed countries began to see NEPAD as more hype than hope, despite the cooperative spirit of leaders in Ghana, Rwanda and Mauritius, who agreed to undergo the public scrutiny of an APRM review and accept the criticism the examinations brought.

A second issue was ownership of the NEPAD process. South Africa bankrolled much of NEPAD from its inception. The secretariat was located in Midrand, South Africa, and its first chief executive officer was South Africa’s Wiseman Nkuhlu. Nkuhlu and South Africa began to be seen as the moving force behind NEPAD, which created tensions within the governing Heads of State and Government Implementing Committee, whose chair was Nigeria’s Obasanjo and deputy chairs were Algeria’s Bouteflika and Senegal’s Wade. The other leaders reportedly began to see South Africa as exerting undue control when they saw Mbeki as just one of the originating partners. The jockeying within NEPAD began to slow down the laudable initiatives.

This tension about NEPAD’s role in the larger organization grew within the new African Union. From its early years, NEPAD’s leaders, especially South Africa, implied that NEPAD was a completely new African program apart from the obsolete OAU. When the AU was formed, its reorganization took several years, during which time NEPAD was the new focal point for African development. While NEPAD was always conceived by the OAU as one of its programs, the shift to the AU created room for NEPAD to do its own thing for awhile. AU leadership began tightening the leash on its program. The culmination of this reining in of NEPAD resulted in its integration into the parent body.

The third issue was the failure of much of African civil society to endorse NEPAD, which was seen as the “Washington Consensus” model of African development. Mbeki, Obasanjo and Bouteflika initially presented their plan to the developed world while asking for help to implement it, which gave rise to the view that it was created to please the West. Not even the inclusion of the OMEGA Plan changed that view. In July 2002, a cross-section of African trade unions, non-governmental organizations, religious organizations, youth groups and women’s organizations signed onto what was called the African Civil Society Declaration on NEPAD. That document rejected the African regional development program, as did the 2002 Accra Declaration on Africa’s Development Challenges created by African scholars and activist intellectuals. The main reason for the civil society rejection of NEPAD was their near-total exclusion from its creation and adoption.

NEPAD was a grand idea. Beyond the APRM, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) promised the enable Africa’s shift into a much-anticipated green revolution. However, too many saw NEPAD as failing to fulfill its vision and mission. One of its founders, Senegal’s Wade, accused NEPAD of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars while achieving nothing.

NEPAD certainly didn’t achieve all its lofty goals, but it may be a bit of an exaggeration to say it has achieved nothing. It has, after all, shown that Africans themselves can institutionalize the concept of self-help and accountability, even if it has taken longer to meet its targets than NEPAD has yet been given. We shall see if the AU is strong enough and organized enough to bring the dream of NEPAD to reality.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Anti-Gay Bill Will Hurt Uganda

The anti-homosexual bill being considered by the Government of Uganda has already cost the favor of supporters around the world because of its draconian punishments, including the death penalty and long prison sentences for homosexuals or those who refuse to report homosexual behavior. However, the blowback for Uganda may go much farther than critical remarks and calls for the government to drop its legislation.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’ Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, is threatening to push for Uganda to be suspended from African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) benefits because the anti-homosexual law violates AGOA requirements. Such provisions require that beneficiary countries not engage in “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

Uganda was an original beneficiary of AGOA, exporting tens of millions of dollars in agricultural products, such as coffee and cotton, and minerals, such as cobalt and copper. It used to be unlikely that an AGOA beneficiary who had a good relationship with the United States to be suspended absent a civil war or serious human rights problems. Even in the case of Cote d’Ivoire, which was suspended due to its civil war, powerful American interests worked to shorten the suspension. However, President Barack Obama just removed three countries from the AGOA process: Guinea, Madagascar and Niger. President Obama’s determination to support human rights abroad (as mentioned in the State of the Union speech) likely will mean a termination of AGOA benefits for Uganda if the anti-homosexual law is approved.

Wyden said he plans to sponsor new law to preclude countries that fail to adequately respect sexual orientation and gender identity as human rights from benefitting from any U.S. trade preference program. Such an amendment to U.S. trade law would be problematic for Muslim and African nations taking a strict interpretation of Koranic or Biblical law. Too broad an interpretation of “adequate respect” for sexual orientation and gender identity would bar many nations from U.S. trade preference programs, particularly if transgendered people are included in the protections.

There is vigorous support for the Ugandan anti-homosexual bill inside the country and not just as a counter to international criticism. Reverend Esau Omara, a senior Christian leader in Uganda, has promised to make any legislator opposing the bill pay for his or her opposition in the next elections. Sheikh Ramathan Mubajje, a senior Muslim cleric, is calling for gays to be rounded up and banished to an island until they die. This harsh rhetoric has led to gays being outed in various media and physical attacks on gays.

Ugandans, like many citizens of African and Muslim countries, feel homosexuality is against God’s law. However, such feelings have usually not flared into violence or virulent opposition as is being seen today in Uganda. Apparently, three American evangelicals helped to stir up hatred of the “gay agenda” in Uganda during a spring 2009 visit to the country. Scott Lively, author of books against homosexuality; Caleb Lee Brundige, a self-professed former gay man who now conducts sessions to convert gays to heterosexuality, and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International, an organization devoted to promoting redemption of homosexuals through Christian faith, warned Ugandans that the gay movement was an evil institution. They presented stories of homosexuals sodomizing children and turning the country’s marriage-based, conservative society into a culture of sexual promiscuity.

Such arguments are often made here in the United States to oppose gay marriage and other extensions of rights to homosexuals, but few in this country go to the extremes of people elsewhere in the world. In the United States, even conservative Republicans do not advocate violence against homosexuals or prison sentences for anyone failing to report homosexual behavior. No American President – from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama – would be noncommittal about such harsh legislation as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been.

Americans who feel they are in the same camp as Museveni and his countrymen regarding homosexuality are finding that passions run deep on this issue in Africa. What works in America can backfire in Africa, to possibly tragic ends if the Uganda law is passed.

How will the three Americans who stirred this brew of hatred feel if their handiwork results in the deaths of gay men and women and the jailing of those who refuse to consign them to harsh punishment? If they don’t want to experience that guilt, they better join with others to work against this Ugandan bill, which will be debated later this month or early next month. Time is running out for their redemption as well as the life and safety of Ugandan homosexuals.