US religious right presses anti-gay laws in Africa

Associated Press

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Conservative U.S. Christian groups are setting up fronts in Africa to fight for anti-gay and anti-abortion legislation to promote their fundamentalist convictions, a report by a Boston research group said Tuesday.

It accuses evangelical stars such as Pat Robertson and Rick Warren as well as Catholic and Mormon groups of setting up institutions and campaigns in Africa that are "fanning the flames of the culture wars over homosexuality and abortion by backing prominent African campaigners and political leaders."

Reflecting that, the report from independent think tank Political Research Associates of Boston is called "Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa."

Some of the Africans cited in the report as heading African organizations set up by the U.S. religious right maintain that they are just using funds from foreign friends who share similar beliefs.

Among them is Joseph Okia, nephew of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, where proposed legislation would invoke the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."

"Definitely there is a link between conservative Christians in America and conservative Christian leaders in Uganda," Okia confirmed to the report's researchers. Okia spoke of "a close intellectual and mentoring relationship."

Several Africans and Americans named in the report could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for Pastor Rick Warren said he was too busy to comment.

The report's main author, the Rev. Kapya Kaoma, said that while such evangelical groups are in the minority in the United States, they are able to punch way above their weight in Africa, where many oppose homosexuality.

Here, many believe the religious right's contentions that gay men are "recruiting" in schools, Kaoma said. Others believe the U.S. right's argument that overpopulation is a myth propagated by Western forces who support contraception and abortion.

And the ultraconservatives have access to powerful politicians, including the presidents of many countries.

"Those kind of lies, when presented in Africa, become factual, so we need to worry that they are misleading people with these lies," Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, said in a telephone interview from Boston.

Kaoma's report identifies groups belonging to a loose network of right-wing charismatic Christians. They include Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Catholic Church's Human Life International (HLI) and the Mormon-led Family Watch International. All have launched or expanded offices in Africa over the past five years.

Robertson's organization has spawned the Zimbabwe-based African Center for Law and Justice and the East African Center for Law and Justice in Kenya.

"By hiring locals as office staff, ACLJ and HLI in particular hide an American-based agenda behind African faces, giving the Christian Right room to attack gender justice and (the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people) as a neocolonial enterprise imposed on Africans and obstructing meaningful critique of the U.S. right's activities," the report said.

Anti-gay laws passed in Burundi in 2009, Malawi in 2010 and Nigeria in 2011.

Uganda's so-called "Kill the Gays" law, which would levy the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," was thought to have been defeated after Kaoma and Political Research Associates exposed the legislation's American instigators in 2009. But it was reintroduced in Uganda's Parliament this February.

That was a year after the killing of David Kato, of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who was found bludgeoned to death in his Kampala home.

Amnesty International has reported an increasing intolerance in Africa that has resulted in "harassment, discrimination, persecution, violence and murders" against homosexuals in Africa. The report said the new campaigns also have caused more oppression of women by restricting their reproductive freedoms.

The American Christian Rights' efforts have found fertile ground among many homophobic Africans, but they have not been as successful in pushing anti-abortion legislation, the report said.

Illegal abortions are performed without hindrance across most of sub-Saharan Africa, and no efforts are made to prosecute those involved, the report found.

Strong-arm efforts by the U.S. and EU governments and the United Nations to promote anti-discriminatory stances have backfired.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's threatened last year to withhold aid from countries that persecute sexual minorities. It was followed by a reversal to say U.S. policy is to empower sexual minority groups with funding, which provoked a backlash.

"The administration reinforced the conservative narrative that LGBT (sexual minority) groups and the West are flooding the continent with money to impose foreign sexual mores onto the continent," the report said.

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