Recently came the news that homophobic countries in Africa are to have financial aid from Britain cut.
"In itself, such a move should be applauded. Countries where gay people are persecuted, imprisoned or even killed merely on account of their sexuality should be treated as pariah states. Giving money ostensibly to relieve need in places where such true human rights to life and liberty are routinely snuffed out like this is quite obscene," observes the UK's Daily Mail newspaper's Melanie Phillips.
While I welcome this move and think of it as being long overdue, I believe that the timing of the UK government's announcement is significant, coming just after a Conservative Party conference at which the Tories attempted to boost a compassionate image of their party - a move that has been widely scorned as being a stunt. After all, it is not only gay people who are being persecuted in many of these countries. Several other social groups also suffer abuse, as for example in Islamic countries, where women continue to suffer systematic oppression. Yet we hear of no plans to cut aid to their countries on their account.
I think that this announcement might be a sweetener for those who have criticised the Cameron government for continuing to increase its foreign aid programme at a time when the same government is carrying out deep spending cuts at home. Prime Minister Cameron has famously stated that continuing to increase the aid programme at the time of austerity is a "sign of moral strength".
However, when one considers that the UK is having to borrow huge sums of cash from parts of the developing world, such as the Middle East and China just to stay afloat, but is at the same time doling out enormous sums in aid to poorer developing countries in Africa and Asia, one cannot but wonder whether the government's critics don't have a point. More so when the facts are that: although the budget for the UK's Department for International Development is set to increase from the current £8 billion per year to £11.5 billion by 2015, the Home Office budget, which pays for the Police and counter terrorism within the UK, has been cut over the same period, from £10.1 billion in the current financial year, to £8.3 billion in 2014/15. Yet, it is still the case that much of the aid given to poorer countries is not capable of being monitored as to how it is utilised.
Aid funds are manipulated by tyrants in order to oppress, enslave, suppress and even kill their own people and to prop up their brutal and corrupt regimes. (I will refrain from mentioning names, but to bear out this argument, there seems to be a correlation between those African countries most reliant on foreign aid, and those with the most brutally oppressive regimes). It has been argued (disingenuously in my view) that the problem of misapplication of aid funds is a thing of the past, and that aid budgets have now been made "rigorously accountable". But even the UK government-established Independent Commission on Aid Impact has stated that up to 27 per cent of the UK's aid budget goes directly to the recipient countries' governments to spend as they choose. A further one-third of official aid money goes to expert international bodies such as the World Bank and the United Nations. Only a relatively small amount is spent by the UK Government directly on humanitarian projects.
Therefore, governments that are recipients of foreign aid are free on the larger part, to do what they please with the money that they receive. This money is seen as easy pickings by those in power in those countries. And far from helping poor nations rise from destitution, foreign aid has encouraged dependency, fostered corruption and prevented the development of the free institutions of government and civil society, whose absence is the principal cause of the poverty in the first place. Also, to protect the rights of gay African people, it will not be nearly enough merely to force African countries to repeal or amend their anti-gay legislation. There must overall be changes in societal attitudes too, yet it is difficult for me to envisage how the withholding of foreign aid alone will bring those changes about.
In conclusion, I must express how strongly I feel about the fact that several decades after achieving independence from their former colonial masters, many African countries continue to rely so very heavily on financial aid from abroad, such that this aid has been allowed to become a whip with which African governments can be flogged into submission. This is another count in the long indictment against the leadership that the African people have had inflicted upon them..