Monthly Archives: July 2012

US evangelical Christians accused of promoting homophobia in Africa

Liberal thinktank says rightwingers are aggressively targeting the continent with an anti-abortion and anti-gay agenda

Christian evangelical groups in the US are attempting a “cultural colonisation” of Africa, opening offices in numerous countries to promote attacks on homosexuality and abortion, according to an investigation by a liberal thinktank.

American religious organisations are expanding their operations across the continent, lobbying for conservative policies and laws and fanning homophobia, argues the Boston-based Political Research Associates (PRA).

The groups include the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson, which has established bases in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

“The religious right [in effect] claims that human rights activists are neocolonialists out to destroy Africa,” the report states. Groups named in it vehemently rejected the claims.

Entitled Colonising African Values: How the US Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa, the study analysed data from seven African countries and employed researchers for several months in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

It identified three organisations it believes are aggressively targeting the continent: Robertson’s ACLJ, the Catholic group Human Life International and Family Watch International, led by the Mormon activist Sharon Slater.

Each of these “frame their agendas as authentically African, in an effort to brand human rights advocacy as a new colonialism bent on destroying cultural traditions and values”, the report says.

In the past five years, the report alleges, all “have launched or
expanded their work in Africa dedicated to promoting their Christian
right worldview. A loose network of rightwing charismatic Christians called the transformation movement joins them in fanning the flames of the culture wars over homosexuality and abortion by backing prominent African campaigners and political leaders.”

Dr Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia and author of the report, said rightwing Christian groups encourage perceptions that same-sex relations are “un-African” and imposed by the west, a view that is in fact based on the Bible that arrived with colonialism rather traditional African culture.

He gave the example of a young lesbian in Zimbabwe who was taken to several churches to have “the devil driven out of her”, but later honoured when her grandmother said she was in fact possessed by the spirit of her dead uncle, who had never married.

“The ‘foreignness’ of homosexuality is not true, but it is when presented in Christian-right language,” Kaoma said.

Certain countries are more hospitable to US Christian-right campaigners than others, the research found, in part because of support from government officials.

“The presidents of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Uganda themselves accused opposition parties of promoting homosexuality to undercut their influence and cater to powerful African religious conservatives.”

The ACLJ was invited by Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, for example, to open offices to train lawyers to work on a constitution that would reflect “Christian values”.

A similar effort was made to influence the writing of Kenya’s and Zambia’s constitutions with the inclusion of phrases such as “life begins at conception”.

The report accuses Slater, from Family Watch International, of indulging in alarmist rhetoric that the UN’s population control strategy will destroy the African family.

She has claimed homosexuals are significantly more promiscuous and “more likely to engage in paedophilia”, it says.

Kaoma said: “[Slater] claims the UN has been taken over by homosexuals. She makes up nonsense and presents it as facts to Africans. She argues that terms such as ‘gender rights’ and ‘sexual identity’ are code for homosexuality.”

Kaoma believes the American groups are in retreat in the US and so turning to Africa for quick gains.

“They seem to know they are losing the battle in the US, so the best they can do is to be seen to be winning somewhere.

“This gives them a reason to be fundraising in the US. Africa is a pawn in the battle they are fighting at home.”

The report was welcomed by gay rights campaigners. Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities in Uganda, said: “I’m grateful for the documentation in the report that confirms that it is homophobia (not homosexuality) that is exported from the west.

“I hope this report serves as a wakeup call for faith communities in Uganda and the west alike to realise that the American culture wars imposed on us by the Christian right threaten not only African culture, but the very lives of LGBTI Africans like me.”

Human Life International acknowledged that it has several affiliates in Africa, some of which receive grants, educational materials and other support.

“We feel that it is important for us to be there because the assault on the natural African pro-life and pro-family values is coming from the United States, so we feel obliged to help them understand the threat and respond to it based on their own values and culture,” spokesman Stephen Phelan said.

“That is why we can operate with a tiny fraction of the budget that the true colonialists – the extremely well financed population controllers and western governments – operate with.

“We speak to the deep and natural values of our brothers and sisters in Africa, and help them resist the encroachment of very powerful western interests who think that there are too many children in Africa.”

He dismissed Political Research Associates’ claim that his organisation was practising a new colonialism.

“We expect your more thoughtful readers to note the irony in PRA’s argument. Powerful western governments and very wealthy NGOs spend billions annually to stop Africans from having children, to change African laws to be more accommodating to this population control, all in an effort to make them culturally more like the west.

“And the PRA, a proponent of this effort, is accusing a small group of Christian organisations, who together spend a tiny fraction of the development industry’s annual budget to preserve pro-life and pro-family natural African values, of ‘colonialism’. Where does one begin?”

Slater also attacked the report. “We have no offices in Africa as Mr Kaoma falsely claims,” she said. “To make such a fundamental error is alone an indication of the unreliability of his entire report.”

She added: “We are not the religious Christian right as Mr Kaoma has insisted on portraying us, despite what I told him and despite the content of our materials published and on our website.

“The only mention of religion on our website or in any of our materials is our concern that religious freedom be protected, regardless of the faith that might be under attack.

“Our position here is based on the clear data that shows a high correlation between religious observance and stable families, and not due to any particular belief or doctrine.”

Joy Mdivo, executive director of the East African Centre for Law and Justice, said the US division pays for office space and salaries, but the EACLJ raises its own funds for activities.

“Someone was saying we were given money by the Americans to spread homophobia, and I was telling them, ‘I don’t have to spread homophobia. Just take a walk down the street, hold another man and look like you are being romantic. I don’t have to tell anyone what to do.’ That’s just the reality of where we are.”

• This article was amended on 24 July 2012 to correct the wording of a phrase about the expansion of three organisations’ work in Africa to that used in the final version of the report.

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Aids breakthrough as study says treatment should cost less

Clinton Foundation delivers report showing cost of treating people with HIV is four times less than previously thought

Lack of money can no longer be considered a reason – or an excuse – for failing to treat all those with HIV who need drugs to stay alive, following game-changing work about to be published by the Clinton Foundation that shows the real cost is four times less than previously thought.

The striking findings of a substantial study carried out in five countries of sub-Saharan Africa are hugely important and will set a new hopeful tone for the International Aids Conference in Washington, which opens on Sunday. It will help make the argument for Barack Obama and other international donors to dig deeper into their pockets – because the cost of saving lives, slowing the spread of HIV and achieving the ambition of an Aids-free world is lower than anyone assumed.

The work by the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) shows that the total cost of treatment in health facilities – including drugs, lab tests, health workers’ salaries and other overheads – comes to an average of $200 a patient a year across Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia – four of the Aids-hit African nations studied. That rises to $682 in South Africa, which has higher salaries and lab costs.

Until now the generally accepted total cost of treating a patient for a year was an average of $880 – based on a study by the US president’s emergency plan for Aids relief (Pepfar) released at the last International Aids Conference two years ago in Vienna.

Bernhard Schwartländer, director of strategy at UNAids, believes the CHAI work should lead to new optimism. “I think the cost argument is just a false argument and it has been used as an escape. We do need more money but it is not at a level that will be impossible,” he said.

The costings are particularly important in the wake of recent scientific findings that show putting people on antiretroviral drugs makes them far less likely to infect others – helping to stop the spread of HIV as well as keeping people alive. CHAI will also announce that it has negotiated down the prices of some of the newer and most important drugs needed for treatment by around a third.

Former US president Bill Clinton hailed the findings as evidence that all 15 million people with HIV in need of treatment could affordably get it – the target for 2015. At the moment, 8 million are being treated. “We now have compelling evidence that universal access to high-quality HIV treatment is achievable, sustainable, and within our means,” said Clinton.

“Together, the costing study and price reductions open the door to scaling up and sustaining services for the 7 million people who currently lack access to HIV treatment. Providing treatment will save lives and help prevent the spread of HIV.”

CHAI worked with the Centre for Global Development and the governments of those African countries involved to collect data from 161 health facilities for the last financial year on record – mostly 2010.

The original aim of the study was to find out whether there was any potential to reduce waste, cut costs and save money, but researchers found salaries and other costs were already so low that this was unlikely, except possibly in South Africa.

Average costs per patient were lowest in Malawi, at $136 a year. That rose to $186 in Ethiopia, $232 in Rwanda and $278 in Zambia. Nearly half the cost, on average, was the price of drugs – which will increase slightly as countries begin to use more effective and more expensive drugs now recommended by the World Health Organisation. CHAI, however, is about to announce a deal with generic drug companies, which will reduce tenofovir-based regimens, which are the “gold-standard” in the USA and recommended by the World Health Organisation, to $125 from $339 in 2007. CHAI says this will save countries over $500 million between now and 2015.

Kate Condliffe, executive vice-president for HIV programmes at CHAI, said finances were thought to be a bottleneck to expanding the numbers of drugs in many countries. “The perception that treatment costs are higher is casting a cloud over conversations on how to accelerate treatments,” she said.

“You sit through conversations on treatment and prevention where there should be incredible optimism, given the science, and yet there is concern about feasibility and cost that lead to an incremental approach.”

But while there are not huge opportunities to save money on treatment in the clinics, there is a disparity between the costs at health facilities and the costs at government level. That was illustrated this week in the major UNAIDS report, which referred to national costs in Zambia – around a third higher than costs in the clinic.

Schwartländer said that even if one assumed a cost of $300 a patient a year, the bill to put 20 million people on HIV treatment would be $6bn a year. “It is not outrageous. It can really be handled,” he said. “Look at the amount of money moving around in low-income countries. $6bn should not shock us – it is not impossible. We need a different view from that of the ‘treatment timebomb’.”

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Mother-to-child transmission of HIV falls across Africa

The latest UNAIDS report shows falls in the rate of transmission of HIV from mother to child across the worst affected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Explore the improvements by country using our interactive visualisationJohn Burn-Murdoch

New inquiry set up into death of UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld

Commission will investigate 1961 plane crash after new claims of assassination and cover-up

A fresh international inquiry is to be opened into the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed the UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld following the emergence of new evidence over the past year.

A Guardian investigation in August 2011 and a book published the following month both pointed to witness testimony that the plane was shot down over British-ruled Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, possibly by western mercenaries, and that the assassination was covered up by the colonial authorities.

The commission of inquiry will include a retired British appeal court judge, Sir Stephen Sedley, as well as Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who was formerly chief prosecutor at The Hague war crimes tribunal. The panel will also include a retired Swedish ambassador, Hans Corell, and a Dutch judge, Wilhelmina Thomassen.

The findings will not carry legal status but will be presented to the UN.

The commission was established after a preliminary review of the new evidence by an “enabling committee” including Lord Lea of Crondall, a former Commonwealth secretary general, Emeka Anyaoku, and the former archbishop of Sweden Karl Gustav Hammar.

“Why are we doing this? Because we believe that the whole of the truth, in significant respects, has yet to be told,” said Lea, a former senior trade unionist. “There is prima facie evidence from a book published in 2011, Who Killed Hammarskjöld? by Susan Williams, and from other sources, that there is new information that ought to be evaluated.”

“The legacy of colonialism won’t go away,” said Williams. “Here at last is an opportunity for a distinguished group of international jurists to examine a most disturbing episode at the dying end of colonial rule in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hammarskjöld carried the hopes of a generation in Africa, for whom his death was a tragedy.”

The unanswered questions the commission will look into include why the sole survivor of the crash said the plane “blew up” before it fell from the sky, why local residents reported seeing a smaller second plane attack Hammarskjöld’s DC-6 aircraft, and why the wreckage was not officially found for 15 hours, though it was only eight miles from the airport.

The crash happened during the struggle for post-colonial Congo just over the border. Williams says the evidence suggests the DC-6, known as the Albertina, was fired on by a plane piloted by mercenaries fighting for Katanga separatists who had revolted against the government of the newly independent Congo with the help of Belgian mining interests.

Hammarskjöld was hated by many white settlers in the region for the UN’s military support of the Congolese government in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa. He went to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia with the aim of brokering a ceasefire, flying under cover of darkness to avoid being intercepted by Katangese war planes.

A British-run commission of inquiry blamed the crash in 1961 on pilot error and a later UN investigation recorded an open verdict.

Dickson Mbewe, a former charcoal burner, was sitting outside his house near Ndola on the night of the crash.

“Suddenly, we saw another aircraft approach the bigger aircraft at greater speed and release fire which appeared as a bright light,” Mbewe, 84, told the Guardian last year.

“The plane on the top turned and went in another direction. We sensed the change in sound of the bigger plane. It went down and disappeared.”

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AFRICA: “Sexual refugees” struggle to access asylum

JOHANNESBURG 09 July 2012 (IRIN) – As a gay man living in Tanzania, Cassim Mustapha could have faced imprisonment, but prosecutions under the country’s Sexual Offences Act are rare, and the bigger threat came from his own community. After one of his neighbours attacked him with an axe leaving a deep wound in his head, Mustapha fled and applied for asylum in Malawi, the first country he reached.