Uganda: Is helping only making things worse?

The new anti gay laws in Uganda have sparked widespread criticism around the world. The Icelandic parliament, Althingi, will soon discuss a cross party resolution condemning the laws and calling for the re-organizing of humanitarian aid to Uganda with a focus on supporting gay and lesbian organizations in the poverty hit Center African state. Personally, I’m still not sure what to think of the proposed resolution. Why you might ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

The other day I read an interview on Icelandic news website with a Ugandan living in Iceland, Karim Birimumaso, who states that Ugandan President’s Yoweris Museveni’s decision to confirm the controversial laws was taken because other countries – USA in particular – were putting too much pressure on Uganda. He added that Ugandans don’t like other countries telling them what to do.

Arwen McKechnie, feminist and author at, writes how mistakenly countries around the world, particularly the western world, are pressuring Uganda, generating in strong local support at home:

“…But with every Facebook post I read on this topic, with every angry editorial from a human rights agency demanding immediate condemnation from the North and punishment of the Ugandan government, as if they were in fact a subservient state,  I see the positions of African nations becoming more and more entrenched. Our “helping” is making things worse, and it’s time to realize that and take a deep breath,” she writes.

Hmmm, does this ring any bells?

Maybe because it’s exactly the same argument being voiced by the Russia government, which seems becoming more intolerant with every step taken by the outside world to point out how horribly wrong it treats the LGBT community. In other words, I don’t see any signs that foreign pressure is helping matters any more in the case of Russia.

Are we really any different?

The above mentions argument is something that even Icelanders should not only be familiar with but also be able to relate to. You see for years the US has asked Iceland to stop killing fin whales which are on International lists of endangered animals. But every time Washington raises its concerns Iceland’s position has toughened. The same has happened when the EU and 34 countries around the world have formerly protested against the so-called Icelandic whaling.

Icelandic whaling is of course no more a national industry then the few hot dog stands in Reykjavík center, because the fact of the matter is that the fin whaling is conducted by a single billionaire who spends his profit from other enterprises (mainly fisheries) to keep his “hobby” working.

Still, that doesn’t change Icelander’s point of view because the governments PR is working at home.  The official line is that ICELANDERS are whaling in a sustainable way and that WE have the right to utilize OUR own natural resources as WE please. International pressure has fueled this nationalistic sentiment.

So maybe Iceland and Uganda are not that far apart after all? At least not when it comes to dealing with international political pressure.

Solving problems without conflict

So what can then be done when countries such as Uganda Russia or Iceland say f*ck you to the rest of the world when criticised for violating wildlife conservation or human rights?

I do agree that too much foreign pressure can make things worse and stir up national sentiments, as we have indeed seen in Uganda, Russia or Iceland. Even so diplomatic pressure often serves its purpose in the long run. We have seen examples of that all over the world and throughout history. Apartheid, the former system of racial segregation in South Africa, being one of many.

In my experience working from within countries who’re abusing human rights or working against wildlife conservation, by educating, informing and engaging in a positive dialogue with their own politicians and general public, has ended with the best results. It’s usually a good way to move things forward.  After all you don’t have to look any further than to Iceland where the biggest changes in the history of LGBT rights, such as marriage equality, have been brought about from within to realise just that.

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