Norway to review all aid to Uganda

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UPDATED: Foreign Minister Børge Brende, who “deeply regrets” a new law in Uganda that can send homosexuals to prison for life, announced Monday that Norway was withholding aid to Uganda’s government in protest. Now, with Uganda’s president claiming the country doesn’t need aid from those criticizing its anti-gay law, Norway may redistribute all aid to Uganda, with none of it going to the government itself.

Foreign Minister Børge Brende believes that Uganda's new law against homosexuality doesn't belong in the 21st century, and he's redirecting foreign aid away from Uganda's government in favour of private organizations that promote human rights. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Foreign Minister Børge Brende believes that Uganda’s new law against homosexuality has no place in the 21st century, and he’s redirecting foreign aid away from Uganda’s government in favour of private organizations that promote human rights. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuesday morning that it will review the distribution of the entire NOK 400 million (USD 66m) it’s been sending to Uganda for years.

Norway has joined Denmark and other countries that are reacting in disgust to Uganda’s new highly controversial law targeting gays and lesbians. The Norwegian government, Brende said, doesn’t want human rights groups or other humanitarian organizations to lose support because of it, so therefore may re-channel its aid directly to them, bypassing the Ugandan government.

“Norway deeply regrets that President (Yoweri) Museveni has signed the new and tougher law against homosexuality,” Brende told NRK Monday evening. “It’s completely unacceptable to sentence someone to life in prison because of their sexual preference.” Brende reacted especially to the new law that also can sentence persons to life in prison because they don’t admit to their alleged homosexuality. “That just doesn’t belong in the 21st century,” Brende said.

Norway has sent hundreds of millions of kroner in foreign aid for many years to Uganda’s government, to help build up the country after the fall of dictator Idi Amin and the atrocities of his regime. Aid was increased when Museveni took power in 1986, but now he’s made it clear he doesn’t need or want aid from countries that don’t support his government’s efforts to make homosexuality illegal.

Brende initially followed Denmark’s lead in redirecting a major chunk of the aid, away from the government and towards private, non-governmental organizations instead.

‘Here’s where we draw the line’
Brende claimed that Museveni is “violating such fundamental human rights that Norway must send a signal: ‘Here’s where we draw the line.’ Therefore, I have now chosen to withhold NOK 50 million (USD 9 million) in aid this year, and will instead increase aid to organizations that work for human rights and democracy in Uganda.” Upon hearing that Museveni scoffed at the aid reallocation, and claimed he didn’t need aid from critical countries, Brende told NRK he would thus consider distributing all of Norway’s aid through private groups instead. He was receiving broad political support in Norway for such a move.

Norway’s foreign ministry noted that Norway supports human rights advocates in Uganda through local and international partners. That includes the UN, Uganda’s national human rights commission and volunteer organizations.

Denmark also decided on Monday to redirect 50 million of its own kroner to private companies and organizations instead of the Ugandan state, to put pressure on Musevene even though hopes weren’t high he’d be influenced. Sweden is also considering cutting its NOK 70 million in state-to-state support, as is the US. All may now redirect their entire aid allotments as well.

Uganda is far from alone in imposing strict punishments for homosexuality, especially in Africa. Nearly 40 countries punish homosexuality including Liberia, whose leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf  won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. She later sparked protests in Norway when she refused to decriminalize homosexuality, telling the newspaper The Guardian that “we have certain traditions (against gays and lesbians) that we’d like to preserve.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund