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How Deep Is the Republican Christian Right's Connection to the Anti-Gay Bills Sweeping Sub-Saharan Africa?

As the horrific "kill-the-gays" bill resurfaces in Uganda, Republican politicians deny connections, but their rhetoric is frighteningly similar.

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But what about religious organizations in the US trying to influence foreign elections? Should a concerned citizen who has information about this sort of abuse file a complaint with the IRS? Rob Boston, policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, seems doubtful that the IRS would take on complaints about foreign activities like this. He doesn’t think there is any clear precedent for it. Still, he adds, it could make an “interesting test case.” In the meantime, Throckmorton and Burroway say ominous things to me about Nigeria. Both expect the fallout to be much bloodier than in Uganda. Throckmorton says there may be a “very dark time” ahead for the country, which is already volatile and deeply divided by sectarian and religious conflict.

With the exception of a few true believers, my sources don’t generally think American proponents understand the gravity of what they’re supporting. There will be a body count. In fact, there is one already, as abuse and arrests escalate against LGBT people throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Again, many believe Kato was murdered because of his activism on behalf of gay rights. Activist  Jean-Claude Roger Mdebe was sentenced to 36 months in prison in Cameroon for being gay. In Nigeria, gay organizations say that  blackmail and extortion are commonly used to take advantage of LGBT people. Even South Africa, which boasts one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, has a major problem with the so-called “ corrective rape” of lesbians. And authorities determined that the 2011  murders of five gay men in Johannesburg were not the work of a serial killer, but multiple killers.

Ultimately, homophobic conspiracy theories have a lot of currency in many African countries. I’m told that African leaders who get caught up in this struggle to expel alleged “Western imports” like homosexuality fail to pick up on the fact that fundamentalist Christianity is – if nothing else – a Western import. And so-called “pro-family” organizations tend to be specifically American imports.

One journalist who does not want to be named tells me the handwringing over homosexuality in countries like Uganda and Nigeria – not unlike that in the United States – seems like a distraction. That is, it prevents people from taking on real political issues like economic inequality, food insecurity and the excesses of global capitalism. It’s much easier to scapegoat already marginalized minority communities.

Vilified communities in deeply divided societies have historically served as scapegoats. In times of economic panic and insecurity, they’re often the first casualties of societal breakdown. So, things do not bode well for the LGBT communities in sub-Saharan Africa. American support for gay criminalization has lit a spark that seems unlikely to die down anytime soon.

The situation is pretty bleak region-wide, and none of the Republican presidential candidates are likely to help matters much. I am told that the Republican candidates for president do not have direct ties with pastors like Martin Ssempa or Julius Oyet. But they most certainly feel the need to play nice with pastors who do.

Santorum may be the only candidate still in the running who supports criminalizing homosexuality, but in 2010, Newt Gingrich teamed up with the New Apostolic leader Lou Engle to pray for “revival” in the US. And former candidate Rick Perry was roundly endorsed by most pastors affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation.

Mitt Romney, still trying to win the hardline base within his party, keeps going on about how he thinks marriage is between a man and a woman. But the hardline base is way past marriage. They want criminalization. They want outright persecution. In various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, they flirt with wanting execution. Most Americans scoff at rhetoric about gay criminalization. Not so much in deeply homophobic societies where homosexuality has historically been linked to colonial excess.

 
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