Gay Rights and U.S. Foreign Aid: A Look at Nigeria and Uganda
e Journal of International Relations
Rights and U.S. Foreign Aid: A Look at Nigeria
Audrey L. Comstock 0
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Gay Rights and U.S. Foreign Aid: A Look at Nigeria and Uganda
Audrey L. Comstock
The LGBT community is explicitly targeted in many areas of the world through discriminatory state
policies and practices including lengthy imprisonment and death. Research examining the relationship
between foreign aid and human rights conditions has yet to fully situate gay rights within the aid
allocation relationship. In 2011, President Obama issued a memo directing U.S. foreign aid policy to
explicitly take gay rights levels into consideration in aid allocation. This article begins to explore the
effect, if any, of the policy change. This article traces gay rights practices and U.S. foreign aid
amounts from 2009-2014 in Uganda and Nigeria. The descriptive analysis sheds light on the
relationship between gay rights and foreign aid during a time of foreign aid policy change. Through
these two cases, I find that U.S. foreign aid increased slightly over time while violence and policies
against the LGBT population worsened in Nigeria and Uganda. In conclusion, I call for future
research to further explore the relationship between foreign aid, development, and gay rights.
“The very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that, ‘All human
beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ All human beings – not some, not most, but all.
No one gets to decide who is entitled to human rights and who is not.” (United Nations Secretary
General Ban Ki –Moon, December 11 2012)
The international community increasingly recognizes gay rights as an intrinsic part of human
rights. The above quote highlights the United Nations expansion of the definition of human rights to
include all groups and all peoples. Some states actively oppose the inclusion of gay rights issues into
the definition of human rights. Islamic majority states in particular maintain that human rights as a
concept does not extend to sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite opposition of some states,
the trend in global attitudes, policies, and rhetoric is towards the advancement of gay rights. The
landmark 1994 Toonen v. Australia decision ruled the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights applies to issues of sexual orientation discrimination and prompted Australia to expand its
domestic laws towards the recognition of gay rights. The United Nations launched the Free & Equal
Campaign focusing specifically on the promotion of gay rights globally. The U.S. made moves to
expand its recognition of gay rights internationally as well.
The U.S. shifted from being silent through abstention during a 2008 United Nations General
Assembly statement decriminalizing homosexuality to vocally supporting and promoting gay rights in
2011. In 2011, the U.S. sent a clear message in support of gay rights at the international stage. Both
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for recognition of gay rights as
human rights. In doing so, they called for the United States to use its position as global hegemon to
promote gay rights around the world. To that end, President Obama directed that U.S. foreign aid be
used to advance gay rights.
One way for a state to reward other states with good human rights records is to increase foreign
aid. Academic research has analyzed whether human rights practices do, in fact, determine what
states receive U.S. foreign aid.1 Findings have been weak in support of any such connection. Given the
growing recognition of gay rights as human rights and the 2011 U.S. policy shift linking U.S. foreign
aid to gay rights practices, the relationship between aid allocation and gay rights practices merits a
closer look. In doing so, this article builds upon earlier research in international relations that focuses
on foreign aid allocation by adding the new dimension of gay rights practices to the broader concept of
human rights. This article centers on two related questions 1) Has foreign aid policy change resulted in
changed foreign aid allocation? 2) Does the relationship between U.S. foreign aid and gay rights
practices mirror that between foreign aid and human rights more broadly, or is there a new relationship
that is unique to gay rights?
The article begins by briefly reviewing the existing literature on foreign aid and human rights.
Next, I discuss U.S. positions on foreign aid and human rights over time highlighting the changes
between the Ford, Carter, and Obama administrations, which culminated in the 2011 policy change
linking gay rights with foreign aid. This is not an exhaustive discussion but provides a framework
through which to compare changes in policy overtime. Next, I examine gay rights conditions before
and after the 2011 policy change by looking specifically at the cases of Nigeria and Uganda. The
result of these case studies reveals that gay rights conditions did not noticeably affect U.S. foreign aid
amounts. In fact, foreign aid remained stable or actually increased in Nigeria and Uganda while
conditions worsened for gay individuals. I conclude by situating the findings of this study in foreign
aid and human rights scholarship more broadly and discussing future directions for research in the area
of gay rights and foreign aid.
THE LITERATURE: DO HUMAN RIGHTS CONDITIONS DETERMINE AID AMOUNTS?
Within scholarly research, a debate exists about how effective foreign aid can be and what the
relationship is between human rights and foreign aid is. While scholars find some support for a
correlation between foreign aid and human rights, the direction, size, significance, and factors
affecting said relationships varies greatly among studies and even within the same study. Some of the
reasons that research continues to offer an unclear image of the relationship between rights and aid
allocated has to do with time period, states examined, methods used, what specific types of rights are
included (civil and political vs. physical integrity rights), and what kind of foreign aid is measured
(military vs. economic vs. other types). This section highlights the varying arguments and findings for
both of positions on the relationship between aid and human rights – that positive human rights
conditions result in more foreign aid or that worse human rights conditions result in more foreign aid.
For a more exhaustive discussion of literature on human rights and foreign aid see Apodaca and Stohl
A Positive Relationship: Good Human Rights can lead to More Foreign Aid
Prompted by the Carter Administration policy linking aid to human rights practices, there was
a notable increase in scholarly research on U.S. foreign aid allocation in the 1980s. Early research was
supportive of the role of human rights in determining aid allocation. These studies frequently argued,
and found support for the argument that a state’s human rights practices were a significant indicator
for how much foreign aid the state would receive. Even studies that offer some support for this
argument depict a complex story of how aid allocation works.
1 e.g. Lebovic and Voeten 2009 and see Poe 1990 for a comprehensive review of earlier studies on human rights and US foreign aid.
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The gate-keeping model suggested that human rights conditions did not determine whether or
not states received aid, but human rights conditions did influence the amount of aid received.ii The
model only focused on the determinants of U.S. foreign aid allocated in fiscal year 1982 to Latin
American states. Although critiqued, notably by McCormick and Mitchell, the Cingranelli and
Pasquarello finding has been supported to some extent by later works. iii Subsequent research
expanded the analysis beyond the time of the 1980s and location of Latin America. For example,
Trumbull and Wall found a positive relationship between human rights levels and aid allocation. iv
Neumayer found that states with better and improving human rights practices received more bilateral
foreign aid. v
There appears to be some consensus on the difference that comes in analyzing economic aid
versus military aid. In examining allocation of economic aid during the Carter and Reagan
administrations, Poe found that human rights conditions were important in U.S. aid allocation. vi
Apodaca and Stohl also concluded that human rights conditions mattered in determining the allocation
of economic, but not military, aid, but that human rights are not the only or most important variable in
explaining aid allocation. vii Together, these studies suggest that human rights can, at times, determine
some types of U.S. foreign aid allocation.
A Questionable Relationship: Worse Human Rights lead to More Foreign Aid
Despite the research discussed in the prior section, numerous studies support the argument that
positive human rights do not result in increased foreign aid. These studies point to the finding that the
U.S. sends more aid to states with worse human rights practices. Meernik, Kruger, and Poe found that
states with the worst human rights conditions received more U.S. aid than states with better human
rights conditions. viii Neumayer echoes this finding when considering foreign aid beyond the United
States. ix While respect for civil and political rights is significant at the ‘aid eligibility stage’, at the
allocation stage, most states allocate more aid to states with some of the worst rights conditions.
From these findings, Neumayer concluded that states do not reward better rights practices with higher
amounts of foreign aid.
The studies above highlight the finding that human rights were not the primary consideration
or defining factor explaining levels of foreign aid allocation.x Economic development was more
important in determining aid allocation than human rights conditions.xi Based on these studies, the
premise that the U.S. gives more foreign aid to states with better human rights records appears
questionable at best.
Given the wide range of findings in regards to the role of human rights records in the decision
to allocate foreign aid in the above foreign aid studies, it is difficult to make a more definitive
statement regarding connections between human rights and foreign aid other than better human rights
can, at times, result in higher amounts of some forms of foreign aid. The studies varied in how they
measured human rights using civil, political, and physical integrity rights indicators. None of the
previous studies examining foreign aid explicitly considered gay rights when measuring human rights.
In part, the exclusion of gay rights as an analyzed category of rights is because until recently, gay
rights were not widely considered to fall under the broader definition of human rights. Additionally,
there are no global data on gay rights conditions across the universe of states over a long time span.
Africa and Foreign Aid
In view of the dearth of research, it is unclear where gay rights fit into the current debate about
human rights conditions and aid allocation more broadly. In addition to the unclear relationship
between human rights and foreign aid, foreign aid allocation itself has been criticized as being
ineffective in promoting development. There is a contentious relationship between developing states,
and African developing states in particular, and foreign aid. Critics cite growing corruption and
general dependence on foreign aid as limiting the effectiveness and desirability of foreign aid.
Perhaps one of the most public critiques of the detrimental effects of international aid on dependency
in Africa was Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid.xii In the text, Moyo argues that the billions of dollars sent in
the form of foreign aid has been poorly implemented and contributed to making the poor poorer,
fueling corruption in Africa, and holding African states back from advancing in important areas such
as literacy and public health (7). Academic research similarly is skeptical in the linkage between
foreign aid and development. For example, Knack (2004) found no evidence linking aid levels and
levels of democracy.xiii Reliance on international aid without the need for public accountability can
inhibit institutional development.xiv However, there is a lack of complete consensus on the efficacy of
foreign aid in developing states with some research pointing to benefits of aid in Africa. Goldsmith
(2010) finds aid to produce a “minor net plus for African states’ ability to govern well.”xv In some
studies, foreign aid in Africa has been associated with improvements in democracy and economic
HUMAN RIGHTS, GAY RIGHTS, AND U.S. FOREIGN AID: A BRIEF HISTORY
Do gay rights practices determine how the U.S. allocates foreign aid? As discussed in the
previous section, prior literature does not offer conclusive results as to the relationship between rights
and aid allocation. Historically, the U.S. included human rights as one aspect in allocating foreign aid.
“U.S. foreign aid policy has developed around three primary rationales: national security, commercial
interests, and humanitarian concerns.”xvii At certain periods, the U.S. has elevated the importance of
human rights in foreign policy decision-making. This section highlights the policies connecting
foreign assistance and human rights, focusing on the Ford, Carter, and Obama administrations.xviii
The Foreign Assistance Act and the Ford Administration
The 1974 Foreign Assistance Act addressed the allocation of military or security foreign aid,
updating the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act. The earlier Act restricted U.S. military aid and arms sent
to any state “which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized
human rights.”xix Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act, known as the Humphrey-Cranston
Amendment, specifically connected aid allocation to human rights conditions. The 1975 Harkin
Amendment (Section 116) added the stipulation that the U.S. could not allocate economic aid to
governments committing gross human rights violations. xx “Except under extraordinary circumstances
no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a
consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”xxi However,
presidents have been able to cite ‘extraordinary circumstances’ to maneuver around the Act and
“follow [their] political agenda with little or no concern for the human rights records of aid recipient
President Ford vocalized his lack of support for the human rights requirements in the Foreign
Assistance Act. “I regret the action of the Congress in cutting off the modest program of military
assistance to Chile. Although I share the concern of the Congress for the protection of human rights
and look forward to continuing consultation with the Chilean Government on this matter, I do not
regard this measure as an effective means for promoting that interest.”xxiii Other members of the Ford
Administration such as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Undersecretary of State for Security
Assistance Carlyle Maw voiced their opposition as well. The latter testifying that no security-based
assistance was based on a state’s human rights practices.xxiv
From these statements, it is clear that the 1974 Foreign Assistance Act and the
HumphreyCranston Amendment neither reflected administration objectives, nor received presidential support.
Presidents Nixon and Ford focused on security related issues such as the SALT I and II Treaties, the
Oil Embargo, and the controversial and public Vietnam War in lieu of advancing human rights via
foreign aid policy. When foreign aid was strategically used, it was used to combat the spread of
communism, not to discourage bad human rights practices.
Human rights, even broadly considered, were not on the Ford and Nixon Administration
foreign policy agendas. Cohen goes so far as to describe human rights policy during the Nixon and
Ford Administrations “hostile administrations” that engaged in “executive sabotage of human rights
initiatives.” xxv Gay rights, not generally accepted as part of human rights, did not enter into the public
discussion. Recently released White House tapes revealed that President Nixon was in some ways
progressive regarding gay rights, stating his belief that gay individuals are “born that way.” However,
the tapes also confirmed the President’s unwillingness to include gay rights into public policy. “By
God, I am not going to have a situation where we pass along a law indicating, 'Well, now, kids, just go
out and be gay.' They can do it. Just leave them alone. That’s a lifestyle I don't want to touch..."xxvi
The Carter Administration
The Carter Administration made a conscious effort to re-center foreign policy on human rights.
President Carter linked human rights to foreign policy in his inaugural speech in 1977, “Because we
are free, we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a
clearcut preference for those societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights.”
The Carter Administration further articulated the connection between human rights and foreign policy
in Presidential Directive 30 1978, which reads, “…Countries with a good or substantially improving
record of human rights observances will be given special consideration in the allocation of U.S.
foreign assistance, just as countries with a poor or deteriorating record will receive less favorable
Human rights, for the Carter Administration, was a concept conceived broadly, but not broadly
enough to include gay rights. During the time, the U.S. defined human rights through aspects of
existing human rights law such as torture, political rights, and civil rights. Neither the U.S. domestic
law nor the international human rights law explicitly addressed gay and lesbian rights as human rights.
While the Carter Administration sought global human rights through speeches on the international
stage such as the address before the United Nations General Assembly in 1977, the administration did
not take action to include gay rights into politics either at the international or domestic level. The
Carter Administration was described as having a “timidity” and “overall indifference” to gay
issues.xxviii Carter was quoted as discussing the inapplicability of gay rights to the Equal Rights
The main obstacle to the ratification of the ERA in Illinois and in Georgia … is the allegation
that it is only supported by radical kinds of people. And the question of homosexuality and the
question of abortion and religious beliefs and the sharing of restrooms and the destruction of
families--these artificial arguments are put forward, .and they can best be knocked down by a
person who's known to be sound and committed and balanced and patriotic . . . religious
leaders in Illinois . . . are the ones that can knock down these false allegations.xxix
It is unclear whether the human rights foreign policy articulated by the Carter Administration
achieved what it set out to do. Scholars have asked whether human rights levels played a determining
role in aid allocation. Cingranelli and Pasquarello (1985) found that human rights levels did not
determine whether or not a state received U.S. foreign aid, while Meernik, Krueger, and Poe (1998)
found that states with worse human rights practices were more likely to receive U.S. foreign aid –
contrary to what the Carter policy articulated. The research conducted during the time of the Carter
administration pointes to human rights not determining U.S. foreign aid allocation. Stohl, Carleton,
and Johnson found that U.S. policies on promoting human rights did not best explain foreign aid levels
across the Nixon, Ford, and Carter Administrations.xxx
The Obama Administration
In looking at the current U.S. administration, the Obama administration became the first to
articulate support for gay rights, globally by linking gay rights practices to foreign aid and interpreting
gay rights as human rights. This follows from a global linking of both rights groups by activists,
NGOs, and law found in domestic and international arenas. In a December 2011 memorandum entitled
“Presidential Memorandum -- International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, and Transgender Persons”, President Obama outlined the importance of gay rights and
several ways for the United States to promote gay rights abroad. The memorandum listed five primary
actions to improve gay rights 1) combat criminalization of LGBT status/conduct 2) protect LGBT
refugees and asylum seekers 3) Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Nondiscrimination 4)
Swift U.S. responses to LGBT rights abuses and 5)Engaging with International Organizations to end
The memorandum directed U.S. agencies to alter existing aid allocation policies, “By this
memorandum I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign
assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.” Media and rights groups
interpreted the memorandum to mean that gay rights were to become a criterion for U.S. foreign
assistance.xxxii This statement sharply opposes the past foreign policy direction taken by the Bush
Administration. The Bush Administration notably failed to support a non-binding United Nations
General Assembly Declaration that called for the decriminalization of homosexuality, the only
Western democracy not to voice support for the declaration.xxxiii While the Bush Administration
avoided a controversial stance on gay rights at the United Nations, the Obama administration directly
addressed gay rights there.
Following this change in policy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the Human Rights
Council and reiterated U.S. support for promoting gay rights globally, “Like being a woman, like
being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And
that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”xxxiv The memo along with
statements made by Secretary Clinton to the international community solidified the Obama
Administration position on gay rights. This position dramatically differs from the previous Ford,
Nixon, and Carter administrations discussed above.
The change in foreign policy position occurred in the context of domestic social movements
supporting gay rights. While the Clinton and Bush administrations operated against a domestic
backdrop of civil rights and anti-war movements, the gay rights movement strengthened as the Obama
Administration entered the White House. When President George W. Bush left the White House in
January 2009, 2 states preformed same-sex marriages, 8 states and the District of Columbus allowed
civil unions/ domestic partnerships, and 29 states had constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.xxxv By
2012, 6 states and the District of Columbus preformed same-sex marriages, 12 states allowed civil
unions/domestic partnerships, and 30 states had constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. The
changes in same-sex marriage recognition during this time demonstrate active social movements and
the changing public opinion on gay rights.xxxvi In 2010, President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t
ask, don’t tell”, allowing gay men and women to openly serve in the military. In 2012, President
Obama became the first U.S. president to support same-sex marriage.
To my knowledge, no study has assessed whether or not U.S. foreign aid policy recognizing
gay rights as part of human rights has changed allocation practices. In the next part of the paper, I
analyze the relationship between gay rights and foreign aid allocation. Through descriptive analysis, I
examine whether aid levels dropped when states had worse gay rights conditions, as expected from the
articulated Obama policy.
CASE STUDY ANALYSES: NIGERIA AND UGANDA
This article focuses on the two cases of Nigeria and Uganda to explore the relationship between
gay rights and U.S. foreign aid allocation. As a first look at the connection between gay rights and
foreign aid levels, African states make the most sense to begin with. Practices in Africa largely
motivated the U.S. foreign policy change to include gay rights as criteria for aid levels. Nigeria and
Uganda offer interesting cases to examine. The bill in Uganda making some homosexual acts
punishable by death prompted international condemnation and the United States to recognize gay
rights as human rights. Roughly half of the 76 states identified by the United Nations Free & Equal
Campaign with discriminatory laws criminalizing consensual, adult relationship are in Africa. Graph 1
depicts U.S. foreign aid allocated to all African States 2009-2014. In each case discussion, I compare
the overall numbers with specific amounts allocated to Nigeria and Uganda.
I build case studies on Nigeria and Uganda to explore the complex relationship between
foreign aid and gay rights. In each case, I examine the amount of foreign aid the state received over
time and its relevant laws regarding the LGBT population. I rely on information from human rights
organizations and U.S. State Department annual country reports to discuss the reported gay rights
conditions in each state. Although no source claims to account for all violations that occur in any
given year in a state, public reports, and the U.S. State Department Reports in particular provide
insight into what information the U.S. used in formulating assessments of gay rights levels in each
state. These assessments then could be used to make foreign aid allocation level decisions for the
following year. Focusing on these cases allows me to look past law as the only measure of gay rights
recognitions and to look closer at the time prior to the 2011 Obama statement and after. Using the
2011 U.S. policy change as a focal point, I analyze gay rights conditions and foreign aid allocation
leading up to and following the policy change.
Since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1960, Nigeria progressed slowly from
a state with noted election violence and political corruption to achieving its first peaceful transition of
power between civilian leaders in 2007. Freedom House noted an improvement in human rights
conditions during the 1990s, when many political prisoners were freed and the government-targeted
corruption.xxxvii Many non-governmental organizations operate in Nigeria along with radio stations
and newspapers, allowing for “robust public debate.”xxxviii Yet, there is noted need for improvement
and expansion of these rights. In 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged protection of
journalists in Nigeria and cited instances in 2014 when federal troops seized newspapers and disrupted
journalists.xxxix Nigeria signaled support for international human rights through the ratification of
United Nations treaties against torture and racial discrimination along with treaties recognizing civil
and political rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, and migrant rights.xl
Despite some progress in human rights conditions and continued commitment to rights via
international legal commitments, Nigeria remains marred by human rights violations and poor health
conditions. A noted success was Nigeria’s 2009 amnesty program allowing for the exchanges of
weapons for amnesty and cash stipends. Over 20,000 individuals surrendered weapons and attacks in
the oil rich Niger Delta have declined as a result.xli
In the early to mid-2000’s Nigeria experienced a polio epidemic.xlii Violence and kidnappings
continued through the mid 2000’s.xliii Religious discrimination is widespread.xliv Petroleum
dependence continues to cause political and human rights problems. “Ethnic minorities in the Niger
Delta feel particularly discriminated against, primarily with regard to distribution of the country’s oil
wealth. Several militia groups, some based on ethnicity, operate in the Delta region and frequently
target oil workers for kidnapping and extortion.”xlv The international community is skeptical about
Nigeria’s commitment to human rights given the recent reports of torture and violence, in clear
violation of the treaties it has ratified.xlvi
Gay Rights Practices Pre-2011
In the years leading up to the 2011 U.S. foreign aid policy change, Nigeria discriminated
against and violates the rights of the LGBT population. Through laws and public attitudes, Nigeria
embodied an environment of hate directed towards the LGBT community. The hostile laws and
attitudes to the LGBT community drew criticism from domestic and international rights groups.
The government and citizens perpetuated rights violations following the end of military rule in
Nigeria and adopted Sharia Law in 1999. While Nigeria’s criminal and penal codes establish the
punishment of up to 14 years imprisonment for those found guilty of consensual homosexual conduct,
harsher punishments have been established by Sharia law adopted in northern Nigerian states. In
northern Nigeria, sodomy is punishable by death by stoning.xlvii The application of Sharia Law in
Nigeria to homosexuality follows a trend found in other Muslim-majority states. Rehman and
Polymenopoulou (2013) point to states with Muslim-majorities as utilizing the “most brutal
punishments.”xlviii However, religion alone cannot explain anti-gay positions and violence in Nigeria.
Hostility and violence extends throughout Nigeria, not just in the northern Islamic states. In 2008,
members of a LGBT-friendly church were stoned and beaten in Lagos, the most populated city in
Nigeria. According to a U.S. State Department report, Nigerian authorities took no actions to
prosecute the perpetrators. “The attacks occurred after four newspapers published photographs, names,
and addresses of church members.” xlix
Since 2006, a version of the Same Sex Marriage Ban has appeared before the Nigerian
legislature. A variation of the bill appeared before the National Assembly in 2006, but never went to a
vote. “This version was introduced in 2008 and went through two readings but was quietly dropped in
the face of civil society protest in Nigeria supported by an international outcry. It was re-introduced in
2011.”l Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in particular contributed to an international
condemnation of the law.li Human Rights Watch wrote a strongly worded letter to the President of
Nigeria in opposition of the law writing that it would “gravely” restrict the rights of Nigerians and
place individuals at risk of “coercion, blackmail, police investigation, arrest, and prosecution.”lii The
Sex Marriage Ban considered in 2011, for the third time in five years.liii Despite international
pressure, the domestic movement against gay rights continued to promote anti-gay legislation.
Gay Rights Practices 2011 and After
Nigerian officials made no effort to improve gay rights despite threats from the U.S. and other
states to cut off aid. Instead, the parliament passed the Same Sex Marriage Ban in 2011 and President
Jonathan signed the Ban into law in 2014. The Ban prohibits “participating in or witnessing same-sex
marriage ceremonies, criminalize public displays of affection between same-sex couples, and
criminalize LGBT organizations.”liv Due to the harsh penalties and widespread reach of the Ban, it
has been dubbed the “Jail the Gays” law by activists in Nigeria.
In 2013, Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill passed in the Nigerian Senate. Building on prior
versions of the law, the Bill made it a criminal action if an individual “supports the registration,
operation, and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions, or meetings” or
“registers, operates, or participates in gay clubs, societies, organizations, or directly or indirectly
makes public show of same sex amorous relationship” commits an offense punishable by 10 years’
imprisonment.lv The international community widely criticized the passage of the bill with the United
Kingdom and United States taking strong positions against it. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
stated that the bill “dangerously restricts freedom(s).”lvi In 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan signed
the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill into law. Policymakers made only minor changes to the
previous versions and continued restrictions on public displays of affection between same-sex couples,
the work of NGOs and other organizations that help gay individuals through health provisions and/or
activismlvii and continued the threat of lengthy prison terms based only on a person’s sexual
As the legislative discrimination continued in Nigeria, so did violence and other discrimination
against the LGBT population. Introduction and discussion of the hostile legislation has led to an
increase in violence. “LGBT activists claimed an increased level of hostility towards those accused of
same-sex activities since the bill’s introduction.”lix Dorothy Aken’Ova was quoted by the BBC as
saying, “Hostility towards gay people has escalated since parliament debated the Same-Sex Marriage
Prohibition Act last year.”lx Not only are the laws harmful to the LGBT population, but the media
attention and public discourse surrounding their movement through legislative processes has increased
the hostility towards LGBT people.
In 2013, there were reports of individuals suspected of engaging in same-sex activities were
harassed and assaulted by mobs.lxi Negative stigmas against people with HIV/AIDS contributed to
widespread discrimination, often resulting in job loss and denial of health services. “The public
considered the disease a result of immoral behavior and a punishment for homosexual activity,”lxii
In response to the threat of less aid, Jibrin Danlami Hassan, the commissioner of Bauchi state’s
Sharia commission, is quoted as saying that he was “happy that Mr. Jonathan (the Nigerian President)
had signed it (Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act) into law, despite threats by Western powers to cut
aid to Nigeria. The threat they are doing cannot make us change our religion.”lxiii Despite threats to cut
off aid if gay rights were not recognized, Nigeria continued to pursue the Same Sex Marriage Ban,
which criminalizes many actions beyond marriage, making it nearly impossible for the LGBT
population to come out and feel safe. What we see in Graph 2 is that the U.S. threat of decreased aid
was a hollow one. Despite increased hostility towards the LGBT population through legislation and
physical violence, the United States did not cut off foreign aid. In fact, we observe some increase in
both Spent and Allocated aid. From this it is difficult to ascertain whether cutting off aid would
prompt Nigeria, or other similar states, to improve respect for gay rights. We can conclude, however,
that the U.S. did not follow through with its 2011 policy to link foreign aid to gay rights practices. In
Nigeria, whether aid stayed the same or increased conditions for the LGBT population worsened.
Since Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962, it has been led by brutal authoritarian
heads of state until approximately 1986, when Idi Amin and Milton Obote fought for control of the
state. During this power struggle in Uganda, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, those in
opposition to the government were tortured and killed, and little freedom existed.lxiv Yoweri
Museveni seized power in 1986 through a military coup and has since stayed in power via presidential
elections, whose legitimacy has been widely called into question.lxv Since independence, political
competition and free elections have been restricted. Human Rights Watch summarizes Ugandan
politics since Musveni claimed power as, “After 26 years of President Yoweri Museveni’s rule,
increasing threats to freedom of expression, assembly, and association raise serious concerns about
Uganda’s respect for the rule of law. The security forces continue to enjoy impunity for torture,
extrajudicial killings, and the deaths of at least 49 people during protests in 2009 and 2011.”lxvi
At the international level, Uganda ratified United Nations treaties covering torture, civil and
political rights, discrimination against women, racial discrimination, economic and cultural rights,
migrant rights, and the rights of the child.lxvii To a certain extent, this legal commitment signals
support for human rights, and small progress is visible in some areas. Freedom House notes that
religious freedom is protected in the Ugandan constitution and that there is some freedom of the press,
with numerous news outlets operating in the country.lxviii However, the Ugandan government often
harasses and bring charges against those journalists who its practices.lxix The ban on political parties
was lifted in 2005, and although women are discriminated against, a national law mandates women fill
a percentage of the parliamentary seats.
Gay Rights Practices Pre-2011
As discussed above, Uganda governments have fostered a hostile environment with respect to
human rights since independence. In recent years, the government has focused on repressing gay
rights, in particular. Despite some freedoms, Freedom House describes Uganda as on a “downward
trend” due to “increased restriction and harassment of the opposition and a systematic campaign to
obstruct and shut down civic groups that engage the government on sensitive issues such as gay rights,
corruption, term limits, and land rights.”lxxIn 2006, Uganda passed the NGO Registration Amendment
Act, which has been described as a “burdensome registration” for NGOs, since it inhibits mobilization
around rights issues, making it more difficult for LGBT organizations to promote gay rights.
According to 2010 UNAIDs estimates, between 6-7% of Nigerians are living with
HIV/AIDS.lxxi Despite these high numbers of HIV positive people in Uganda, the government
continues to pass anti-gay legislation that inhibits medical treatment. In 2009, Uganda passed the
AntiHomosexuality Bill, which makes same sex acts punishable by death and increases punishments for
not reporting violations. The targeting of ‘witnesses’ to same sex acts threatening health workers
treating HIV/AIDS and LGBT advocates if they do not turn in patients. In addition to the
AntiHomosexuality Bill, Uganda passed the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act in 2010. "The bill
contains measures that have been proven ineffective against the AIDS epidemic and that violate the
rights of people living with HIV," said Joe Amon, Health and Human Rights director at Human Rights
Watch. "The HIV epidemic in Uganda is getting worse, and this bill is another example of misguided,
ideological approaches and lack of leadership."lxxii
Not all anti-gay sentiments in Uganda come from within. A notable anti-gay external influence
is the American Scot Lively, who first visited Uganda in 2002, supported Uganda’s harsh penalties for
homosexuality and “is said to have inspired the country’s controversial “Kill the Gays” bill.”lxxiii
Lively and members of his group have held workshops on how to convert gay people and labeled the
LGBT population as “an evil institution.”lxxiv Based on his activism against the LGBT community in
Uganda, the Ugandan rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has sued Lively for crimes
Gay Rights Practices Post-2011
In 2011 the Ugandan anti-gay supporters killed prominent human rights/LGBT rights activist
David Kato. Shortly following a Ugandan newspaper’s publication of photographs of Kato and other
known gay individuals, Kato was beaten to death. While the Ugandan government denied
responsibility for the attack, local rights groups offered a different explanation. “David’s death is a
result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009. The Ugandan government and the
so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.”lxxvi
Later in the year, the Ugandan Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee
recommended passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which called for harsh penalties for
homosexual acts including a 14-year prison term for first time offenders.lxxvii In 2012, the bill was
returned to the National Assembly.
Following from previous hostile legislation, Uganda increased its level of NGO scrutiny.
While many NGOs promoting issues outside of LGBT rights operated freely, LGBT groups
confronted opposition from within the Ugandan government. Notably, the Ministry for Ethics and
Integrity ordered a rain on a LGBT workshop in Entebbe.lxxviii The Ugandan NGO Board, prevented
LGBT groups from registering as NGOs,lxxix which made it more difficult for LGBT groups to meet
In 2014, President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality bill into law, which both
reinforced and expanded upon existing anti-gay policy. For the first time, Ugandan law explicitly
targets lesbians, not just gay men.lxxx This is a crucial point, since colonial-era laws in African states
criminalized same sex male, but not female relationships. Thus, the explicit criminalization of lesbian
actions/relationships demonstrates that anti-LGBT discrimination is not a mere colonial relic. The new
laws represent current day discrimination. In its 2013 report, the United States Department of State
identified violence the LGBT community as one of the “three most serious human rights problems in
Also In 2014, Uganda attempted to thwart a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution
against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination. However, the Council rejected the proposed
amendments submitted by Uganda and six other countries that would have stripped the resolution of
its provisions protecting LGBT populations against violence and discrimination undermining the very
purpose of the pro-rights resolution. The resolution passed with a vote of 25-14.
Since President Obama’s 2011 directive, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have both
specifically vocalized their disappointment in Uganda’s anti-gay laws, but foreign aid has continued to
Uganda unabated. The above discussion makes it is clear that Uganda continued its discriminatory
laws in the post-2011 time period and even expanded anti-LGBT practices both domestically through
laws, policies, and intimidation and internationally through its votes and actions at the United Nations.
This relationship is demonstrated in Graph 3, which shows that while Uganda continued to violate gay
rights, the United States continued to send foreign aid. Base Appropriated Aid levels remain largely
unchanged while spent aid actually increased during the 2009-2014 period.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
Findings from case studies exploring Nigerian and Ugandan gay rights practices before and
after the 2011 Obama statement explicitly calling for gay rights recognition as a prerequisite for U.S.
foreign aid offer bleak conclusions. Foreign aid levels largely remained the same during this time
while gay rights practices generally worsened. However, these findings are not necessarily surprising
in light of existing scholarship on human rights and U.S. foreign aid. The previous studies find mixed
results, with recent studies finding either no linkage or a negative relationship meaning that states with
worse rights practices were more likely to receive U.S. foreign aid.
This article contributes to scholarship on foreign aid, human rights, and gay rights in several
ways. Primarily, the results documenting the relationship between gay rights levels and foreign aid
help us to situate how the U.S. considers gay rights in terms of foreign policy. The results suggest that
the U.S. treats gay rights similarly as it has treated human rights more broadly. Presidents and other
public officials find the need to vocalize the importance of both sets of rights and to condemn other
states for gross violations. However, it is clear that the U.S. values other factors above gay rights, or
human rights more broadly, in conducting foreign policy. In the case of this paper, I find that the U.S.
did not value gay rights as a defining factor in allocating foreign aid. Over time when conditions for
gay individuals worsened, foreign aid often increased.
Secondly, as the first paper to examine gay rights and foreign aid, this article contributed an
important first step in analyzing gay rights in a foreign policy context. More work is needed to fully
examine 1) the determinants of gay rights conditions in Africa and globally. This paper only touched
on one measure change in gay rights might occur: through bilateral U.S. foreign aid. 2) To expand the
analysis of the relationship between bilateral foreign aid and gay rights and rights-based policy
objectives. As a regionally and temporally limited study, this paper depicts only one small piece of
the puzzle of the relationship between these two variables.
From this study, the evidence lends support for to the existing arguments that aid allocation has
little to no correlation with human rights practices. I find that in the cases of Nigeria and Uganda, aid
levels did not significantly change. We see a lack of implementation of the policy introduced in
President Obama’s 2011 statement calling for gay rights practices to inform U.S. foreign aid decisions.
Part of the difficulty in assessing the relationship between U.S. foreign aid and human rights in the
past has been the seeming disconnect between presidential rhetoric on human rights and actual foreign
aid allocation. In examining gay rights, we find a similar difficulty in assessing policy. On the one
hand, the U.S. made great advances in vocalizing its support for gay rights. On the other hand, there is
little evidence to document the U.S. pro-gay rights policy implementation.
Audrey Comstock is a PhD Candidate in the Government Department at Cornell University where she researches
international law and human rights.
i Apodaca, C. and Stohl, M., 1999. United States human rights policy and foreign assistance. International Studies
Quarterly, 43(1), pp.185-198.
ii Cigranelli, David L. and Thomas E. Pasquarello. 1985. “Human Rights Practices and the Distribution of U.S. Foreign Aid
to Latin American Countries” American Journal of Political Science 29 (3): 539-63.
iii McCormick and Mitchelliii (1988),
iv Trumbull, William N. and Howard J. Wall. 1994. “Estimating Aid-allocation Criteria with Panel
Data” Economic Journal 104:876-82.
v Neumayer (2003b)
vi Poe (1992)
vii Apodaca, Clair. 2005. U.S. Human Rights Policy and Foreign Assistance: A Short History.
Ritsumeikan International Affairs 3:63-80.
viii Meernik, Kruger, and Poe(1998)
ix Neumayer, Eric. 2003a. ‘Is Respect for Human Rights Rewarded? An Analysis of Total Bilateral
and Multilateral Aid Flows’ Human Rights Quarterly 25:510-27
x (e.g. Apodaca and Stohl 1999).
xi Demirel-Pegg, Tijen and James Moskowitz. 2009. US Aid Allocation: The Nexus of Human
Rights, Democracy, and Development. Journal of Peace Research 46(2): 181-98. Poe and Meernik (1995)
xii Moyo, Dambisa. 2010. Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa. Farrar, Straus
and Giroux NewYork
xiii Knack, S., 2004. Does foreign aid promote democracy? International Studies Quarterly, 48(1), pp.251-266.
xiv Moss, Todd, Gunilla Petterson, and Nicholas van de Walle. 2007. An Aid-Institutions Paradox? A Review Essay on Aid
Dependency and State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa” in William Easterly (ed) Reinventing Foreign Aid. MIT Press.
xv Goldsmith, A.A., 2001. Foreign aid and statehood in Africa. International organization, 55(01), pp.124.
xvi ibid pg 144.
xvii Tarnoff, Curt and Marian Leonardo Lawson. 2001. Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S.
Programs and Policy. Congressional Research Service, United States Congress.
xviii It is important to note than many other administrations did provide foreign aid to improve human rights, however the
Carter and Obama administrations notably attach human rights conditions as a prerequisite for aid allocation. Please see
Apodaca 2005 for a more detailed discussion of human rights foreign aid policy by presidential administration.
xix Section 502B United States Foreign Assistance Act 1961
xx Foreign Assistance Act Section 116
xxi Foreign Assistance Act 502B
xxii Apodaca, Clair. 2005. U.S. Human Rights Policy and Foreign Assistance: A Short History.