During his trip to Africa, President Obama laid out key policies regarding the administration’s perception of how the growing homosexual population must be recognized. Given the approach the president has taken in the past, is it possible that Kenya and Ethiopia could experience some of the same treatment as the Gambia received in recent years? One thing is for certain: already difficult conditions for African countries could become more difficult if those in the troubled regions are not willing to give up their conscience and accept homosexuality.
Similar to anti-gay laws in Kenya, the Gambia’s recent push to enforce strict laws against homosexuality is not a new concept. The news of such legislations in the small region in Western Africa isn’t news so much as it is a reporting of the status quo. However, according to figures, there is clear evidence that the United States is holding true on threats to reduce aid if the Gambia is unwilling to accept reciprocating international relations tactics and play ball on homosexual acceptance.
According to reports by the United States Agency For International Development, the Gambia has experienced significant reductions in their ability to produce crops affecting roughly 428,000 people. In recent years the Gambia has experienced as much as a 70% reduction in crop production. The overall impact on the country has led to rising food prices and increased demand for the limited supply of food. The crisis ultimately left many households without needed nourishment.
However, the United States is traditionally a valued partner in providing aid to the struggling people of the Gambia. In May 2012, United States Ambassador Pamela White declared the situation to be a disaster and USAID/OFDA provided $50,000 to provide for food to the struggling people of the Gambia. While this is a starting point for relations between the Gambia and the United States, troubles lie ahead while the United States exerts punishments regarding the Gambia due to Gambian policies regarding homosexuality.
Recently, the Gambia enacted tough new laws against homosexuality in the country aimed at eliminating homosexuality. Such policies included prison for violation of the law. However, tough ideological pressure from the United States government leaves open the possibility that many Gambians may not receive critical aid from the United States that could feed the struggling citizens already distraught with troubles. The overall impact that United States foreign policy is having on the Gambia has no regard for the ideological impact it could have on Gambians. The challenge to the African nations lies in the fact that President Obama stated that the acceptance of homosexuality would be a component of how the United States would allocate funds. In short, homosexuality was given more creed than the needs of thousands of hungry Gambians.
To put this into perspective it may be helpful to consider that the number of those being denied basic essentials for life versus the small number of those the United States attempts to help. As mentioned, reports indicate that up to 428,000 Gambians have been directly affected by the food shortages. In a country with a population of roughly 1.8 million people, that is quiet large. In contrast, the overall United States population of homosexuals is only about 2%. If such a statistics held true for the Gambia, 428,000 people are being denied much needed aid for the sake of only about 36,000 homosexuals. Granted, President Yahya Jammeh has consistently defied U.S. attempts to push the homosexual agenda on the Gambia by claiming that he would rather eat grass than to concede to a more acceptable homosexual policy.
Such international relations tactics by the United States may raise some eyebrows about what it means to the United States position as global leaders. Recently, President Yahya Jammeh strengthened relationships with Russia through a closed-door meeting with Sergey Kryukov. Kryukov stated, “We don’t have any negative background in our relations. We do have very good traditions of friendship of mutual trust and of mutual respect. We do also have very similar positions on major issues of world politics. It is already a very good basis for developing economic cooperation and my major task would be to invest myself in this economic cooperation and I promised your president that I will do everything that I can to leave a positive impact on our bilateral relations.” Russia is playing the role as a strong leader with a very close identity with the Gambia. For instance, with the unveiling of the “straight flag” by the United Russia Party to counter the gay pride symbol, President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that homosexuality is still widely perceived inside the Kremlin to be a violation of traditional society. Overall, with such rhetoric from leaders in Africa, it is not difficult to imagine how struggling countries may be able to identify with Russian values.
In short, the United States has consistently embraced reciprocity as an international relations principle, and that leaves open the expectation that the Gambia is willing to go with the flow. One major area where the U.S. continues this trend is along the lines of the requirement from foreign government actors to embrace a more open treatment of homosexuals. Recently the White House made it very clear they had every intention to reduce or cut of aid to countries where there is little tolerance for homosexuals, such as the Gambia. In the long run, for the United States to remain a global hegemony, it’d be a good idea to take a closer look at how ineffective it is to turn our backs on these smaller governments for the sake of equal rights, especially in light of the growing acceptance of Russian soft power that not only contains an effective reciprocal international relation principle, but also one of identity that unites many African nations on the low acceptance of homosexuality.