Villains: United for Life Ethiopia
Rebel Scum takes a look at how meddling in African politics by the usual suspects from the US Christian Right is on the way to bringing in the death penalty for homosexuality in Ethiopia.
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The ostensibly Christian organisation United for Life Ethiopia is, ironically, an advocate of the death penalty for those who commit homosexual acts. Its spokesman, Dr. Seyoum Antonios, doesn’t let such glaringly obvious contradictions inconvenience him. Although it would be like Save the Children endorsing eugenics to tackle child poverty, Antonios has declared war on homosexuals and warns that they are heading en masse to Africa in order to steal their children – presumably to convert them to the Church of Lady Gaga.
In a heightened state of heterosexual panic, Antonios believes, as does that champion of über-masculinity Vladimir Putin, that homosexuality is a Western disease. In order to defend the Ethiopian homeland he is not turning the other cheek, as it were, but seeking a more final solution. Homosexuality is coming! It’s a pandemic! Do you want to spend endless days of chanting ‘Born This Way’ and watching reruns of Project Runway? No! Defend your way of life. Inoculation is useless! Kill the enemy before it hijacks your God-fearing soul! How do they know all this? It turns out that, like their fellow Ugandans, they have been listening to the teachings of US evangelicals such as Scott Lively, that Mr. Magoo of sexual politics, and Dr. Judith Reisman, that doyenne of the cock and bull statistic.
Scott Lively is, quite simply, away with the fairies. He has convinced himself, through sheer force of will, that you can pray the gay away because it’s not innate but a choice. He also thinks that the gay man is a natural fascist who will strip you of your rights if you give him a chance. That really is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Dr. Reisman, on the other hand, is more like a Dan Brown villain. She has discovered a noxious agent called – drum roll – ‘erototoxins’. She believes that tobacco and pornography release said ‘erototoxins’, which then induce brain damage. And what is the significance of this? It’s a legal sleight of hand: it means those who support tobacco and pornography are mentally ill and not able to exercise free speech, so are consequently not protected by the US Constitution. Rather than being up to the eyeballs in antipsychotics to treat her painfully obvious Delusional Disorder, Reisman is a visiting professor at the Liberty University – a private, Christian university that clearly doesn’t take it’s name seriously. Unless, of course, it isn’t inconvenienced by glaring contradictions either.
Dr. Seyoum Antonios pillages the work of these kooks in order to misinform Ethiopians and whip them up into a frenzy. And he must be right, he’s a doctor! (Incidentally, I cannot find any record of Antonios’ doctorate, so will just have to assume that it’s from one of those private US universities that eschew tried and tested methodology in favour of National Enquirer-style Bible thumping.) Homosexuality is illegal in thirty-eight African countries, and in Ethiopia that can mean anywhere from ten days to three years in prison. Antonios and United for Life Ethiopia are stern, although not very Christian, about this. They trade in fear in bid to do away with the middleman and bring in the death penalty.
The lunatic US Christian fringe has been playing havoc in Africa for years, and the recent introduction of the death penalty in Uganda for homosexuality is one of its twisted victories. Yet the Pajoma 3 conference in January 2013 – at which Antonios claimed that a third of gay men are paedophiles and fifteen times more likely to be murderers – was supported not by the fringe, and its raft of barking mad fauxsistics, but a recognised international organisation, Campus Crusade for Christ. Antonios, unafraid of the logical fallacy, rails against Western aid regardless because he sees it as the source of the infiltration. Yet Western aid, it turns out, is pivotal to this issue.
This is where it gets serious. And ominous. The UK sends more foreign aid to Ethiopia than it does to any other country in Africa. From £240 million in 2010-11, this is set to rise to £390 million in 2014-15. (In 2012 the US sent £580 million in aid.) Yet this aid is not being used by the Ethiopian government to feed and clothe its people. It is being used to suppress dissent and, as Ben Rawlence wrote in the 2010 Human Rights Watch report, “starve, intimidate or reward people into supporting the ruling party”. Cattle-herders are being forced from their homes in a process called “villagisation” and relocated to allow for industrial farming. A report by the US think tank the Oakland Institute concluded that the “human rights violations and forced evictions that accompany the so-called development strategy of Ethiopia are shocking”.
In 2012, the Conservative government’s International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, told Parliament that her department was unable to substantiate such claims. She simply chose to be cavalier, and ignore the first-hand reports heard by her own staff. Rather than confronting the abuse of human rights, the UK’s Department of International Development had decided not to be inconvenienced and to look the other way.
In a further twist, over £160 million of UK aid has been channelled through an investment fund in Mauritius (where corporate tax is 3%) in order to buy Boeing 787 Dreamliners for Ethiopian Airlines – which is, naturally, owned by the Ethiopian government. Foreign aid = ker-ching!
The rights of minorities in African nations are clearly second to those of “good governance”, as that snake Tony Blair once put it with his distinctively heartless PR phrasing. In this case, good governance means nothing more than the needs of big business. Development aid is essential to the Ethiopian government, which clearly has no care for human rights. It thrives on the deflection politics that organisations such as United for Life Ethiopia offer. Why look at the acts of the corrupt government when it is the Western homosexual disease that threatens life as you know it? This is a system broken on every level, and the homosexual is one more victim in a never-ending chain of abuses.
Postscript: Newsweek recently ran an article about the rise of the new homophobia in Ethiopia. The coverage was, to be uncharacteristically polite, rather a mixed bag. It started by describing the meeting of “a dozen men in their 20s [who] take turns trying on a pair of black skinny jeans and watching Project Runway episodes downloaded off YouTube”. They giggle about their recent glamping expedition (“glam camping”, apparently) and are, of course, “impeccably groomed guys in fitted leather jackets who all yelp and shimmy when the DJ plays Lady Gaga.” It reads like it’s made up – perhaps the plane from JFK was delayed so our intrepid reporter just took a cab to Fire Island instead. Then she somehow manages to confuse United for Life Ethiopia with the completely unrelated US Christian group United for Life. Then, so had the Huffington Post before, as had the Rainbow Ethiopia coalition, who went as far as to add the organisation to a petition against homophobia in Ethiopia. One Christian group, it turns out, is not the same as the next.