Twenty-three US Christian groups known for fighting against LGBT rights and access to safe abortion, contraceptives and comprehensive sexuality education, have spent at least $54 million in Africa, since 2007, according to a new investigation by the global news website openDemocracy that documents the scale of this spending for the first time.
Conservative US groups appear to have increased their Africa spending, in what critics call an 'opportunistic use of Africans' for US-style 'culture wars', the global news website openDemocracy reveals today. While same-sex marriage was legalised nationwide in the US in 2015, same-sex relationships of any kind remain criminalised in many African countries. Some African activists suspect this is what has drawn US conservatives to the continent. According to the openDemocracy report, none of these US groups reveal their funders or details of how exactly they spend their money overseas. Globally, openDemocracy found that a bigger group of 28 US organisations had spent at least $280 million around the world to influence laws, policies and public opinion against sexual and reproductive rights. Outside the US, these groups – many of which are linked to the Trump administration – spent more money in Africa than anywhere else in the world except Europe. "Over the past decade, fights against sexuality and reproductive rights in Africa have mirrored American culture wars, precisely because US groups have a hand in them," says Lydia Namubiru, openDemocracy's Africa Editor. "This investigation is the first time we have any indication of just how much money they have invested." The biggest spender in Africa among US Christian right groups is The Fellowship Foundation, a secretive religious group whose Ugandan associate, David Bahati, wrote Uganda's infamous "Kill the gays" bill. Between 2008 and 2018, this group sent more than $20 million to Uganda alone. Two groups that oppose contraception and abortion, Human Life International and Heartbeat International, have spent a combined amount of at least $4.3 million, combined, on the continent. An earlier investigation found that 'crisis pregnancy centres' affiliated with Heartbeat violate South African law on abortion counselling and discourage contraception in Uganda. Another US group, Family Watch International (FWI), is campaigning to ban comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in at least 10 African countries , including through its "Stop CSE" website which hosts petitions against sex education. Family Watch International has, over this decade, been training high-level African politicians how to campaign against sex education and LGBT rights. They and their supporters claim that CSE is "abortion, promiscuity, and LGBT rights education" and want it replaced by abstinence-only sex education. Zambia's ambassador to the African Union (AU), Emmanuel Mwamba, confirmed to openDemocracy that he has attended two diplomat training sessions hosted by FWI in the USand, earlier this year, he gave one of the keynote speeches . Mwamba also told openDemocracy that FWI is also pursuing observer status at the AU. Its Africa director Seyoum Antonios, who is based in Addis Ababa (where the African Union is also headquartered), is a well-known anti-LGBT activist. He is notorious for declaring that homosexuality is an "abomination" and "Africa will be the graveyard for homosexuals". Jedidah Maina, executive director of the Kenyan NGO Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health, says that between 2010 and 2015, the anti-LGBT movement in Africa was "largely white evangelicals from the US such as Family Watch International and the World Congress of Families (WCF)". The WCF is a US- and Russia-led international religious conservative network. But she says, "Now it is morphing with new African actors. The conversation is the same but the actors have changed. These organisations are all fronted by Africans but the messaging is the same, especially in regard to CSE, which they claim sexualises children, encourages them to have sex and turns them gay." Frederick Clarkson, a researcher at the Political Research Associates think tank in Massachusetts, which exposed the relationship between US religious activists and anti-gay legislation in Uganda in 2004, says that these groups who oppose women's and LGBT rights are spending in Africa to shift the stance of the United Nations: "Take the power of individual nations, even poor nations, and align it with conservative American and European interests. That changes the balance of power in the UN and moves it in a conservative direction."
Haley McEwen, a researcher at the Centre for Diversity Studies at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, says: "US religious right groups are a "well-resourced transnational network of conservative organisations." [They are] exporting hate to Africa and other parts of the world, along with US-style culture wars and polarisation over issues relating to gender and sexuality."Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBT rights activist, says: "They [Christian right groups] have lost support in their home countries. Now they are looking for countries where they can dump their ideologies. They do it somewhere else where they feel they have more power."