Is constructive engagement on gay rights in Africa really the answer?

It’s hard to believe that someone is still arguing for constructive engagement in Africa.  But this article argues that the Obama administration’s vocal stance on the international human rights of gay and transgender people has backfired in Africa, emboldening the bigots.

Really?  That might be the party line in Monrovia, but for those of us working on this issue the past couple of decades, we’re accustomed to people telling us to stop being so uppity lest we make things worse.

The thing is, the bigots don’t like us, will never like us, regardless of how vocal we are.  And we don’t have our civil and human rights, and won’t get them, unless we speak up.  So we can sit back and shut up and never get our right, or we can speak up and not get our rights in the short term, but help create change in the long term.  Silence isn’t really an option, unless we want to remain oppressed forever – thus the famous late 1980s, early 90s AIDS slogan, “Silence = Death”.

If I were a Marxist I’d welcome the upheavals in Africa over gay rights in response to US policy.  Marxist theory believes in creating, and taking advantage of, contradictions (at least from what I recall in grad school back when the Soviets were a problem).  The theory goes that if you exploit the contradictions, if you force the people in power to clamp down, it will help force people to stand up and see how oppressive the government really is, and hopefully overthrow it.

But I’m not a Marxist.  And I get that these are real people’s lives were dealing with (and that the Liberian people aren’t going to be overthrowing their government for its gay rights violations any time soon).  But I just have a problem with people who argue that the best approach to creating change is to sit back and shut up, lest we make our enemy upset.

In the end, of course I’d defer to local activists and their knowledge of the political landscape.  But generally speaking, it’s usually a “tell” when the bad guy gets upset at something you’re doing.  It usually means you got his attention, that you’re doing something right.  The fact that Liberians seem to be freaking out about US and British pressure over their human rights violations doesn’t mean they don’t care what we think, it might just mean that they care a lot.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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