World Bank statement is a call for LGBTQ inclusion

Author: Dr Frank Mugisha. PHOTO/HANDOUT 

What you need to know:

  • The World Bank's decision resonates with a global sentiment that stresses the significance of equitable development benefiting everyone.

In a recent and confident move, the World Bank made headlines by suspending new loans to Uganda, citing the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act as the cause. This decision comes at a time when Uganda is in the process of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly impacted the economy, amidst the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has disrupted global supply chains. This has brought to the forefront the vital role that incautious legislation plays in nurturing businesses, encouraging investment, and fostering sustainable development. However, this decision was more than just a financial one; it was a powerful statement about the importance of human rights and inclusion.

The World Bank's decision aligns with its unwavering commitment to the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) framework. This framework comprises a set of principles that guide investment decisions by taking into account environmental, social, and governance criteria. It's not limited to the financial sector but extends to broader development projects. Essentially, it acknowledges that inclusive development is inseparable from ethical considerations, particularly the protection of human rights.

Critics, however, have been quick to label the decision as "Western hypocrisy and selective bias." Some even anticipated backlash against the LGBTQ+ Ugandans. The trouble with this analysis is that it lacks proper context; it's a non-exegetical, non-methodological, and ahistorical reading of the geopolitics within which the debate is situated. One could argue that the true backlash against the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda is the passage of the bill into law. In fact, the Washington DC-based lender's decision has, for the first time, sparked more dialogue and constructive debate on LGBTQ+ human rights within the country on a wider scale, with some Ugandans critiquing the malice and actual motives behind the introduction of this law.

This criticism is also non-contextual because it fails to recognize what is expressly stated in the Bank's statement: the bank has a set of values that include inclusivity and non-discrimination for all. Uganda, as a member of the World Bank, must have acquainted itself with these values when it chose to partner with the institution.

Furthermore, Rachel Burton, the Social Inclusion Director of the Bank Information Centre, emphasized, "With the development of a new Environmental and Social Framework several years ago, such laws are unacceptable." This underscores that the World Bank's stance is firmly rooted in its core values and principles.

The impact of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act on its LGBTQ+ community is dire. Undoubtedly, the Act has perpetuated human rights abuses and severely restricted access to essential services for some Ugandans. However, it's crucial to understand that the World Bank's concern for human rights is not limited to anti-homosexuality laws. The institution has consistently expressed its commitment to addressing various human rights issues in Uganda and around the world, all while adhering to the principles of the ESG framework in the realm of development. A direct example occurred in 2015 when the World Bank cancelled a $265 million transport sector development project in Uganda due to concerns over corruption and mismanagement. Similarly, in 2018, the bank withdrew a $300 million loan to Tanzania over concerns about the country's ban on pregnant schoolgirls.

The misconception that the World Bank only reacts to anti-homosexuality concerns oversimplifies its broader commitment to safeguarding human rights and promoting equitable development, as illustrated by its unwavering path toward fostering non-discrimination, inclusivity, and equitable development. This commitment is especially crucial in contexts such as Uganda, where the struggle for development is hindered by the influence of conservative and intolerant groups that impose their beliefs and create stigma around subjects like homosexuality. In this scenario, it becomes evident that many literate Ugandans, who prioritize development and inclusivity, are actually indifferent to gay people. It is the actions of these conservative and intolerant groups that manipulate and sway the illiterate and uninformed masses, exacerbating the challenge of achieving progress and perpetuating a cycle of discrimination and misinformation.

Importantly, the World Bank's decision is not something that was decided in a day, in a single meeting. It was the result of a well-considered process that included a review of its portfolio in the context of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In fact, immediately after the enactment of the law, the World Bank dispatched a team to Uganda to meticulously review its portfolio within the context of this new legislation, according to the bank’s statement in response to the law. The institution operates with established systems and processes, ensuring that decisions are not made hastily but are grounded in thorough evaluation and analysis.

Moreover, the belief that international institutions were willing to compromise on human rights and inclusivity is misguided. The World Bank's decision resonates with a global sentiment that stresses the significance of equitable development benefiting everyone. It underscores the pivotal role of good laws and policies in creating an environment conducive to business, investment, and socioeconomic growth.

For five years, I've been part of Bergen University's Business masterclass in Norway, where we've embraced UN standards for LGBTQ+ rights. These standards unequivocally demonstrate the positive impact of inclusion and diversity on businesses. In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in how businesses and international companies collaborate. They now prioritize inclusivity and adhere to the same international standards as their affiliated institutions. This shift is apparent in the growing number of companies and business institutions that have developed diversity and inclusive policies and programs, both within their home countries and abroad. To put it plainly, good laws are good for business.

Beyond the business world, the promotion of LGBTQ+ human rights and inclusion extends to pop culture, sports, and even prominent organizations like the United Nations, of which Uganda is a member. These entities have taken proactive steps to address issues related to violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A notable example is the establishment of an office within the UN in 2017 for an Independent Expert responsible for safeguarding against such forms of discrimination, known as the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (IE SOGI). This commitment is gaining momentum, on an upward trajectory toward a future where every individual is granted the same rights and freedoms, with no regression on this path of progress.

In conclusion, attributing the projected financial hardships of the government to the actions of anti-gay groups in Parliament goes beyond mere finger-pointing. It reflects an awareness of the repercussions that can arise from hastily crafted policies. Good laws are good for business and investment, and if Uganda passes laws that undermine equality and human rights, it is counterproductive. In this instance, the absence of empirical evidence and the sway of religious and conservative influences have converged to create a complex and far-reaching predicament. The World Bank's decision, despite encountering its own share of opposition, can be viewed as a ripple effect triggered by the implementation of laws that detrimentally impact marginalized communities. As the world continues its march toward greater inclusivity, the stance of the World Bank continues to serve as a guiding beacon, shaping a more equitable future for all, echoing the wisdom of Thomas Sankara: "We must choose either champagne for a few or safe drinking water for all."

Dr. Frank Mugisha is a Peace and Human Rights Advocate.