By Abdulai Mansaray, CEN Political Commentator, UK
|Abdulai Mansaray, Author|
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” (Marcus Garvey). Simplistic as it may sound, this is true of culture in its truest form. The lack of culture in any society can result in ignoble civilization and imminent downfall. Man’s biological weakness can be the condition of human culture. Many see culture as the widening of the mind and of the spirit. Others see moral values, a culture and religion as far better than laws and regulations. But no one has the right to discriminate against a fellow human being on the grounds of their race, colour, religion or sexuality to name a few. Equally, you cannot impose your beliefs, culture, views, sexuality or otherwise for the same reasons.
In the recently concluded Commonwealth conference in Perth, Australia this year, the British Prime Minister David Cameron stated in his keynote speech, the need for the Commonwealth to “strengthen” its commitment to human rights. Speaking to the 16 Commonwealth nations, he indicated that urgent reforms were needed because the organisation faces a “crisis”. Among other matters of note, the succession laws to the British throne were to be considered for reform and amendment of its laws, under the Bill of Rights and Coronation Oath Act of 1688, the 1701 Act of Settlement and the 1706 Act of Union with Scotland.
In his keynote speech, he proposed a debate on the legalisation of homosexuality in all member states where it is outlawed. He also intimated that Britain will consider cutting aid to countries that did not recognise or legalised gay and lesbian relationships. He said: we want to see the Commonwealth strengthening its role as a standard bearer for human rights and democracy. It remains uniquely placed to do so; the sheer diversity of its members gives it the potential to speak with a truly global moral authority”. There is nothing wrong with that, except that by implying forceful acceptance of homosexuality, he has made his reference to diversity in his speech redundant. His call for homosexuality to be legalised may find favour in some quarters including the liberal and human rights brigade; but for him to suggest linking homosexuality with British aid as a condition, is not only condescending but appalling and arrogant to many.
No doubt that Cameron’s speech has drawn serious responses from Africa. President John Atta Mills said that Ghana’s “societal norms” were different from those in UK, and “as president, will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana. His spokesman asked, “If that aid is going to be tied to things that will destroy the moral fibre of society, do you want that?” Ugandan presidential adviser John Nagenda said that Cameron was showing a “bullying mentality” and that Ugandans would not tolerate being treated like “children”. “If they must take their money, so be it”, he said. You can feel the temperature of the kind of reaction the topic is generating. The irony is that, many believe that most of these laws are a legacy and by products of British colonial rule. Now the same colonial master wants his former subjects to change the law because the master has adopted a different view this year. Cameron may need some reminders here: First, these are now sovereign states. Secondly, they are neither subjects nor objects of the British Empire. Finally, there is no longer a British Empire.
David Cameron would like to come across to the homosexual fraternity and sorority as a champion of their cause. Records and evidence suggest that he has been a flip flop on the issue in the past and had actually opposed it. He has in the past given different political descriptions of himself from “a modern compassionate conservative”, a “liberal conservative” to “certainly a big Thatcher fan” (former prime minister). Britain had Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 which stated that a local authority
“Shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
Let us attempt to chart a political map of David Cameron’s stance on gay rights for starters. In 2000 David Cameron accused the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, of being against family values and of pursuing the “promotion of homosexuality in schools” when the Labour government attempted to repeal Section/Clause 28. In 2002, he voted in favour of a bill that would allow unmarried heterosexual couples to adopt children, but which would specifically ban gay couples from adopting. In 2003, once he had been elected as Conservative MP for Whitney, he continued to support Section 28 and voted against its full repeal via a conservative amendment which would have maintained Section 28 in schools. He voted in favour of civil partnerships for gay men and lesbians in 2004. In 2008, he opposed giving lesbians the right to in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. During the Conservative Party Conference this year, he supported same –sex marriage and promised that his government would begin a consultation to legalise it. That is what you call political evolution.
A cursory look at this political road map is suggests how far and fast he has come from opposing gay rights to becoming an Olympian of the cause. He may come across like the outsider who weeps more than the bereaved. To all intents and purposes, gays, lesbians, cripples, blacks, whites, tall or short have innate and God given rights to be what they want to be. From any stand point, it is stating the obvious, that cultures differ from one another, and the world is populated by cultural diversity. Cultural diversity can be described as “a mixture of people from different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations and language groups peacefully coexisting within any given stable and sustainable context or environment”. Any culture which does not accept change is bound to fail. But if change is to occur in a society, it must be evolutionary and be inculcated within the ambits of that society’s culture. Change cannot be imbibed outside the culture of its people. With the exception of vending machines, change in society is inevitable.
There are a lot of historical attachments to be proud of, (depending on your persuasion) and ongoing relationships that are worth cherishing. The Commonwealth member countries have a lot in common, but wealth is not one of them. Wealth is not common in the Commonwealth; but ironically this uncommon denominator is being used as gunboat diplomacy. For him to use “aid “as a sledgehammer to promote cultural diversity is nothing short of cultural imperialism. Some people may see this as him taking advantage of the poor. The difference in wealth cannot be better illustrated than the threat of aid reduction. In his bid to appear gay friendly, Cameron wants to use the cultural products of the first world to invade the third world and conquer local culture. Countries like Sierra Leone may share an economic umbilical cord with Britain, the Commonwealth or others, but it is not culturally bankrupt. There may be room for cultural synchronisation in this changing world of ours, but enforcing this through the barrel of economic imperialism is an assault on even the basic tenets of human rights; which Cameron purports to promote. If Cameron carries out what is seen by many as a threat; to link the acceptance of homosexuality as a condition to receive British aid, and then aid ceases to be a form of alms, and technically becomes a weapon of mass destruction. Can you imagine the number of people who would suffer and even die because of recognising and practising their own culture? Such a stance would not even help the gay rights cause. Imagine telling that poor farmer that the reason why he has not received any planting seeds this year is because; the British govt reduced its aid for failing to recognise gay rights. It sounds like a sure way to earn a gay an embrace.
We need to dissolve the lie that some people have the right to think of other people as their property. The Commonwealth should be seen as a circle that includes us all, and be seen as equals. Difference is the essence of humanity, and there can be strength in the differences between us. Take for example Sierra Leone; a member of the Commonwealth is largely made up of Muslims and Christians. Both religions are not gay friendly according to their religious tenets. Religion plays a very important, if not the most important part in the lives of the majority in Sierra Leone. While some see the concept of homosexuality as a curse (Sodom and Gomorrah), others see it as a lifestyle choice. In between are those who believe that it is innate to be gay. Many have tried to rationalise the gay issue, which in itself can be a plea for autonomy from cultural norms; but in order to keep it logical, cultural or ideological, they may need to reinvent the reality of it. Sigmund Freud, the Austrian psychoanalyst believes that “much of our highly valued heritage has been acquired at the cost of sexuality”.
Homosexuality is unquestionably an emotive subject, but Cameron must understand that every society has its own cultural sanctions without which, most or all our religious beliefs and rituals would fall into the domain of mental disturbance. To his credit though, Cameron conceded in an interview later, that “you can’t expect countries to change overnight”. You got that right, as we have already seen how he changed from anti gay to pro gay between 2000 and 2011. You are left to wonder whether his view is as a result of political expediency. That would not be surprising as politicians naturally try to be everything to everyone every time.