Even as delegates gather in Washington, D.C. for the XIX International Aids conference, Political Research Associates released its latest report, Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa, documenting the U.S. Christian Right’s attempts to push an ideology hostile to reproductive and LGBT rights on sub-Saharan African countries.
In one notorious example in Tanzania in 2008, billboards depicted a “Faithful Condom User” as a skeleton -– a blatant attempt to discourage condom use as an effective HIV prevention method. Blazoned in clear letters underneath was the billboard’s sponsor: Human Life International (HLI), a group based in the United States.
This timely report, written by religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, explores how HLI–and other U.S. based Christian Right actors—try to position themselves as key moral leaders shaping African political, public health, and social agendas.
A Roman Catholic organization, Human Life International (HLI) is staunchly opposed to contraception, abortion (with zero exceptions), stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, sex education, and homosexuality. HLI’s director of research and training Brian Clowes, one of the organization’s longest-serving staffers, is responsible for much of the overseas work and is known for explicating doctrinal points, such as the opposition to even “hard case” abortions.
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But HLI is not the only U.S. Christian Right group peddling corrosive reproductive politics in Africa. Sharon Slater, head of Family Watch International, a small Arizona-based group, wins a platform with mainstream Christian leaders for her message condemning the United Nations’ efforts to support family planning services and reproductive health options for women. In addition to opposing contraception use, Slater and HLI air conspiracy theories that exploit and exacerbate otherwise healthy concerns about the ethics of Western public health interventions. One such theory charges that vaccine distribution is really a secret sterilization program designed to destroy the African family.
Abortion is already illegal in most African countries, bans first passed decades ago under colonial governments, and even where there are some exceptions the complications of the law often drive women to obtain illegal and dangerous procedures. In an interview with Political Research Associates, Soedi White, Director of Women and the Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust, stated her desire to see laws liberalized so that desperate women are no longer pushed into “drinking surf (washing powder), using wires, and poisonous herbs.”
But outright bans are not good enough for HLI and allied organizations such as the Pat Robertson-founded American Center for Law and Justice, led by Jay Sekulow (a Romney campaign favorite). They are pushing for even stricter laws and constitutional bans. In Uganda in 2011, Human Life International’s affiliate reported a clinician who performed abortions to the authorities –- but was disappointed when the authorities didn’t respond with a crackdown. At least for the moment, both police and individuals seem to shy away from invading the “personal” decisions of women who seek abortions, even when they disapprove of the procedure.
Ironically, these U.S. Christian Right groups criticize sound human rights initiatives as forms of neocolonial interference even while they aggressively seek to change reproductive practices themselves. They hire Africans to staff their offices, putting an African face on a distinctly US conservative ideology. They work closely with African religious and political leaders. As Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa makes crystal clear, the work of the Christian Right is distinctly a neocolonial venture.
For more information, you can read the full report at www.publiceye.org.