The president of The Gambia is not a nice man. And he doesn’t like people like me. President Yahya Jammeh told the UN homosexuality, greed and obsession with world domination “are more deadly than all natural disasters put together.”
When mobs went on an anti-gay rampage in neighbouring Senegal, even digging up the graves of gay men and desecrating the corpses, many gays and lesbians fled across the border. Jammeh threatened them with decapitation if they did not go back.
Disclaimer: I can’t claim to be an expert in Gambian affairs on the basis of one short holiday in his festering pustule of a a micro-country, a former holding pen for slaves awaiting shipment to the Americas.
But living under seige in a large hotel surrounded by a high wall, barbed wire and armed guards (who also patrolled the private beach), was not my idea of fun. Nor were excursions into town ‘protected’ by a gang of violent teenage thugs, or fleeing machete waving youths, angry that we failed to throw enough money at them as we were driven through their village.
This was a place utterly ruined by slavery and colonisation. You didn’t have to be gay to feel the ever present threat of attack: being white was enough. And you can understand why. Nevertheless the news that this tinpot dictator is flouncing out of the Commonwealth, taking his personal hell-hole with him, is cause for rejoicing rather than regret.
In sharp contrast to the vicious homophobia of much of Africa, we like to think of the EU as a champion of gay rights. But astonishingly, there are those in the European Union bureaucracy who think we should shut up about our rights, because it upsets thugs like Jammeh and gets in the way of business.
Nick Westcott, the managing director for Africa in the EU’s diplomatic service, said at a debate in Brussels on Wednesday (2 October) that the EU should be “less apologetic about our financial clout and, secondly … more humble on the cultural issues.”
“We can lecture about lesbian, gays and bisexuals until the cows come home. And it will have a wholly counterproductive effect on our usefulness in Africa. We need to focus on fundamental values.”
Fundamental values which clearly don’t include respect for LGBTI people.
Here’s my take on this. I’m all for respecting other peoples rights. So long as they respect mine. In a pissing contest, my human rights trump Jammeh’s cultural rights and Westcott’s commercial imperatives every time.
In fact, I believe we as a community should be demanding that every official entity, from the tiniest local council all the way up to the national government, have a clear policy in place, rigorously enforced.
We do not do business with people and organisations which discriminate. If you do not have policies and procedures in place to protect and support your LGBTI employees, clients and customers, and can demonstrate they they are enforced, you are ineligible to do business with us in any way shape or form. Have a nice day.
And there the matter ends. If human rights mean anything, they mean that these are the values by which we live and work. Otherwise they are just empty words.