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Gambian Officials Prize Homophobia Over Foreign Aid

Gambian Officials Prize Homophobia Over Foreign Aid


Gambian president Yahya Jammeh is relishing his newfound recognition as Africa's most antigay head of state, taking a pass on millions in foreign aid in order to keep his new 'jail the gays' law.

Gambian officials are vowing to defy European pressure to scrap the country's draconian "jail the gays" law that calls for lifelong prison sentences for many LGBT people, even if that means forfeiting millions of dollars in aid, according to Reuters.

At stake in the dispute are the lives, safety, and freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Gambians -- some of whom have already been arrested and abused since the law's secret enactment by President Yahya Jammeh in September.

Last month, Amnesty International reported that authorities had arrested five men, a 17-year-old boy, and three women under the new law. The men, women, and teen were reportedly subjected to torture and demands by police that they reveal the names of others "guilty" of homosexuality.

Also at stake is a European Union aid package worth more than $150 million euros, initially aimed at creating economic partnerships between E.U. nations and countries in sub-Saharan Africa based on trade and human rights agreements. Yet Gambia appears willing to lose out on its share of the package in order to hold on to institutionalized homophobia.

"The Gambia will never be a party to the so-called Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union as it is designed to continue the same exploitation and impoverishment of the African continent," said Gambia's foreign minister, Bala Garba Jahumpa, according to Reuters. "We will [sic] rather die then be colonized twice."

Gambia's Homophobe-in-Chief's Long History of Anti-LGBT Hatred

A ruthless dictator who seized power via military coup in 1994, Jammeh has frequently incited hatred for LGBT people among Gambians, threatening to behead them if they didn't leave the country within 24 hours in 2008, only to threaten to kill any gay asylum-seeker who left the country and complained about human rights abuses in Gambia in May of this year.

Speaking before the U.N. General Assembly at the beginning of this year, Jammeh called gays "vermin" and said he would fight them "like mosquitos." It was a similar rant to the previous year's, in which he told members of the U.N. that gays were the biggest threat to humanity's existence.

By comparison, Jammeh's 2009 promise to discharge gay soldiers seems like a mild admonition compared to his other threats. His fixation on dehumanizing his fellow Gambians who happen to be LGBT would almost be comical -- if Jammeh's absolute power didn't make his threats entirely actionable. But there's nothing funny about Jammeh, given the untold numbers of oppressed, jailed, and tortured LGBT people living under his ruthless regime.

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Thom Senzee