The frauds and misspending involve the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). These funds are supposed to be used for HIV prevention in 15 countries, mostly in Africa, including Uganda. Even when the extremist church groups did spend some of these taxpayer dollars towards prevention, it was not real prevention as per U.S. policy and practice. Instead these church groups convinced the Uganda government to minimize condom use and sex education in favor of preaching virginity and abstinence, and to ignore the prevention needs of gay and bi men completely, since homosexuality was already a felony in Uganda.
Sad to say, this approach proved to be as big a failure in Uganda, as it has been in other places. A few years later, after the government and missionaries had insisted that HIV infections were down, Uganda's minister of health had to admit that his country's HIV infection rate was actually spiking out of control.
Meanwhile, in 2006, investigations of PEPFAR activities began, revealing that they were anything but transparent and accountable, with FOI inquiries stalled for many months. In 2007 Human Rights Watch first reported the widespread PEPFAR frauds when Bush was still in office.
But reportedly, since Obama took office, little has been done to stop the abuses. Earlier this year, HRW put out an update that PEPFAR funds were still being used to win converts and whip up homophobia in Uganda. They pointed out that "Organisations that actively promote hatred of gay people and disseminate inaccurate information about the reliability of condoms" are supposed to be barred from receiving PEPFAR funds.
More Churches Than Schools
Indeed -- so massive has been the political involvement of some U.S. religious groups in Uganda, that I wonder how they manage to avoid prosecution under the Logan Act, which supposedly makes it a felony for a private U.S. citizen to be in unauthorized negotiations with a foreign government.
For many decades now, ultra-fundamentalist missionaries have been toiling quietly to turn Africa into a new frontier for themselves.
Rick Warren, with his Saddleback Church, is only one of many that have helped to colonize Africa for the American Jesus. Well-known TV evangelists like Benny Hinn and Oral Roberts have all taken their road shows around Africa. And they're succeeding, with an alarming groundswell of conversions not only in Uganda, but many other countries as well. Africa now claims 19 percent of its population as evangelical. The BBC pointed out in a recent expose that Africa now has more churches than schools.
The first target of extremist proselytizing was Uganda. In 1986 its new president Yoweri Museveni was successfully maneuvered to "born again" status. Museveni's original goal was to turn his country into a democracy. But now, under evangelical influence, he is creating a Western-style theocracy, with himself as the religious dictator a la Oliver Cromwell. His evangelical mentors and handlers view Uganda as a stepping-stone to their control of neighboring countries -- Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, and eventually (as the handlers hope) to all of Africa. [See map of Africa.]
Oh, and as a nice bonus, there are massive deposits of oil in Africa too.
Why the earth-shattering appeal of evangelical Protestant churches in Africa? The International Humanist and Ethical Union offers this analysis:
"They promise divine healing and instant solutions to all problems -- poverty, hunger, failure, diseases, accidents etc. Pentecostal pastors claim they can make the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk and the barren give birth to children. They tell us they can raise the dead, make the poor rich and the unemployed to get jobs. Africans are therefore trooping to Pentecostal churches in their millions mainly in search of their miracles."
Evangelators of the Laws
One miracle that Ugandan zealots want performed is making homosexuals disappear.
Reportedly the Ugandan anti-gay bill was introduced in parliament by The Family, that shadowy cultish U.S. lobby group that has made itself so comfortable in the Beltway and whose membership includes so many members of Congress. According to Jeff Sharlet, bestselling author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power in a recent interview:
"The [Ugandan] legislator that introduces the bill, a guy named David Bahati, is a member of The Family. He appears to be a core member of The Family. He works, he organizes their Uganda National Prayer Breakfast and oversees a African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda." Bahati is Uganda's minister of ethics, and a member of its Parliament.
U.S. Congressmembers have also openly lobbied in Uganda for the anti-gay bill -- notably Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). According to Right Wing Watch, Inhofe has flown to Uganda at taxpayer expense, and has admitted to helping bring people to Jesus -- which evidently included recruiting Ugandan officials into The Family.
But Uganda is not content with simply eliminating gays. The country is going through intense legal reform, passing other laws that conform more closely to American Protestant practice -- for instance, outlawing traditional non-Christian practices like witchcraft and female circumcision and bride price. (Catholic leaders are unhappy with the new marriage law because it does allow divorce.) All church groups must register with the government, and no "unauthorized" services are allowed. This means that U.S. groups who are cozy with the Museveni government can ensure that rival churches can't get their foot in the door in Uganda. Uganda's Islamic population is furious at the Christian influence over Museveni's government -- they demand that their regions be governed by Islamic law, sharia.
Not surprisingly, all this religious fervor has ignited some hideous civil conflict between Christians and Muslims in Uganda, as well as other countries across Africa. Here, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, both terrorists and their refugee victims flood back and forth across numerous national boundaries. But Africa's vaster population promises to dwarf the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The spreading conflicts could devastate a continent that is already seriously destabilized by famine, desertification, poverty and disease. War and civil conflict know no borders in Africa.
A Continent Destabilized
Worse still -- while Americans argue the pros and cons of Afghanistan and Iraq, few of us are watching the growing meltdown in Africa, and the slow-but-steady uptick of U.S. military involvement on that continent.
As I watched the President's address at West Point the other night, and listened to Obama's polished arguments that "our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan," I was wondering when the growing "security stakes" in Africa would finally start to generate some real public discussion here. For several years now, there have been signs that Al Qaeda has been moving its operations from the Far East and Iraq to Africa.
Supposedly our general troop presence in Africa is geared to "responding to humanitarian efforts," like aid to victims of famine, and war refugees in Rwanda and Darfur. But the growing presence of Al Qaeda in several African countries -- terrorist training camps in Somalia, for example -- raises a clear question about whether America is going to extend itself willy-nilly to fight those terrorists on a third battlefield, and a fourth, and a fifth, all across a vast continent. Here too, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the terrorists sift back and forth freely across national borders -- but on a much vaster scale than in Iraq or the Far East.
But the most likely country for our first major commitment of American blood and death is...Uganda. The Museveni government wants us to help them wipe out a rebel army in the north that calls itself the Lord's Resistance Army. Allegedly some LRA fighters have been trained in Al Qaeda camps. Hence Museveni's eagerness to have the U.S. take aim at the LRA.
So our wading into battle against Africa-based Muslim terrorists will inevitably have our government trapped into propping up the growing number of evangelical-influenced governments -- of which the extremist "Christian" Museveni administration in Uganda is only one.
Bloodthirstiness in the U.S.
By extension, here at home, our government's war policies abroad may be propped up more and more by evangelical organizations, who will function as cheerleaders against the Muslim enemy in Africa, and brandish their pompoms of prayer.
The power that these religious lobbies have in both Africa and the U.S., and in both U.S. government and the major media, raises the question of whether any atrocities committed by these African theocracies will ever be publicized or punished by us? Not just atrocities against gays, but atrocities against any vulnerable group? Will President Obama have the courage and the political independence to speak out against these horrors, if they happen on his watch? To take international action against them, the way he hasn't yet done with our own alleged war criminals?
After all, in Uganda, even the leaders of mainstream churches -- not just the evangelicals, but the Anglican, Catholic, and even Muslim leaders -- are joining together to cheer the anti-gay bill, showing how willing they are to bathe in the blood of homosexual citizens in their country.
A few thinking conservative church people in the U.S. are beginning to be shocked and alarmed at what is being unleashed in Uganda and have spoken out against it. They've even tried to pressure Warren into not supporting the anti-gay bill. But apparently most of the non-thinking U.S. extremist believers will wink at atrocities committed against homosexuals...because that's what their Bible tells them to do. Which means they will also wink at atrocities committed against women who are viewed as too independent, or practitioners of native witchcraft, or Muslims, or people with AIDS, or any other groups whose humanity they despise.
At least in Afghanistan, the U.S. has been a little more neutral, to the extent that we are supposedly helping a more moderate Muslim government hold its own against Islamic extremism. But in Uganda we will have no such ideological buffer against what could become our extreme complicity in religious violence against vulnerable groups.
News Snapshots of U.S. Troops in Africa
Though most Americans aren't paying attention, our growing military interference in African affairs has not gone unnoticed by U.S. media.
Item: An recent AP report saying:
"Training camps in the lawless nation of Somalia are attracting hundreds of foreigners, including Americans, and Somalis recruited by a local insurgent group linked to al-Qaida, according to local and U.S. officials. American officials and private analysts say the camps pose a security threat far beyond the borders of Somalia, including to the U.S. homeland."
Item: a story in Stars and Stripes about growing Air Force involvement in Africa, under cover of teaching African troops unfamiliar with aircraft how to do things like air drops:
"Working through the U.S. Embassy team in Uganda, Air Forces Africa -- also known as the 17th Air Force -- started putting the pieces together for a trip to Uganda in early 2009...In fiscal 2009, 17th Air Force oversaw slightly more than 30 events in Africa in about a dozen countries..... In fiscal 2010, more than 80 events are planned in an undetermined number of countries."
But this growing clank of weapons is nothing new. Two and a half years ago, on 2/8/08, Stars and Stripes was already reporting on the rapid increase in U.S. military spending in Africa. It said:
"The Defense Department is garnering more money for missions in what it calls 'Operation Enduring Freedom -- Trans Sahara.' From $31 million in 2006 to $81.7 million in 2007 to approximately $100 million annually for 2008 through 2013....OEF-TS is designed to bolster nine nations in the northern and western part of the continent. The money is to pay for sending U.S. troops into the nations to train with host-nation militaries and other missions."
One hundred million a year may seem like just a few drops of blood, compared to the $170 billion a year that we're hemmorhaging in Afghanistan. But typically our involvements in foreign "police actions" have always started out that way -- small, like somebody's campfire spreading into a few dry leaves, and finally racing off to grow into a firestorm that engulfs heaven and earth.
Earlier this year, U.S. troops already supported Ugandan troops in a large-scale attack on the LRA, in an operation code-named Lightning Thunder aimed at decimating the rebels, who are said to be few in number, maybe 10,000. Presumably President Obama approved this attack, though the initial planning may have been done during the Bush administration. But the result was not a thunderous win for Museveni and his American allies, and the LRA staged a number of reprisal attacks in Congo and Sudan that killed over a thousand people.
Some foreign media have taken a more pointed note of what's happening.
Item: a recent comment at AllAfrica.com, the continent's multi-national news service:
"More than 1,000 American and East African troops are to be deployed in northern Uganda next week as the United States carries out its biggest military exercise in Africa this year....The decision to site the exercise in northern Uganda raises questions about whether it may presage a renewed US-supported assault against the Lord's Resistance Army."
Congress Makes a Move
Just a few days ago, AllAfrica reported on a definitive step made by Congress -- one that went largely unnoticed by TV news anchors in the U.S.:
"The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed bipartisan legislation today authored by US Senator Russ Feingold and co-sponsored by Sam Brownback, requiring the Obama administration to develop a new multifaceted strategy to confront one of Africa's longest running rebel groups, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). For more than two decades, under the leadership of Joseph Kony, the LRA has kidnapped more than 66,000 children and forced them to fight as child soldiers, wreaking havoc in northern Uganda and Southern Sudan, and more recently, northeastern Congo and Central African Republic. Feingold's bipartisan Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act requires the United States to work with multilateral partners to develop a viable path to disarm the LRA, while ensuring the protection of civilians."
In other words, Congress has just taken the first formal step towards escalating our involvement there. And The Family is apparently right there on the Senate floor, making it happen. According to Counterpunch, it has been established that co-sponsor Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) is a member of The Family.
To see how committed our government already is to the Ugandan cause, we have only to read the following puffery on the State Department's website right now, about how wonderful and democratic President Museveni is:
" Since assuming power, Museveni and his government have largely put an end to the human rights abuses of earlier governments, initiated substantial economic liberalization and general press freedom, and instituted economic reforms in accord with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and donor governments....The Ugandan Government generally seeks good relations with other nations without reference to ideological orientation."
That State Department article is burbling about an African regime that has its own pages at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, where Ugandan abuses of human rights are reported -- everything from the government's failure to stop violence against women to its infringements on freedom of the press.
UK openly gay human-rights activist Peter Tatchell paints a different picture of Museveni's Uganda -- of "voter intimidation, hounding opposition politicians, detention without trial, torture, extrajudicial killings, media censorship, corruption, suppression of protests, homophobic witch-hunts, and crackdowns on universities and trade unions." In short, Museveni has declared war not only on unpopular groups like gays and witches, but on any Ugandans who still dream of a real democracy, complete with real religious tolerance, and who dare to oppose the direction in which he's taking their country.
No way do I argue that the official aim of U.S. military forces to "protect African people" and "save Ugandan children" is not a noble cause.
But we have to ask the question: just how many more wars can we jump into, before our own country is devastated by economic and human distress?
Can we win such a patently religious war? One that has such a danger of massive escalation, with our tiny volunteer army going head to head with Africa's vast populations? With our military technology so expensive, and so heavily outsourced to other countries? Would Americans tolerate a revival of the draft? In order to avoid renewing the draft, would Americans tolerate the increased use of "private contractors" in combat -- especially in view of all the abuses that contractors were guilty of in Iraq? How many of our foreign allies would stick with us -- especially those European countries who are disgusted with the way state religion is taking over our own country?
These questions, and others, will have to be answered.
"A Step Backwards"
Back to the anti-gay bill, and growing protests against it from around the world.
In the UK, The Guardian reported, "Britain and Canada today led Commonwealth protests against a law proposed by the Ugandan parliament which would introduce the death penalty by hanging for "aggravated homosexuality".... The British prime minister's anger was echoed by his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper. Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said: "If adopted, a bill further criminalising homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda."
Meanwhile, so far, our President and most in our own government have stayed eerily silent on the Uganda bill. Even Ambassador Eric Goosby, openly gay U.S. global AIDS coordinator, made an ass of himself by declining to criticize Uganda. (Incidentally, Goosby is director of PEPFAR, so ongoing misspending of this money by faith-based groups may be happening right under his nose.) Among the few to speak out strongly was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ironically President Obama just signed a hate-crime bill into law that makes LGBT people a protected class in the U.S. Yet his administration's silence makes a mockery of that law, by encouraging hate crimes against us in other countries.
How does this story end?
As I listened to Obama the other night, I was also hearing other words in the back of my mind -- the words of an American astronaut, said in a more noble moment, when he made the first footprint on the Moon. Sadly I have to turn those words around to suit the starkness of this moment that the U.S. is in now, perhaps a turning-point in our history, as our President is faced with a near-future decision of whether or not to commit to a larger and possibly unwinnable war against terrorism in Africa.
It could be "One small step backwards for a man -- and a giant leap backwards for mankind."
For detailed research on what the New Apostolic Reformation and other extremist
groups are doing, in Africa and other parts of the world, go to Talk2Action.