“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” a senior official in Biden’s administration said this month. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.”
For people who swear that this isn’t a competition, it seems that the seven leaders of the most powerful countries in the world have some significant insecurity about China’s foreign investment today. Foreign aid was one of the headlines-in-chief this month when world leaders met in Geneva, in Brussels, and on the windy beaches of England’s Carbis Bay. One of the main goals of the G7 Summit was to set up a coordinated Western alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure investment scheme that Beijing has been rolling out across the developing world.
Indeed, the silk road has wound its way from Beijing all the way to the dirt tracks of cities like Kampala, transforming potholes into smooth concrete stretches from Uganda’s capital to more rural towns. The improvements are without doubt a vital pathway forward into development. “We can’t help but wonder why they’re really here,” my taxi driver raised his eyebrow as we passed by a new power plant a few weeks ago when I was visiting the country. Critics worry about the strings they say inevitably will fasten tightly around the country’s ballooning debt. Better the devil you know, some believe, pointing back to the years of Western intervention in the country, for better or for worse.
But that “devil we know” in the West has hardly given out aid without its own expectations. China may be no saint on the world stage, but they don’t have a direct interest in altering the culture and values of their recipients. According to research carried out by the AidData Research Lab at the College of William and Mary, China’s motives are varied, but are request-responsive and often driven by the principle of an intuitive bottom line—monetarily or politically advancing Chinese interests. As for the West, the fashion of “civilizing Africa” was turfed out with the white starched hats of the colonial era, but the hunger to create an African mini-me is clear within the trade agreements of today. Countries like Uganda are known for their Christian culture and their love for family and children. Motherhood is cherished as a form of female empowerment. It’s a stark contrast to the cosmo-girl feminism we’ve come to be served in the West.
It’s not necessarily made us a happy nation, but Western investors in Africa have been keen to make the sexual revolution a primary export. Development bodies like UNFPA frequently partner with Marie Stopes International (recently rebranded to “MSI Reproductive Choices” in acknowledgement of the scandalous eugenicism of their founder, who called for new laws that allowed the “hopelessly rotten and racially diseased” to be sterilized) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculums developed with U.N. agency-backing and Western government support promote sex as a “right” to teenage girls.
Our sex-obsessed thumbprint finds itself on all manner of unrelated emergency aid packages too. Last summer it was reported that UNFPA’s COVID-19 relief packages include box kits with “reproductive health materials” for women and girls. The kits contain a variety of abortion-related items such as vacuum extractors and cranioclasts for crushing fetal skulls. In blatant violation of national law, UNFPA set about on a $100.5 million campaign for its “reproductive health service” outfits in Yemen, a country desperate for international support just to keep the population alive.
Ecuador, where abortion is illegal with limited exceptions, likewise was presented with an $8 million COVID-19 relief package from the U.N. last year, which included a provision that Ecuador implement “safe legal abortion,” in addition to accepting UNFPA’s kits. Civil society groups mounted significant resistance, calling on the government to reject this “humanitarian blackmail” at the hands of the U.N.
Last month, Brussels bureaucrats negotiated a Partnership Agreement which will pour billions of euros across the African continent. The lucrative deal is hard for government officials to resist, but comes at a high price of cultural change. The deal specifically requires governments to offer “sexual and reproductive health services”—a known euphemism in the international development sphere for abortion, which is illegal in Uganda and many other of the States being pressured to sign. The deal shames Sub-Saharan countries where it hurts—it requires the introduction of abortion as a solution to their ongoing crisis of maternal death. It neglects to mention that the majority of these deaths are attributed to problems like sepsis, hemorrhage, and indirect causes like malaria and HIV/AIDS. Getting the women to hospital in the first place is the real problem, I was told. Many have far to travel. They come, heavily pregnant, on the back of a bicycle. If only more ambulances and more rural health centers were available, lives could be saved. But lest we detract from the promotion of abortion, these real solutions will have to wait.
An empowered Africa can surely be so much more than an Africa full of abortion clinics. Last month I watched 75 students create and sign a document standing for the Uganda they wanted: a “pro-life Uganda”. They called for the government to invest in real healthcare for women and babies. More midwives. Fewer risks. Better education programs that prevent 13-year-olds from finding themselves sexually used and abused. They insisted that even legal abortion is not safe, and pointed to examples from Rwanda where, after legalization, deaths from abortion increased relative to other causes of maternal death. They knew their stuff. They called on their parliament to reject the provisions of the agreement and to stand firm against ideological imperialism.
Investment in “sexual and reproductive health services” in Africa has had a concerningly colonial past. In 1964, at the advent of the IUD, Guttmacher himself promoted it strongly as a method of forcibly reducing population sizes in the developing world. “No contraceptive could be cheaper, and once the damn thing is in, the patient cannot change her mind. In fact, we can hope she will forget that it is there and perhaps in several months wonder why she has not conceived,” he is recorded remarking to the president of pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle, going on to say: “…if you can reduce the birth rate of…the Korean, Pakistanian or Indian population from 50 to 45 per 1,000 per year to 2, 3 or 5, this becomes an accomplishment to celebrate.” [sic].
I spent time with students across more than 25 Ugandan schools and universities last month. They told me that representatives from these industries showered them with offers of free implants. Most said that they were not given information about the risks accompanying the products inserted into their bodies. When they wanted to have them removed, they were faced with high fees. The system works to entice sterility for their apparent greater good.
The West’s sex obsession hasn’t even translated into high-quality care. In Kenya in November, the bodies of ten illegally aborted babies were found discarded and decomposing in a bin at an internationally-funded “medical centre.” As a result of the findings, Kenya’s national police service, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, revealed they had arrested two fake doctors and three other workers on suspicion of conducting illegal terminations. The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council confirmed that the two arrested “doctors” were not registered medical practitioners.
A young Ugandan lawyer told me that a friend of his had given birth recently to a baby boy with a copper coil wrapped around his fist. A clinician had inserted the device into a girl who was already pregnant.
We still know strikingly little about the “Build Back Better World Initiative” strategy that has emerged from the tete-a-tete of world leaders at the G7 meeting on the beaches of Carbis Bay. But we do know that it will be a “values-based” alternative to China’s international offer. Of course, China has no claim to moral superiority on championing protections for mothers and babies internationally. Pursuit of Chinese influence on the world stage has even seen them donate heavily to UNFPA programs while maintaining its own rigid and life-destroying family policies. But for the West, it’s those who hold the purse strings that decide on the correct “values” for a recipient country, no matter whether they are home to a completely different culture. Promoting “sexual and reproductive health and rights”—an international political euphemism for abortion—has already been declared as one of the key pledges of the G7.
Boris Johnson has received harsh criticism of late for failing to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to humanitarianism. Despite signing on to G7 pledges, the U.K. government recently cut foreign aid spending by 85 percent. The temporary pause, uncomfortable though it may be, gives us the chance to reflect on what really is behind the vague terminology of “foreign aid,” and make better decisions about future investments.
Africa’s youth are ready to empower their nations. Their greatest resource is their people. With the right government direction, those people can be directed into building a flourishing economy from the inside out. Development strings that aim to cut down that resource act in colonial vanity against the values of African people. It’s time to check our own imperialism.
Lois McLatchie writes for ADF International and can be found on Twitter at @LoisMcLatch.
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