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US Christian Right Groups Spent $20 Million in Africa Since 2015

A two-month investigation today exposes how US Christian Right groups are spending millions of dollars in Africa, at a time of heightened anti-LGBTIQ feeling in the region. Sascha Lavin and Sian Norris report

Portrait of a young gay man in Uganda. Photo: Benedicte Desrus/Alamy

US Christian Right Groups Spent$20 Million in Africa Since 2015

A two-month investigation reveals how US Christian Right groups spent millions of dollars in Africa as anti-LGBTIQ feeling rose in the region

Leading US Christian Right organisations that share an anti-LGBTIQ, anti-abortion agenda have spent more than $20 million in sub-Saharan Africa since 2015, an investigation by Byline Times can reveal today. 

The findings come as LGBTIQ rights face renewed attack in countries across the Continent, particularly in Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya – with Ugandan authorities shutting down organisations supporting LGBTIQ people, and politicians warning that legislation is needed to “conclude the matter” of homosexuality “once and for all”.

Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa said this month, regarding LGBTIQ people and abortion, that “I heard someone say are human rights which must be respected universally. I just want to assure you, they can never be accepted in Uganda. The Uganda Parliament I lead will never pass laws that are against our values”.

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Ghana is seeking to pass an anti-LGBTIQ bill before elections next year.

Our analysis found that seven US Christian Right organisations are each spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in Africa: Human Life International; Heartbeat International; World Youth Alliance; the Acton Institute; Alliance Defending Freedom; the Fellowship Foundation; and Focus on the Family.

However, the figure may well be the tip of the iceberg, with other organisations such as the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ) running an office in East Africa, and groups like World Congress of Families organising conferences in the region. The influential Family Watch International is also active across the continent, listing its spend as related to conferences in Africa. 

The figures may also be higher, as three organisations had only provided filings up to 2019, with only one organisation submitting a tax return for the 2021 financial year.

Globally, the 10 leading US Christian Right organisations – adding in ACLJ, the Cato Institute and the Federalist Society – had spent more than $74 million outside the US in the time analysed, including $35 million in Europe, Russia and its neighbouring states.

The Fellowship Foundation was by far the biggest spender, with 990 filings revealing it spent $18,182,736 in sub-Saharan Africa between 2015-2019, including on hospitals and schools. The organisation was the focus of the Netflix documentary The Family, with author Jeff Sharlet stating it “focuses on places that no one is paying attention to where they can have a big influence”. The documentary details its ties with various African nations and leaders.

In response to Byline Times’ research, Dutch MEP Sophie In t’Veld said: “American organisations are actively shaping national and regional anti-LGBTIQ and anti-abortion discourses around the world. They have succeeded spectacularly, and with devastating effect, in a number of countries”.

The Ugandan MP and chair of its Parliament’s Human Rights Committee Fox Odoi-Oywelowo told Byline Times: “The Christian groups from the US pump in money to propagate a genocidal ideology. They pump in money, to pass legislation that criminalises people expressing love”. 

US Christian Right Spend $75 Million Globally on Anti-Abortion and Anti-LGBTIQ Activism Since 2015

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LGBTIQ Rights Under Attack

Hostility towards LGBTIQ rights has been in the spotlight in East Africa with attempts by the East African Legislative Assembly to pass a Sexual and Reproductive Health Bill that promotes comprehensive sex education and aims to “protect and faciliate the fulfilment of the life-course sexual and reproductive health and rights of all persons in the Community”.

Homophobia in Uganda hit the headlines in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when a bill to make homosexuality a capital offence was introduced and then swiftly repealed. Anti-LGBTIQ feeling has ramped up in recent months, with the closure of SMUG (Sexual Minorites Uganda), run by Frank Mugisha, and a speech in Parliament by the MP Ekanya Geoffrey where he said the Government needed “to bring a law here on LGBT and homosexuality so this matter can be discussed and we can conclude it once and for all”.

“Let’s be clear about this: people like Mugisha experience danger and attacks on their freedom instigated by American ideologues and American money,” said In t’Veld. 

“There has been a regression,” said Odoi-Oywelowo, who believes he is one of 20 pro-LGBTIQ representatives in Uganda’s Parliament. “I have always said when you are talking about LGBTIQ rights you are talking about human rights”.

Individuals like Stephen Langa, from the Family Life Network, have accused LGBTIQ people of “grooming” children who are “hunted” in schools by “ruthless homosexuals”.

“Anti-gender groups have had time to organise since a 2014 challenge to the LGBTIQ laws,” said Fridah Mutesi, a human rights lawyer based in Kampala. “They use this line that LGBTIQ people are promoting homosexuality and grooming children – this is a global trend”.

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While Ugandan individuals such as Manga are the visible face of anti-gender opposition in the country, US Christian Right organisations such as Human Life International (HLI) are active in the region. Based in Virginia, in the US, it has spent over $1.4 million in sub-Saharan Africa since 2015.

Although primarily an anti-abortion organisation, Human Life International is of interest due to its previous relationships with anti-LGBTIQ activists in Uganda, and for its stance on the Sex and Reproductive Healthcare Bill being debated in the East Africa Legislative Assembly. 

According to a 2012 paper authored by Kapya John Kaoma, Human Life International’s regional coordinator Emil Hagamu praised the Ugandan Parliament as “typically African” for promoting the “kill the gays” bill.

Byline Times has seen an email sent from a Ugandan Human Life International staff member to members of the East Africa Legislative Assembly saying: “We are watching you silently. For the sake of our children say no to the EAC SRH Bill. Save the generation.” HLI did not respond to our request for comment.

HLI has run “pro family” training in Uganda, with both US and African speakers. A pro family training event in summer 2021 featured Sharon Slater, head of Family Watch International (FWI), which has spent $58,532 on conferences in Africa since 2015, as well as $271,610 on its “global family policy” and a further $301,521 on travel for its global family policy. 

Despite Mormon Sharon Slater founding the organisation after a political awakening at the World Congress of Families – seen as an umbrella for the Christian right – FWI resists the Christian Right label, claiming they are a non-denominational organisation that does not rely on religious perspectives to promote their pro-family policies. It described its global family policy to Byline Times as supporting UN delegations to “protect the health and innocence of their children” and defend “their right to self-determination without being coerced, bullied or blackmailed by UN agencies and donor countries”.

Slater is well known for her anti-LGBTIQ activism in Uganda. She has claimed that LGBTIQ individuals are prone to disease, “significantly more promiscuous,” and “more likely to engage in paedophilia”. She is linked to the virulently homophobic pastor Martin Ssempa who recently accused the United Nations of trying to “force homosexuality on the entire world”, although FWI pointed out to Byline Times that Ssempa is no longer listed as a volunteer on their website. 

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FWI told Byline Times that “many years ago” Slater “quoted evidence from peer-reviewed scientific research regarding sexuality that conclusively showed that individuals who engage in homosexual behavior generally have greater negative emotional and physical outcomes” and that “she does not create the science”. It said that “we have never suggested that all, or most homosexuals were paedophiles” and that this “has never been the focus of the work of Ms Slater”.

US anti-gender groups tend to claim that LGBTIQ-rights are a Western neo-imperialist project designed to undermine traditional African values. However, as the sexual and reproductive rights organisation Ipas pointed out in a recent report, Slater does “not reflect on her own colonialist complicity”. 

“The LGBTIQ community is as old as mankind,” affirmed Odoi-Oywelowo.

The IPAS report focused on how FWI, Political Network for Values – of which Slater is a board member – and Christian Council International had attacked the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement which governs development cooperation for aid and trade between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) group of states. The organisations took issue with EU efforts to include language in the agreement that protects human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.

“It’s interesting because this is a new area the anti-gender groups have moved into, the economic area,” Ipas’s Gillian Kane told Byline Times. “It shows their willingness to stretch out and work with new partners”. 

FWI told Byline Times the treaty is an “assault on the sovereignty of ACP countries and parental rights, and it represents an aggressive sexual-social recolonization of ACP countries by Europe through many deceptive provisions”. It added “we are proud to stand with our African friends and allies in helping them defend their own countries and cultures against alien sexual and gender ideologies that are ‘shaped’ and aggressively ‘pushed’ by outsiders”.

Who Funds the Funders

The money pouring into anti-gender activism in Africa is often linked to wealthy US Christian Nationalist and radical right foundations, including those with links to the Trump administration.

The Acton Institute, which has spent $176,308 in Africa since 2015 has received money from the Donors Trust – a donor-advised fund understood to be linked to fossil fuel money via the Koch Brothers. The Charles Koch Foundation is another funder. The Institute has also received funds from the DeVos Foundation – Betsy DeVos was Trump’s Education Secretary – and Prince Family Foundation, set up by her parents. Other funders are the Templeton Foundation, founded by John Templeton, according to research by Neil Datta at the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. 

World Youth Alliance, which only has to declare some of its finances in the US as it is based in Belgium, has received funding from the Chiaroscuro Fund, established in 2007 in New York as a donor-advised fund of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organisation. The same fund has also donated to the Acton Institute and the Howard Centre, the organisation behind the World Congress of Families. 

WYA has spent at least in Africa £315,636 in the time analysed. It contributed to Kenya’s Reproductive Health Policy 2022-2032 which was widely criticised by pro-abortion activists for failing to adequately address women’s reproductive healthcare needs. It opposed Kenya’s failed 2020 Reproductive Healthcare Bill, which advocated for safe abortion access, and comprehensive sex education. 

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“I do think that religious extremism continues to be the real threat to democracy both in the United States and in the world,” said Skye Perryman, President and CEO of Democracy Forward. The organisation campaigns for democratic values in the US, and Perryman sees the attacks on US democracy by radical right and Trump-affiliated groups as having a concerning ripple effect. 

“These movements are not just national, but have a global impact,” she said. “What we’ve seen in the United States, which unfortunately, we also see as a global trend, is a very powerful and highly resourced movement that does not represent the majority of people, but that is funded through a constellation of right wing organisations that are seeking to culturally shape the law in ways that are anti democratic”.

We approached all organisations named in this article for comment. Only FWI responded. Focus On The Family said it would not comment.

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