World Bank freezes Uganda health loan in wake of anti-gay law

28 Feb 14
The World Bank has put its $90m loan to improve Uganda’s health services on hold after the country passed a contentious anti-gay law

By Judith Ugwumadu | 28 February 2014

The World Bank has put its $90m loan to improve Uganda’s health services on hold after the country passed a contentious anti-gay law.

The Washington-based lender said it needed to be assured that the effects of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act would not undermine the development objectives underpinned by the loan. Uganda’s highly controversial anti-homosexuality law requires citizens to denounce lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Ugandans and allows the courts to impose life sentences. 

A World Bank spokesman said: ‘We have postponed the project for further review to ensure that the development objectives would not be adversely affected by the enactment of this new law.’

Writing in today’s Washington Post, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said institutionalised discrimination was bad for people, societies and economies.

‘There is clear evidence that when societies enact laws that prevent productive people from fully participating in the workforce, economies suffer,’ he wrote.

‘At the World Bank Group, we will have a full internal discussion over the coming months about discrimination more broadly and how it would affect our projects and our gay and lesbian staff members. My view is that the fight to eliminate all institutionalised discrimination is an urgent task.

‘After all, the bottom line is clear: eliminating discrimination is not only the right thing to do; it’s also critical to ensure that we have sustained, balanced and inclusive economic growth in all societies — whether in developed or developing nations, the North or the South, America or Africa.’

But the World Bank’s decision drew a defiant response from the Ugandan government and a warning that it could lead to Millennium Development Goals being missed. 

Ofwono Opondo, head of the Ugandan Media Centre, wrote on Twitter: ‘The World Bank is a multi-lateral institution that should not blackmail its members however small... The $90m was supposed to be a loan repayable, so Uganda can find another lender.’ 

The East African nation had successfully ridden out previous aid suspensions before, he added.

‘The World Bank to postpone fund disbursements to Uganda’s health sector implies it’s not interested in achieving Millennium Development Goals,’ Opondo said.

‘As always, Uganda govt will live within national resource means by prioritising sectors and possible re-allocation... Uganda challenges pro-gay groups to bring even one single case of persecution in Uganda as a result of this law.’

Funds from the World Bank’s International Development Association were meant to support a project, launched in 2010, focused on maternal health, newborn care and family planning. The bank stated at the time that it aimed to achieve better outcomes through improved human resources for health, physical health infrastructure, leadership and accountability for health service delivery.

But Opondo said that World Bank-supported health issues were broader than ‘merely gay rights’ both in Uganda and globally. 

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