Why did the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute travel to Uganda?
This week Uganda was in the news big time because of proposed legislation which would make homosexuality an offense to be be punished with life imprisonment or even execution. Although newsworthy of itself, much of the debate focused on American influence on this piece of legislation.
For more than a decade Uganda has been the focal point when it comes to addressing the AIDS problems in Africa. When HIV/AIDS was first discovered in the 1980's, several religious and social conservative leaders responded in a most hateful way. Jerry Falwell described AIDS as not just God's punishment for homosexuals, it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals. And Jesse Helms defended his position to oppose federal funding for AIDS research on the grounds that: "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy".
During the 1990's a shift in perception took place as more and more opponents of AIDS research learned that heterosexuals were dying of HIV infection too, especially in Africa. At the same time the religious right movement was in a difficult position after the scandals of Jim Bakker and of Jimmy Swaggart. For the longest time religious leaders and social conservatives had been mostly negative about various issues (homosexuality, women´s rights, social welfare), but added very little of positive value.
The realization AIDS also infected heterosexuals was a godsend for the religious right, there finally was a cause they could embrace to promote their new found compassionate conservatism. Instead of spewing hate, religious conservatives could finally show they has a heart too.
Uganda was the perfect candidate to impose this new found idealism upon. The country had already made an effort to start curbing the spread of AIDS, so by embracing those efforts, the religious right could easily claim the country's success as theirs. Uganda was also the perfect country for these actions because of the relations between the country's leader Yoweri Museveni and certain evangelical christian organizations in then the US.
The most prominent of these organizations is the Fellowship Foundation, aka The Family. Much has been written about the Fellowship Foundation over the last couple of months, especially in relation to the affairs of Senator John Ensign and Governor Mark Sanford. This has lead to intense media scrutiny of this secretive religious organization that yields great power, especially through the membership of US congress men and various political leaders abroad.
An exclusive inner-circle of Fellowship Foundation members, reside in a house on C-street in Washington DC. Although registered as a church, it seems to be mostly a frat-house for members of congress. Senators James Inhofe, Chuck Grassley, Jim DeMint, John Ensign, Bill Nelson, Tom Coburn, Sam Brownback, Richard Lugar, Mark L. Pryor, John Thune and Michael Enzi, supposedly live on the premises of the C-street house.
The Fellowship Foundation seems to have a special fondness for dictators, tyrants and potentates, or at least has a tendency to especially reach out to those leaders that exert an oppressive power over their population. It seems, the ideology of the Fellowship Foundation is based upon the notion of "being chosen". According to their line of reasoning, men in power are "chosen" and therefore doing God's will. One of those "chosen" leaders is Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda.
Museveni and his wife Janet, had introduced a campaign to curb HIV/AIDS based on the so-called ABC principles: Abstinence, Be faithful, Condoms. For some time the program was being a success and was further implemented in various other African countries. When "compassionate conservatives" in the US started taking an interest in the success of the program, they liked the result, but didn't like the "C" of the "ABC" programs. So promotion of the use of condoms had to go.
The previous US administration has taken much credit for their commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS, and indeed substantial amounts of money have been made available, yet much of the effort has been lost by promoting abstinence only. And much damage has been done by turning the use of condoms into an exotic, if not alien habit, only suitable for those who lack self-control and proper values.
A key role in the developments in Uganda, both with respect to the fight against HIV/AIDS and with respect to the proposed anti-gay legislation is played by James Inhofe. The senator of Oklahoma, allegedly visited the country twice a year over the past decade, both as senator and more informally as a representative of the Fellowship Foundation. James Inhofe is also a longtime member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), serving on the advisory board of that organization.
Over the last decade CCAI has taken a great interest in the promotion of inter-country adoption. The organization has sponsored trips for members of congress to Romania, to pressure the Romanian government to reopen the borders for inter-country adoption. CCAI also sponsored trips to Guatemala, India and China. Yet there is a fifth country, CCAI spent money on visiting, a country that never exported more than 55 children per year. That country is of course Uganda.
Ever since we started looking into the activities of CCAI, their visit to Uganda has always struck us as odd. CCAI hasn't sponsored that many trips outside the US and, except for Uganda, they all relate to large sending countries. While the use of political pressure for the purpose of inter-country adoption is appalling, it is understandle why it happens. Yet the visit to Uganda always remained an enigma.
The role of James Inhofe in congress, CCAI and the Fellowship Foundation, sheds some light on the motivation of CCAI's focus on Uganda. There is still a lot to be learned about the trip, but at least it finally has a context.