Advocacy can backfire, badly.

In a Foreign Policy article titled “Unintended Consequences, How clumsy foreign advocates unwittingly helped Uganda’s anti-gay bill become law” (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/02/26/unintended_consequences_uganda_gay_law), Elizabeth Palchik Allen details how the good intentions of international LGBT rights advocates had the exact opposite effect to what they hoped. “The mere fact that Obama threatened Museveni publicly […] is the very reason he chose to go ahead to sign the bill.” 

Daryl Copeland’s article, “Transformational public diplomacy: Rethinking advocacy for the globalisation age,” makes the point that “the nature of diplomacy will have to be rethought. A central element in that exercise will involve rethinking the role of advocacy in the context of taking diplomacy public” (99). The recent episode of the struggle around the anti-gay bill in Uganda shows how badly and urgently this rethinking is needed.

If genuine listening had been done this could have been avoided. The article refers to an open letter was written by Ugandan activists that foresaw the unintended consequences, but it seems that it was ignored. The issue of sovereignty is huge, but it doesn’t mean nothing can be done, Copeland mentions partnering with civil society, and “connecting directly with populations and navigating pathways of influence that others cannot chart or manoeuvre through” (102), but before that, shouldn’t public diplomats have been looking at the internationals who already had influence and what kind of influence they had? Acting at the level of the influential US politicians and clergymen promoting that bill, instead of threatening the people they were supporting, could have stood a chance. Letting them promote ideas and wait until these ideas were fully entrenched before making a public stance against them was like letting the fire start itself then pouring oil on it.

 

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