I wasn’t sure I should post this. But, here goes.
I spent many hours writing a post recently. And then found one fact that challenged my assumptions.
My basic premise was that the new anti-gay laws in Uganda were a springboard for more or less boycotting African teas.
What I have decided to do is share the post, as it was, up to the moment I discovered a fact I did not like. And then make some commentary around that, and how it actually showed me my own hypocrisy. The original, unfinished post is below – all the bits in blue.
It’s a heavy post today, folks. Quite a bit of politics, and only a little tea.
The recent history of Africa – the last 1000 years – has been dominated by the actions, not of locals, but by Europeans, and those of European descent.
Significant European interest in Africa started with interest in slavery, and in the centuries that followed, Western countries have looked down on Africans – first as chattels, then as ‘poor savages’ needing civilising, and now as being incapable of running their own affairs.
In particular, the period of colonisation. A time when European countries who couldn’t organise a decent empire – France, Germany, Italy, even pathetic pretend countries such as Belgium – nibbled bits of Africa so they could feel like they were part of the big league, competing with Spain, Portugal, the Dutch and of course, Britain. A time when the big guys hit back and took some of Africa for themselves. A time when brave white men went out to take ownership and shoulder the “white man’s burden” of running these places.
Whether being sadistic, paternalistic or opportunistic, Europeans always knew they were superior on one area: religion. The wonderful term “mumbo-jumbo” is at heart an attack on the spiritual beliefs of various African peoples – an indication of how believing that your ancestor lives in a mountain or that lions have souls is so much less believable than virgin birth and a God who can’t solve famine because he’s too busy checking on what teenage boys are doing under the covers at night.
Colonialism is a mixed legacy at best: the law is one institution that was often pressed upon the unwilling but is now seen as a good thing, whereas other colonial legacies are decidedly bad, such as the genocidal hatred of two basically similar peoples in Rwanda.
Of course, tea is a colonial legacy, and about 12 African countries grow significant amounts of tea. They are the massive tea growing country of Kenya, then a long way back Malawi and Uganda, with Tanzania the only other one of note. The latter three combined grow about 30% of what Kenya grows.
And who grows it? Vast tea companies, like Liptons (Unilever) and Tetleys.
So many people have written so much about the poor practices, lack of workers rights and inhumanity of these sprawling tea estates that I cannot usefully add anything to that commentary at this point.
But Uganda have made the news this week, for passing anti-homosexuality laws. Punitive and primitive, these appalling laws even make it a criminal offence if you know someone is homosexual and don’t report them to the authorities.
Whilst on the face of it it seems absurd to punish a man for having sex with another man by locking him up with hundreds of men for seven years, it is far more than just absurd. It’s an appalling attack on human rights. Led by the teachings of three “Evangelical” (in the sense of ‘demented’) American preachers, Uganda seems to be determined to cling to the reputation it earned during the reign of Idi Amin for brutality; and the saddest thing about this is, it’s popular.
What is not so readily apparent is that similar laws exists in the other tea growing countries I have listed. It’s not surprising, with South Africa the only significant country in Africa that does not persecute gay people.
The laws in Kenya are virtually identical to the ones in Uganda, one key difference being that they no time or money is being spent on enforcement. However, there is agitation within the Kenyan Parliament for this to happen, with many MPs casting an approving eye on the Ugandan travesty.
In Tanzania, the laws are similar and enforced. In Malawi, the laws are on the books but enforcement was suspended in 2012. It’s great that these vile laws have been suspended, but it is shameful they exist at all.
It’s hard to get tea anywhere without wondering if the provenance means that someone unpleasant somewhere is not getting a benefit. But in this case, the governments who pass these laws get millions on taxes from tea.
And that’s where I stopped, folks.
Because I decided to just check the laws in other tea growing countries, to make sure I was not going to have some unhappy facts pointed out to me via comments. And I did discover just such facts.
China? Check. Japan? Check. India? Er, not so good.
Chapter 16, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is, in essence a slightly milder version of the same law as Uganda has just passed. It was put there in 1860 under the British Raj.
It’s true that there is a popular campaign in India to repeal this appalling travesty; and I doubt that it will be on the law books in another 5 years. Some people say that as only 200 people have ever been charged under Section 377 since 1960, it’s not really enforced.
For me, the discovery that this exists undermined my idea that a boycott would be a good plan. After all, I don’t actually drink African Tea which I find generally quite inferior, but I drink and sell a lot of Indian tea. This is a boycott that might actually affect me!
For years, westerners have pontificated about “What Africa should do” and “What China should do” and “What India Should do” and in many cases, there’s been a healthy dose of self interest.
Me too, it seems.