Earlier this week, my friend Anastacia (in India with YES Abroad) emailed me a petition begging Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathon to veto a law that would make it a punishable offense of 14 years in prison to those who either go to gay bars, are involved with LGBT organizations, or are in openly gay relationships. It currently has over 61,000 signatures.
Ghanaian minister of trade and industry Hannah Tetteh summarized much of Africa’s views on homosexuality with the following quote: "Every society has its norms and what it considers to be acceptable. In the Western world, it is acceptable to have gay relationships and even move on to the next level to gay marriages; in our society, it is unacceptable." (Source)
This starkly contrasts with the view of many 'Western' nations. Earlier in November, British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to cut all aid to countries refusing to recognize gay rights. Upon hearing this, Ghanaian president John A. Mills responded, “I, as president of this nation, will never initiate or support any attempts to legalize homosexuality in Ghana.” (Source)
A few days ago, the United States joined Britain in stating we may use aid to combat the criminalization of homosexuality abroad. We have already been criticized by many African allies including the Ugandan presidential adviser who firmly stated, "If the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell." (Source)
38 African countries have made homosexuality illegal, while 13 have legalized some aspects of it or have not made any laws about it. The following map (from Wikipedia) shows the rights/penalties of same-sex activities in Africa.
Note: Despite South Africa being the first nation in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, 'corrective rape' is a growing issue. Corrective rape is the practice of raping lesbian women to convert them to a 'normal' lifestyle. In Cape Town alone, rights activists estimate there to be 10 corrective rapes every week. And since this is Africa, convictions are rare. Out of 31 lesbians murdered in South Africa since 1998, only one case has resulted in a conviction. (Source)
Corrective rape is also a growing issue in Zimbabwe, where “Gay men are forced into heterosexual acts and lesbian women are raped, sometimes by male relatives, to teach them to change their ways." (Source)
Ghana’s criminal code states that those who have gay 'relations' without consent may receive up to 25 years in prison, while those with consent are guilty of a misdemeanor. One thing interesting to note is that the punishment for consensual homosexual sex is the same as the punishment for bestiality. (Source)
Views on gays may vary depending on the city in Ghana. In Accra the gay scene isn't noticeable, but in Ghana's other large cities, such as Kumasi and Tema, gay social life occasionally may exist. In rural areas homosexuality is generally not accepted – many rural Ghanaians do not even accept that homosexuality exists. (Source)
One interesting aspect of Ghanaian law is that female/female relations are actually allowed, while male/male ones are forbidden. Regardless, both types are heavily prejudiced against. In fact, when two of my female Canadian friends tried to book a hotel room, they almost were not allowed because the manager thought that they may be lesbians.
Efforts against homosexuality are commonplace in Ghana. In July, Ghana’s Western Region Minister Paul Aidoo ordered the immediate arrest of all homosexuals in the country’s west. He later tasked Ghana’s Bureau of National Investigations and security forces to round-up the country’s entire gay population, and has called on landlords and tenants to spy and report people they suspect of being homosexuals. (Source)
It’s not just elected officials that have a heavy anti-Gay bias- it’s also the common man. When the local ‘TV-3’ news station ran a program where they asked the public their views on homosexuality, every single person interviewed had the same response. They were strongly against it for religious/moral reasons, and without a doubt in their mind, the best way to ‘purge Ghana’ of gays would be by introducing the death penalty.
Earlier this month I told my Ghanaian classmates that I have a few gay friends, and that I don't let their sexual orientation affect my friendship. They were speechless for a few seconds- until one girl meekly asked me, “Have you tried informing them that they’re abominations to God?”
I'm not trying to influence my readers to feel one way or the other about gay relationships. I'm merely stating reality in Ghana as objectively as possible; this is a controversial issue where ideologies shouldn't be forced on others. Facts should be given, and individual decisions should be made based on them.
It's a complex issue due to a clash between religious/social beliefs and values. Although Western nations would like to get involved to create equality throughout the world, many African countries resent the effort. They feel as though we're 'meddling' by forcing our agenda upon them. And it's partially true – what gives us the right to tell countries like Ghana how they should run themselves? They are no longer a British colony, and shouldn't be treated as such.
On the other hand, my question is, "At what point should natural liberties override the sovereignty of a nation?"