Homosexuality in Ghana

 In Ghana

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)

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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.

(Source)

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)

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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?”

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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?"

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Showing 3 comments
  • SMITH,A.
    Reply

    This is really interesting. I’m glad you are exploring many aspects of your journey. This is very well written. I hope you continue to write about multiple aspects of life in Ghana. I am fascinated because you are living with a first hand point of view. (the prose,humor,personality,and analysis are superb). I am waiting for more…

  • Adam
    Reply

    Great overview, Avery. I’ve read that lesbian relationships are legal because of the customs of some matrilineal tribes and traditions regarding widows who cohabitate. Super interesting stuff.
    I wonder whether Obama’s decree regarding US aid will do more harm than good with respect to the treatment of homosexuals in Ghana. Doesn’t it perpetuate the idea that homosexuality’s a western invention? What’s your sense of that? How are your GH friends/family reacting to the preaching from Western governments? When I heard that Cameron had made the announcement, I wasn’t surprised that Atta Mills reacted so negatively… Is the West causing an anti-gay backlash in Ghana? How could our govt more sensitively navigate this issue? I’d love to hear your thoughts

    • Avery
      Reply

      I agree that the US’s decree certainly does make it seem as though homosexuality is a western invention. I’ve heard several talk radio shows bash Britain/the US for our statements, saying that America doesn’t even have their minds made up as far as gay rights; why should they try to influence Africa? My Ghanaian friends/family agree completely with the above statement, and feel as though we are overextending our influence far too much (many feel similarly about Libya).

      I get the sense that the US’s statements will cause a backlash in African countries that have economies that don’t really depend on foreign aid but still receive some (i.e. Ghana, Nigeria, etc.) I think it may make a difference to politicians in some of the poorest African countries. But when it comes down to it, laws in Africa don”t matter. It’s more with how the public and the people enforcing the law feel about it. As I said, in South Africa, gay marriage is legal. But that doesn’t stop the rapes/murders…

      How could our government more sensitively navigate this issue… interesting question. It seems Clinton tried her best to be as sensitive as possible in her speech (no nations left the room), but I don’t think there is a way to be perfectly sensitive. If Obama insisted on speaking out against this issue, I would say that the best option would be to meet with other nations and issue a joint statement, so that we wouldn’t be standing alone. This would also hold more power, especially if we could manage to get South Africa or another African nation to join us.

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