Law lecturer Kissi Agyabeng of the Ghana Law School explains the position of the law vis a vis homosexuality, lesbianism, and sex crimes in Ghana. He spoke with Dzifa Bampoh of the Radio Station JoyFM.
A reported call by the Western Regional Minister in Ghana, Paul Evans Aidoo, to arrest gays is getting major coverage in Western media with, at time of writing, one petition and headlines such as 'Has a gay holocaust begun in Ghana?' and 'Ghana Joins In On “Kill The Gays” Mania In Africa'. This attention to Ghana is bound to increase - and has not gone unnoticed in Ghana itself.
The news follows numerous recent stories in Ghanaian media on homosexuality. Nana Ama Bonsu, writing for In Depth Africa:
"The issue of homosexuality has dominated the Ghanaian airwaves and print media for quite a while, which is unusual in a country where our attention span on issues is about the same as a butterfly, fluttering from one flower to another."
This has included a report that President Mills had reacted to growing pressure from religious groups saying he "would institute measures to check the menace of homosexuality and lesbianism." The President has denied he said this, going as far as to call the Editor of the newspaper which printed his supposed quote, the Ghanaian Times.
Another newspaper, the Daily Graphic, was called out by the youth group of the ruling party the National Democratic Congress (NDC) for another story which dominated headlines about a NGO 'registering 8,000 homosexuals'. We reported on this last month - it appears that much of the current media storm in Ghana followed this article. It even led to a bizarre story that The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), Ghana’s national security agency, would be investigating the registered names of homosexuals.
The origins of the 'registered homosexuals' story are a humble USAID workshop, wrote Graham Knight:
"The workshop was attended by about 30 health workers. One of the doctors present made a wild guess that there were 8000 MSMs in the combined Western and Eastern regions. It seems that this unsubstantiated opinion has been leapt upon by the media whilst refusing to give the background to the claim. It has led the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare to publicly state that no NGO is registering homosexuals in Ghana."
"The real story is of a rather low-key workshop that has been sensationalised by the press, possibly with the collusion of a local doctor. The press reports are designed to create fear as are the unrepresentative group of Muslims claiming an imminent Sodom and Gomorrah for Africa."
In 2009 Western Regional Focal Person on HIV/AIDS, Dr. Roland Sowah claimed that 'over 2,000 registered homosexuals' are 'said to be roaming' in Sekondi-Takoradi, the capital of the Western Region of Ghana. "We need to talk about it. Whether we like it or not, it has become part of society so what do we do as a country?", Sowah was quoted as saying.
Following those media reports, last year more than one thousand protesters in Sekondi-Takoradi, participated in a peaceful rally organised by Muslims 'against reports of gay and lesbian activities in their city'. This was reportedly the first antigay protest in the country. Aidoo's arrest order followed another demonstration and petition 16 July in the city, organised by the Western Regional Network of Churches.
"As Ghana’s silent MSM’s quietly go on with their lives, those seeking power are attempting to use the issue to forward their careers."
The youth group said:
"The Daily Graphic, without solid facts and figures, has created the false impression that the number of homosexuals has risen astronomically as well as the fact that they are operating with brazen bravado."
But the group also said that
"Creating the false impression that 8,000 boys ... have been bold to register as homosexuals, is a bait to get more boys and young men to think that it is ok to be a homosexual."
"The point we are making is that ... the Daily Graphic to paint a dangerous picture on the minds of young boys for them to feel that if some 8,000 of them have been bold enough to register as homosexuals, then it is in vogue to be gay."
"That is the wicked extent to which Ransford Tetteh [the Daily Graphic Editor] has gone to satisfy the interest of the international gay cartel."
"Of course, Ransford Tetteh could not have done such a wicked hatchet job for free. Just as the illicit drug trade is lucrative, so is the homosexual trade."
"If it is the case that some NGOs have a register of 8,000 homosexuals, Ransford Tetteh should please release the data. If people are bold enough to register with NGOs, then it means they don’t mind if their names are made public."
"Since unnatural canal knowledge is a crime; and since we are all interested in rooting out the despicable practice of men sleeping with men, the NYWC is asking the so-called NGOs to release the data so we can deal drastically with the menace."
The youth group has been backed by the deputy minister for Information, Baba Jamal. Another MP has warned of lynchings.
The law in Ghana makes consenting homosexual acts between men a misdemeanor, as Agyabeng explains. There is no law criminalising lesbian sex. This suggests that Aidoo's arrest threat may face problems in being followed through with.
The director of public prosecutions, Gertrude Aikins, responding to media interest, has reiterated that men caught engaging in homosexual activities could be liable for prosecution.
In 2003, an Accra Circuit Court jailed four gay men for sodomy, however, as in other African countries such as Kenya, imprisonment is uncommon, instead gays suffer police harassment and extortion attempts. According to the US State Department, gay men in prison often are subjected to sexual and other physical abuse.
In the IGLHRC report 'Nowhere to Turn: Blackmail and Extortion of LGBT People in Sub-Saharan Africa', Mac-Darling Cobbinah of Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights, Ghana (CEPEHRG) - one of the leading national NGOs in Ghana currently promoting human rights and HIV/ Aids services to MARPs (most at-risk populations) - writes that:
"Homosexuals in Ghana lead a precarious existence."
"MSM [men who have sex with men] and WSW [women who have sex with women] are frequently subject to blackmail and extortion attempts in Ghana, and organisations like CEPEHRG have started projects to better understand, defend against, and deal with the problem. The key to blackmail is the threat of disclosure, which causes panic among gay and bisexual men as they would be considered criminals under the current law."
"Disclosure about sex and sexuality can take a number of forms, including threats of exposure to police, employers, friends, spouses, families,communities, faith communities, or the press. Extortion typically involves direct threats to the victim, ranging from property damage to assault, rape,or murder. Both tend to target those who are especially marginalised or vulnerable to threats."
"It is likely that the police will fail to help gay and bisexual men when they do report being blackmailed ... blackmailers and extortionists also know that the police themselves are committing these offenses, and will help their perpetrators evade justice. Gay and bisexual men risk exposure and condemnation when they go to the police – often, of the same behavior the blackmailer threatened to reveal – and blackmail and extortion are thus under reported. Many [believe] they would be mocked, blamed, or even arrested by the police for reports of blackmail. Instead of following up on cases, ... police frequently tell gay and bisexual men to “investigate it, and when you find the person, call me”."
"These factors within the legal system that put gay and bisexual men at particular risk are exacerbated by broader problems of corruption and lack of transparency in the Ghanaian criminal justice system. There are reports of police officers demanding fees to investigate crimes, making victims wait for hours and then demanding payments to take complaints and of police requiring victims to underwrite the costs of investigation.Victims do not always have the means to pay these “costs,” and when they do, these add another financial and psychological burden in addition to the blackmail and extortion itself."
"There have not been any well-publicized arrests of blackmailers or extortionists who target gay and bisexual men, and that is why people believe they can operate with impunity."
"In reality, the law is rarely used but if the status quo was threatened it surely would be. Presently, it mainly serves as a symbolic condemnation and keeps people underground and fearful of the consequences if challenges were made."
In the current debate, newspapers have easily found numerous human rights activists from Ghana civil society prepared to speak for LGBT human rights.
Writing today Professor and author Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr. said:
"Ghana’s democratic dispensation specifically provides for the protection of all of its citizens, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, creed and, of course, sexual orientation. Thus, any criminally misguided attempt by any Ghanaian leader to summarily proscribe the inviolable right of any citizen to a peaceable existence, on the prejudicial basis of any of the foregoing elements of human identity, must be fiercely resisted, even at the risk of civic pandemonium."
Other human rights activists have spoken out, such as the acting head of the Commission on Human rights and Administraive Justice (CHRAJ), Anna Bossman, whose comments to CITI FM last December, where she said that gays and lesbians should not be condemned based on societal attitudes and that the constitution provides for freedom from discrimination, sparked much discussion.
Lawyer and former Member of Parliament, John Ndebugri in a radio debate challenged homosexuals in Ghana to go to the Supreme Court to enforce their right to freedom of association. In another debate on Asempa FM the Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Organization on Fatal Alcoholic Syndrome, Amanorbia Doodo, argued that homosexuality is an illness and no amount of prayer can change those who are involved.
Ms. Doodo said those who are enlightened and have travelled the length and breadth of the world would know that the practice is by choice.
She added that those who give birth to children with such syndromes would not say they would kill them, but rather, they try to live with them.
Last year the Ghana News Agency speculated that that the leading Ghanaian human rights lawyer Nana Oye Lithur, was not appointed to represent Ghana on the African Union's Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) because of her support for LGBT human rights.
Professor F.T. Sai, a population and sexual health expert and the former chairman of the Ghana AIDS Commission has said that gay people "have the right to practice their sexual preference within their constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy and autonomy so far as they do not infringe on the rights of others or break any laws."
The Vice President of Ghana, H. E. John Dramani Mahama, told the recent UN 2011 High-Level Meeting on AIDS that MSM must be included in Ghana's approach to fighting HIV/Aids. He acknowledged that "cultural hostility to this group makes it most unwilling to disclose this sexual orientation."
However the Ghana Aids Commission (GAC) has pandered:
“It is important that all hands are on deck to reduce the number of young people who are lured into MSM,” the Commission said and called on all religious leaders, traditional authorities, educationists, parents, NGOs working with young people, to get involved in educating young males on the dangers of being involved in sex with other men.
Concern has been raised over the possible influence of foreign radical anti-gay actors, including ones from Uganda, on moves against gays in Ghana. However anti-gay statements from religious groups in Ghana, reported in local media, are coming from mainstream groups: Muslim, the Presbyterian church and the Christian Council of Ghana, which represents Methodists, Anglicans etc.
Though it remains to be seen if, as in Uganda, there is any orchestration behind these moves, including any influence from right-wing US evangelicals, Ghanaian reporter Samuel K. Obour said:
"Some have called for the implementation of tougher laws such as the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which many hope will lead to an eradication of the practice."
"Though the Government of Ghana is to yet officially respond to the numerous calls for action, several high profile individuals, some close to the corridors of power, have been vocal and unrelenting in their calls for immediate action."
Yet there have been no calls for support (at time of writing) against 'deteriorating conditions' from Ghanaian LGBT. And the media reports in Ghana follow direct calls for national dialogue on homosexuality, such as from Nana Oye Lithur.
“I think we should try and understand the situation. If we don’t discuss it as a country, how do we overcome the problem?” she asked.
This dialogue appears from media reports to indeed be taking place and those opposed to any progress are speaking out - loudly.
"Though human rights activists in Ghana, led by the irrepressible Nana Oye Lithur, are relentlessly advocating respect for gay rights and tolerance of gay practices, it is difficult to envisage an end to anti-gay rhetoric in a country of very religious people."
As the world's focus appears to be shifting to Ghana we should note that there are two other concerns for LGBT in Africa, neither of which are currently receiving no attention from Western media:
- criminalisation of homosexuality in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and;
- the plight of thousands of LGBT refugees in South Africa.