In Ghana, Parliament toughens the law against homosexuals

The battle waged for three years by the LGBT people of Ghana has just suffered a heavy defeat

In Ghana, Parliament toughens the law against homosexuals

The battle waged for three years by the LGBT people of Ghana has just suffered a heavy defeat. The Parliament of this West African country adopted on Wednesday February 28 one of the most homophobic bills on the continent. Under the heading "Human Sexual Rights and Family Values", it now exposes anyone identifying as LGBT to up to three years in prison, five years in prison for "deliberately promoting, sponsoring or supporting of LGBT activities”, and up to ten years for “LGBT campaigns aimed at children”.

LGBT people, but also human rights defenders and journalists can thus be prosecuted for these reasons, and denunciation is explicitly encouraged. The text was voted unanimously by the 275 MPs, despite repeated opposition from diplomats, international organizations and a coalition of Ghanaian civil society. It will only come into force after its ratification by President Nana Akufo-Addo, who has not yet made his decision known.

“I’m heartbroken,” simply responded Angel Maxine, the only openly transgender artist in the country. “We already knew, in view of the videos of homophobic lynchings circulating on social networks, that our society was extremely intolerant towards people with a different sexual orientation,” laments civil society activist Chris Atadika. But this law will also encourage people to invent a talent for detecting LGBT people and denouncing them. Gay friends, flee the country! »

On social networks, Ghanaian Internet users are divided. While some welcome “the safeguarding of African values”, others say they fear negative repercussions on tourism, or even an increase in puritanism in an already conservative country. “If I refuse a man's advances at a nightclub and stay dancing with my friends, will he have the right to call the police to report me as a lesbian? », quips a young woman. Many people are calling the LGBT community a “scapegoat” less than a year before the presidential election, scheduled for December, and while the government is heavily undermined by corruption scandals in a context of economic crisis.

A homophobic groundswell

The homophobic wave was publicly revealed in Ghana in 2021, with the inauguration on January 31 of the premises of the LGBT Rights Ghana association, in the suburbs of Accra. The images of the ceremony, although modest, were relayed with indignation on social networks and quickly caused a national outcry. In February, the premises were raided and closed, the occupants expelled, most of them condemned to live in hiding following violent attacks in the media by lawyer Moses Foh-Amoaning, the executive secretary of the National Coalition for proper sexual rights and family values, a powerful religious lobby bringing together conservative Christians and Muslims.

The groundswell quickly became politicized, winning over the government and the two main parties, and leaving President Nana Akufo-Addo, a former human rights lawyer, visibly embarrassed. Eight parliamentarians, headed by opposition deputy Sam Nartey George, then drafted a bill proposing to toughen the legislation on morals in force since 1861. This sentenced “carnal activities against -nature”, without specifying them, and was no longer applied in practice.

For three years, interventions by diplomats, international organizations and spokespersons from the Ghanaian diaspora opposed to the bill have followed one another in vain. In March 2021, 67 personalities from the world of culture, including the artistic director of Louis Vuitton Virgil Abloh, since deceased, the actor Idris Elba, the model Naomi Campbell and the actress and director Michaela Coel, had signed a letter open in support of LGBT people in Ghana, saying they are “deeply concerned” about the new turn of the debates.

The United Nations then declared that such a law would create “a system of state-sponsored discrimination and violence” against sexual minorities. It would also affect the attractiveness of the country, American Ambassador Virginia Palmer warned in 2023, which was already in the midst of an economic slump.

While several African countries, such as Mozambique in 2015, Botswana in 2019, Angola in 2021, Gabon and Mauritius in 2022, have repealed laws that criminalized consensual relationships between people of the same sex, others on the contrary have adopted new repressive laws in recent years, such as Tanzania, Niger and Namibia, deplored Amnesty International. Uganda even passed a text in 2023 making “aggravated homosexuality” a capital crime, punishable by death.

In these countries, the organization notes, “laws are blatantly used to persecute and marginalize members of the LGBT community, highlighting a worrying trend of the use of legal mechanisms as instruments of oppression.”

“A Christian Nation”

Sharing this observation, political science researcher Larissa Kojoué identified in December 2023 a clear increase in homophobic acts in Ghana since 2021: police blackmail, students expelled from their school after being accused of homosexuality, tenants evicted by their landlords, threats, harassment and physical violence. MPs who, like Sam Nartey George, defend the bill by arguing that homosexuality would be contrary to "African culture", argues the Cameroonian researcher, "conveniently ignore the secular status of Ghana and African principles such as ubuntu”, which means “dignity, equality, non-discrimination, empathy”.

But is Ghana still really a secular country? President Nana Akufo-Addo received a delegation from the Global Christian Forum (GCF) at Jubilee House, the presidential palace, on February 27, the day before the bill was passed in Parliament. If Ghana is “constitutionally, a secular nation”, declared on this occasion the head of state, it is “in practice, a Christian nation”, since “the overwhelming majority of our people, 70 to 72%, claims to be Christianity.” The charismatic Christian movement, to which MP Sam Nartey George belongs and to which President Akufo-Addo is close, has long maintained close relationships with American evangelical organizations.

According to an investigation conducted by the OpenDemocracy platform, around twenty American Christian conservative lobbies invested more than $54 million in Africa from 2007 to 2020 to influence public policies, legislation and opinion against gay rights . With, as the central pillar of their program, the “creation of mass hysteria around homosexuality”.