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‘God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah’: Why the Western push to promote LGBTQ in this African country could backfire

Ghana’s Family Values bill seeks to balance a reliance on foreign aid with tradition, religion, and the anticolonial narrative

Ghana, a west African country with deeply ingrained cultural and religious values, is grappling with issues surrounding the criminalization of LGBTQ lifestyles. In February 2024, the country’s parliament passed The Promotion of Proper Sexual Rights and Family Values bill, which seeks to promote traditional Ghanaian family values. The bill imposes penalties, including imprisonment for up to five years, for the promotion of LGBTQ activities.

Although the bill received unanimous support from both caucuses of the parliament, it still requires the assent of the president to become law. However, its progression has been halted by a lawsuit, citing concerns of discrimination against a section of the population, which has prevented the president from reviewing it until the supreme court determines its legality.

The hearing, adjourned in May 2024 due to allegations that the petitioners had used inflammatory language, resumed this month. The fate of the bill is now in limbo as the Supreme court of Ghana is expected to give its final verdict later this year. The pending verdict is particularly significant as it will determine whether the bill can be promulgated into law. This will also help determine Ghana’s ability to uphold its sovereignty amid pressure from western countries and institutions.

Ghana’s situation reflects the complex dilemma of African countries in deciding on the position of LGBTQ in their institutional framework. It is illegal in 32 countries including Nigeria, Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia where death penalty can be imposed on people engaging in gay sex. In Uganda, the office of the president has referred to homosexuals as “sick people” who need help. This sentiment has been echoed by the former president of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, who questioned why humans should be compelled to engage in activities even animals do not do. South Africa remains the only African country to have legalized homosexuality while others such as Rwanda have rejected discussions on the issue.

Legal landscape: colonial or not?

In Ghana, although there’s no specific law criminalizing LGBTQ activities, attempts to regulate them are based on a perception either of a western-imposed value system that contradicts Ghanaian norms, or from a human rights perspective.

FILE PHOTO. LGBT+ campaigners from the African Equality Foundation attend a protest opposite Westminster Abbey coordinated by the Peter Tatchell Foundation to coincide with leaders of thirty Commonwealth countries arriving for a Commonwealth 75th anniversary service on 11th March 2024 in London, UK.

©  Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images

Ghana has sought to apply section 104 of its 1960 criminal code on issues of LGBTQ. The law criminalizes “unnatural carnal knowledge of a person or animal.” For instance, in 2021 a group of LGBTQ activists were arrested by the police for what was described as unlawful assembly meant to promote LGBTQ activities, but were later acquitted after a backlash from the international community. 

Section 104 of the criminal code has since been criticized as ‘misrepresentation of the law’ and a colonial remnant that does not reflect today’s realities, given its failure to define what exactly constitutes unnatural carnal knowledge.

In Botswana, in interpreting the legality of article 164 of the Penal code of 1964 in the case of Letsweletse Mostshidiemang, the high court made reference to the Indian Penal code written by the English lawyer, Macaulay, of 1860, which stated “unnatural offences as whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years andshall also be liable to a fine”.

The ruling established that same-sex activities had been prohibited under British colonial rule, and thus the concept of unnatural carnal knowledge had been applied across most British colonies, including Gold coast (now Ghana) by the colonial government, a move former British prime minister, Theresa May says she deeply regrets.

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However, 100 years after Macauley’s laws were enacted in India, the British colonial government of Botswana revised its stance on the issue, having adopted the Sexual offences act of 1967, which gave right to consensual adults to engage in homosexual activities.

Following from that, some African countries such as South Africa and Mozambique decriminalised sodomy. Certain former British colonies such as Ghana and Botswana, on the other hand, adopted the concept of ‘unnatural carnal knowledge’ after gaining independence.

How it is seen in traditional culture

Prior to colonization traditional Ghanaian society was characterized by a complex family system that emphasized procreation with distinct gender-based role definitions. Men were considered to be heads of their families and could become chiefs, while women held enviable traditional power positions such as that of queen mother, playing significant roles in the conferring of chiefs and ushering young girls into adulthood /marriage. In the Akan traditional society (an ethnic group in Ghana), when a girl experienced menarche (her first menstrual cycle), she was taken to the queen mother of the community, fed and adorned in a white garment indicating readiness to be married.

Such overt emphasis on gender roles indicates the importance pre-colonial Ghanaian society placed on distinguishing between men and women.

©  Satyrenko/Getty Images

Marriage as the foundational unit of society was largely based on the ability to conceive, with child-bearing being particularly important for inheritance purposes. In matrilineal societies such as the Akan, a man’s heirs were his sister’s children while in the patrilineal society, the man’s sons inherited his properties.

The entrenchment of gender roles and procreation in the sexual and family traditions of pre-colonial Ghanaian society highlights the recognition of men and women as genders given at birth. Consequently, the concept of LGBTQ was considered alien, hence irrelevant, in the discussions of sexual socialization, even if they secretly existed. 

By this, the National House of Chiefs argues: “Nowhere does the Ghanaian culture subscribe to LGBTQI+ which is a taboo, inhuman and alien to our society. The idea of man marrying man and woman marrying woman is an abomination to our culture and traditions as Ghanaians.”

Therefore, the concept of ‘unnatural carnal behavior / intercourse’ introduced by the British colonial government did not face resistance because it was already consistent with Ghana’s traditional values at the time. This explains its inclusion in the criminal code of Ghana after gaining independence in 1957.

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In view of that, attempts by Western countries to advocate for the acceptance of homosexuality in Ghana as a right can be perceived as an attempt to impose a foreign culture and not reversal of a British colonial legacy because “Ghana has societal norms that are different from those of the United Kingdom “, as emphasized by John Evans Atta Mills, a former president of Ghana.

Religious influence

Many religions were introduced in Ghana from different regions of the world and have since become integral to Ghanaian society. Christian missionaries arrived on the Gold coast (now Ghana) in the fifteenth for example, though the imperial motives significantly influenced the spread of their teachings. The bible was interpreted in such a manner that suited the colonial agenda of the origin State.

This is evident in the notorious King Leopold’s 1883 letter to missionaries in Congo where he forbade teaching about God and acknowledged the existence of their own religion and understanding of divinity. Instead, he directed missionaries to teach a love of poverty and insist on total submission to other various institutions.

The Missionaries in Ghana built schools to enforce their policies. This historical account explains why most schools have strong affiliations to the Christian denominations. Consequently, christianity gained momentum and spread extensively across the country, becoming the largest religion in Ghana.

According to the 2021 Ghana census, 71% of the population is Christian, 18% is Muslim, and 3% adhere to indigenous or animistic religious beliefs.

Ahead of Ghana’s upcoming presidential elections in December 2024 we could ask what better strategic approach could there be to securing a simple majority than appealing to a religious perspective of events?

In view of that, and whether out of religious morality or political expediency, the presidential candidates for the two main political parties (National Patriotic Party and National Democratic Congress) on the LGBTQ matter has largely been based on their religious convictions. Both strongly oppose the legitimization of homosexuality, sentiments that have been echoed by the president of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo, despite his earlier stated acceptance of its inevitability. 

While distinguishing between a religious and political stance on the issue is a complex task, one cannot doubt the overt disdain for the concept of LGBTQ within the various religious denominations in Ghana.

Speaking to RT, Reverend Peter Asare, a Ghanaian Christian priest of the Assemblies of God church (a Christian denomination in Ghana) stated: “For Ghanaians, customs and traditions are very important. Christianity and tradition complement each other. You can’t separate them. This is why a priest is called upon to bless traditional ceremonies like marriage, naming ceremony and other traditional events”.

When asked about the position of the religious leaders on the issue of LGBTQ, he said:”Ghanaian society tolerates everyone. We do not discriminate against anyone. However, biblically, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for this act because during creation, God saw the need to have married couple to procreate to fill the earth. That is why he created Adam and Eve, and we are obliged to fulfil the purposes of God”.

Aid, boycotts, and sponsorships

On a visit to Ghana in March 2023, US Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the issue of LGBTQ, following a question from an American journalist.

FILE PHOTO. US Vice President Kamala Harris address youth gathered on Black Star square in Accra, Ghana, on March 28, 2023.

©  Misper Apawu / POOL / AFP

“It’s an issue that we (the US government) consider, and I consider to be a human rights issue, and that will not change,” she stated.

The US vice president’s comment triggered the already brewing skepticism about the role of western institutions in the country. Foh-Amoaning, executive director for Ghana National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values, argued, that the question was staged and the primary purpose of the visit was to promote LGBTQ activities in the country. 

“The intelligence we gathered showed that Kamala Harris is coming to promote this (LGBT) agenda. I can tell you that the question asked by the New York Times journalist was planned”, he said.

Foh-Amoaning also referred to a comment by the US ambassador to Ghana, Virginia Palmer, that passing the bill into law will discourage foreign investors, an assertion MP Samuel Nartey George, a principal advocate of the bill, disagrees with. He believes, “the West needs Ghana, American businesses operating today in Ghana are not doing so because of LGBTQI. We must stop cheapening ourselves and making it look like we have no sense of self-worth”.

FILE PHOTO. U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, Virginia E Palmer speaks on stage during Global Citizen Festival 2022: Accra on September 24, 2022 in Accra, Ghana.

©  Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Global Citizen

Drawing on Ghana’s historic struggle for independence, the MP has threatened to launch a campaign against all US businesses. By this, he invoked the memories of Nii Kwabena Bonney, a prominent Ghanaian businessman during colonialism who in 1948 called for the reduction of exorbitant prices imposed by European firms from the colonial states.

Following a British colonial government refusal to pay Ghanaian army veterans who fought in World War 2, Ghanaians responded by boycotting goods from the colonial powers. The colonial government however retaliated with force by shooting three ex-service men to death, sparking a series of protests which ultimately forced the colonial power to grant independence to Ghana in 1957.

Despite the backlash, the US government remains resolute in its quest to promote LGBTQ activities in Ghana, by hoisting the rainbow flag in their embassy. Together with some allied western countries, they have labelled the bill that has the full backing of parliament as draconian, and threatened economic sanctions on Ghana similar to those imposed on Uganda, should the president sign the bill into law.

Ghana’s economy is in trouble, struggling to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The government was forced to default on loan repayment and develop stringent austerity measures as part of a $3 billion IMF bailout. Consequently, the Ministry of Finance has also urged the president not to approve the bill as it will jeopardize Ghana’s access to $3.8 billion in World Bank funding for up to six years.

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Nathaniel Dwamena, President of the African Institute of DeFi and Blockchain and the YAFO Institute (policy research organization in Ghana), told to RT: “Regarding IMF and World Bank financial assistance, we are yet to hear from representatives of these institutions on the issue. So far, it’s the representatives of the ruling government (Reps from the Ministry of Finance) who have extensively stated that these institutions will withdraw financial support from Ghana should the country passes the Proper Family values bill that criminalizes LGBT activities. 

“Ghana needs to have a re-look at its policies as a developing country. The high unemployment rate, currently standing at 13% in Ghana is what drives many individuals into LGBT activities, which are considered as part of ‘black market’ activities including prostitution”, Nathaniel said.

He adds: “There is a perception that LGBT individuals are rich. The sources of sponsorship for LGBT individuals remain unclear, but it is evident that people get into LGBT circle as a form of financial support due to unemployment”.

Ghana’s heavy reliance on aid from the United States and institutions such as the IMF and World Bank has put its government in a delicate position regarding the family values bill. 

The issue of LGBTQ acceptance in Ghana illustrates the concept of neo-colonialism articulated by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in his book “Neo-colonialism, the last stage of Imperialism.” According to him, the imperial power sees the dependent nation as sovereign only from a theoretical point of view while it covertly influences the dependant nation’s economic and political policies from the outside.

As global society moves towards a multipolar world, Ghana is seeking to forge genuine partnerships across the globe and to make independent decisions including on issues of LGBTQ, as a sovereign country.

June 18, 2024 at 10:28PM

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