The ongoing spectacle of intolerance in the small West African country of Ghana is no longer news. Unless you are completely unplugged from the world you know at least the following two facts:
1. Politicians in Ghana, with the blessing and urging of religious groups and leaders, have created a bill whose purpose is to crack down on and shut down LGBT activism in the country.
2. There is a spike in violence against sexual and gender minorities – the LGBT+ – across Ghana since the arrest of 29 human rights activists in May under the pretext of unlawful assembly.
The 29 arrested, held in custody for weeks pre-trial as well as while the trial unfolded, and arraigned before the court on charges that eventually failed to stick, have been released.
The bill, which is still in the house awaiting a vote that could be overwhelmingly in favour of rather than against it, is being challenged by a spirited campaign to #KillTheBill, led by local rights activists. For good reasons.
It is important to understand how unnecessary the bill is, to begin with, in order to really see the depth of loathing driving the spectacle of intolerance against the LGBTQ+ in Ghana.
Homosexuality has been illegal in Ghana from the colonial era – the criminalisation being aberration introduced by myopic Victorian English colonisers who met a diverse culture that didn’t fit the stripped-down uppity morals of their own world.
Section 104 of the Ghanaian Criminal Code of 1960 contains provisions criminalising consensual same-sex sexual acts between males. Under Section 104(1) (b) “unnatural carnal knowledge” with consent is considered a misdemeanour. Section 104 (2) defines “unnatural carnal knowledge” as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” Under Article 296(4) of the Criminal Procedural Code, a misdemeanour shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years.
These archaic laws are being challenged across Africa and the ensuing crackdowns from Cameroon to Gambia and Ghana is the response to a rising trend of younger Africans demanding a repeal of unjust colonial-era laws. A trend that, it is important to note, has seen success in Botswana, Angola, and Mozambique, all of which repealed this vile colonial inheritance in the last decade. Lesotho and the Republic of Seychelles also decriminalised homosexuality in the same time frame.
That homophobia, rather than homosexuality, is what is unAfrican has been known by even the laziest researchers of history for decades.
The history of homophobia can be traced in many an African nation to the arrival of baffled colonisers whose tasted and trusted stratagem against anything unfamiliar has been recorded in history books to be to confine it with religion or excise it with violence. It appears however that the present reality of homophobia may also have the brazenly wicked hands of some Western countries dipped in it.
As local and international Ghanaian rights activists labour day and night to #KillTheBill that proposes up to 10 years in jail for LGBTQ+ people as well as groups and individuals who advocate for their rights, express sympathy or offer social or medical support, the French Ambassador to Ghana, Anne Sophia Ave, brought as a guest on her TV show – French Touch Ghana, MP Sam George.
Sam George is the lawmaker for Ningo Prampram Constituency, and he is responsible for leading the dangerous seven-member private members bill being considered in parliament to further criminalise homosexuality. The LGBT+ community and allies rightly raised alarm and questioned why someone with such cruel recent history is given a platform beyond that which is his due – aka the parliament chamber and his house.
What followed was days of resistance and defense of what admittedly can be argued to be a French tradition – the right to open exchange even with people one disagrees with, by the ambassador. Who went so far as to like the MP’s gloating tweet further insulting the minority community he is all too happy to obliterate.
An apology, which some vocal members of the community on Twitter declared a nonapology because of its less than firm wording, eventually came from the ambassador.
Yet, the act of inviting a man who is championing a campaign that has been partly responsible for multiple instances of violence against a marginalised community still stands as a stain against the French ideal of freedom of expression. More than that, however, it begs the question, ‘Does the French ambassador believe the French more deserving of dignity than the Africans with whose country she works to establish a diplomatic relationship with her country?’
It is a question the French president, Emmanuel Macron may need to ponder and address.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in France as far back as the French revolution in 1791. The legacy of that decriminalisation is felt in both France and some of its former colonies like Benin Republic, where the attitude of leaving bedroom matters to the bedroom can be seen and felt in the absence of pre-and-post-colonial criminalisation of same-sex relationships.
While it might be that diplomatic policy requires one to operate within the populist ideals of the country they’re seeking to establish diplomatic relations with, it is important for the French to remember that fence-sitting in the face of moral evil is complacency and tacit support for said evil.
As Ghana continues to deal with its internal issues, what the rest of the world – France and its ambassador included – owe the West African tourists’ hotspot is respectful acknowledgment of the wrongness of the evil being considered by its parliament. Not imperialist meddling in sanctions or tacit approval in keeping an open arm to the perpetrators of crimes against humanity.