Protesters against bill in Ghana / @ShadickWabwe on Twitter

The parliament of Ghana is set to vote on a bill extending the country’s prohibition on certain activities carried out by LGBTQ+ people and promotion of such activities. The bill is likely to pass.

The “Promotion of Proper Human and Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021” prohibits non-heterosexual intimacy as well as public presentation contrary to one’s biological sex. There are fines and jail sentences for convicted offenders.

It also mandates reporting by witnesses, prohibits same-sex marriage, bans LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and provides a framework for LGBTQ+ people to seek treatment or therapy to help them overcome their non-traditional sexual inclinations.

Of course, the media in North America and Europe have had their knickers in a bunch ever since they learned of the bill’s existence. In an interview with the main lawmaker behind it, Sam “Dzata” George, the BBC’s Claire McDonald quoted the Bible and Pope Francis out of context to defend LGBTQ+ people. 

Reuters pulled boilerplate out of the United Nations to pan the bill, claiming that it criminalises LGBTQ+ people (emphasis mine) and will make it harder for this already vulnerable community to access anti-HIV treatment. It even went so far as to report the concern expressed by foreign aid donors over the law.

But CNN, dean of the spin masters, won the foaming mouth contest hands down. It tried to draw a remote connection between the bill and the World Congress of Families, which it says is affiliated with the American far right and has been criticised for being an “exporter of hate” by LGBTQ+ rights groups.

The WCF held a conference in 2019 in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and CNN’s evaluation found language in the bill to be similar to the content of that conference, and so there must have been a connection. Never mind that Sam George, the main drafter of the bill, says he learnt about the WCF from his first CNN interviewer.

But that wasn’t all CNN pulled out of its hat. The network dug deep, going back to the collapse of the Soviet Union to find a connection between the WCF (and the bill, by extension) and Russia. Yes, Russia, CNN’s ever-giving scapegoat, had to carry some blame for an obscure bill in one of Africa’s most democratic countries.

Larry Madowo, a Kenyan anchor who works with CNN, also interviewed Sam George concerning the bill, and pulled up all the epithets that have been used against people inimical to the LGBTQ+ lobby, accusing him of being full of hate for LGBTQ+ people.

Now, I have read the bill [PDF], and I think that, in their quest to castigate, these media houses have lost a great opportunity to engage in a genuine conversation about family values and the place of LGBTQ+ people in Africa. For all their moralising noise and fury, they’ve only served to embolden the honourable George and his colleagues in their resolve to see the bill passed and implemented.

The bill seems to have widespread support in Ghana. The National House of Chiefs issued a statement in February expressing his rejection of LGBTQ+ ideology:

“The House wants to state without equivocation that throughout history, nowhere does the Ghanaian culture subscribe to LGBTQI which is a taboo, inhuman and alien to our society …In God’s wisdom, man and woman were created to fulfil the procreation of humans on earth to satisfy God’s will…The symbolism for sex [and] marriage was between man and woman, as such, the idea of man marrying man and woman marrying woman is an abomination to our tradition and culture as Ghanaians …”

I especially detest the fact that they thought it useful to pull the donor tag. It is rather demeaning to think that, just because some countries support others, they have a right to undermine the values of those they support.

Back in 2011 UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that the UK would review its foreign aid in countries which were not gay-friendly. “British aid should have more strings attached,” he told the BBC. The President of Ghana at the time, John Atta Mills, responded testily:

“While we acknowledge all the financial assistance and all the aid which has been given to us by our development partners, we will not accept any aid with strings attached if that will not inure to our interests or the implementation or the utilisation of that aid with strings attached would rather worsen our plight as a nation or destroy the very society we want to use the money to improve.”

Threats are not only in bad taste, they are actual neo-colonialism. I thought these media houses were all against white supremacy and its associated ills. Besides, no African state has ever forced another country to provide aid. Here’s some news: America, Britain and their friends can withhold their aid and Africa will actually be just fine.

By the way, the United States ranks 83 out of 100 in Freedom House’s Global Freedom index. Ghana ranks 82. Ghana is not an authoritarian country.

In any case, I say a golden opportunity was lost because the bill does deserve some criticism. From my reading of it, I get the sense that, though it’s backed by a noble intent, some of its provisions, unfortunately, open up a side door for the abuse of people who are already quite vulnerable.

Of course, this does not taint the entire law. In particular, its prohibition of LGBTQ+ advocacy, which is especially destructive to children, even in the West, and its other provisions for the protection of minors, are praiseworthy.

Also worthy of note is the fact that the bill has provisions for the dignified treatment of suspected offenders against it, specifying jail time and fines for anyone who harms them extrajudicially, and protects their privacy. I think this latter provision might actually make the more draconian provisions of the bill impossible to prosecute.

Mr George says the bill was a reaction to the lavish opening of a large LGBTQ+ support centre in the Accra in January 2021, which was graced by the attendance of the Danish ambassador, the Australian high commissioner and EU delegates. (The centre closed a month later.)

That event was a wake-up call for him and his colleagues about the state of affairs in Ghana.

Homosexual acts have been illegal in Ghana since independence, but that rule hasn’t been actively enforced. LGBTQ+ advocacy groups had taken that laxity for increasing societal tolerance of their agenda. Big mistake. The news of that opening shocked and riled up the whole country, where only 7 percent of the population is tolerant of LGBTQ+ activities (compared to over 90 percent for political, religious and cultural diversity).

A new Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Sarah Adwoa Sarfo, was horrified by the LGBTQ+ support centre. “On the issue of its criminality, [LGBTQ+ activity] is non-negotiable on the issue of cultural acceptance and norms too. These practices are also frowned upon,” she stated emphatically.

Cultural and religious leaders called for an update to the law to clarify that such activities would not be tolerated. Mr George’s bill is the answer to that clamour. It is an expression of the will of the people of Ghana, and we must see it as such if we are to have a proper conversation about it.

Have LGBTQ+ people been harassed by their fellow citizens and law enforcement officers in Ghana? Yes. Has this been because their activities are illegal? Probably not.

I have said it in MercatorNet before, but it bears repeating, that in many parts of Africa, people are viscerally revolted by the very idea that a man can have sex with a man, leave alone try to live like a woman. Even if these acts were tolerated by the law, most people here would still disapprove of them. But does the law need to be modified to be kinder to these members of our society anyway? I think so.

This is where the Western LGBTQ+ train goes off the rails. For some reason, they think it will be possible to impose tolerance for their community in Africa from the top down. It seems they think that if they open the centres, plaster themselves all over the news, sneak in agreements through supranational agencies, and radically rewrite the law, then people will come around.

Well, Africa has some news for the LGBTQ+ lobby. This approach will fail, friends. Pompous moralising can’t magically turn something people detest into something they admire. If anything, it will most likely result in more kneejerk reactions of the kind that precipitated the bill in Ghana.

A tolerant future for LGBTQ+ people in Africa is possible. But it will have to come through genuine dialogue.

Mathew Otieno

Mathew Otieno writes from Kisumu, Kenya.