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Ghana’s proposed anti-gay bill presents a tough call for Akufo-Addo government 

By Jonas Nyabor
Posted on Friday, 20 August 2021 14:14

Detained Ghanaian LGBT+ activists appear in court in Ho
Alex Kofi Donkor, Human Rights Advocate and an LGBTQ activist, speaks to journalists after the court hearing of the twenty-one people, who where detained by police and accused of unlawful assembly and promoting an LGBTQ agenda, at the Ho Circuit Court in Ho, Volta Region-Ghana. June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

Ghana is mulling an anti-gay law that will criminalise LGBTQ+ advocacy and jail LGBTQ+ people for at least five years. However, is it a political tool being used by the opposition to corner President Nana Akufo-Addo's administration? Akufo-Addo now has a difficult choice to make.

It may seem like the proposed bill will easily receive parliamentary endorsement and presidential assent in this socially conservative country. However, a spirited opposition by influential citizens as well as donor agencies – and the surprising silence of government officials – sends a different signal.

Discussions about LGBTQ+ rights in Ghana touch on sensitive chords: culture and religion. Crusaders behind the bill base their arguments on the belief that LGBTQ+ activities are alien to the country’s cultural norms and values, and are also frowned upon by all major religious groups in Ghana.

The Christian Council of Ghana – an umbrella body of Christian churches in Ghana – has declared its support to the bill. “The council wishes to state unequivocally that it supports the bill and prays that it will see the light today… Let us protect the good family system that we have inherited from our forebears,” it said in an official statement.

In February, when early bells for an anti-LGBTQ+ law began ringing, the Office of the National Chief Imam, said “homosexuality is a deviant behaviour totally unacceptable in Islam. Although our religion allows us latitude to ponder and reconsider some issues, homosexuality is certainly not one of them.”

This is something that we see as an abomination; it is something that we abhor and therefore, we will continue to [adhere] to our culture.

The social media war on the subject shows the pendulum swinging largely to the side of anti-gay activists; but the political arena appears to be a one-sided game, at least in the eyes of the public. While it is believed that there is cross-party backing for the controversial bill, the faces and loudest voices behind it are members of the opposition party, National Democratic Congress (NDC).

Out of the eight parliamentarians who signed off on the draft bill, only one – John Ntim Fordjour, a conservative preacher and long-known anti-gay activist – is from the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP). “It is a bold step to take. It has earned him my respect because he stood by what his convictions are and he has damned the consequences,” said Sam George, an NDC member of parliament who is leading the crusade.

George tells The Africa Report that more NPP lawmakers were expected to append their signatures but “[because of] the challenges some of those MPs may have been put under on the day of signing… I would not want to pass judgement on them because I know what their personal commitment to this bill is.”

Government vs. opposition?

Interestingly, this would not be the first time that the LGBTQ+ community would be used in Ghana as a political football to score points off the opposition.

In 2013, the NPP’s director of communications Yaw Buabeng Asamoah tried to link an alleged photo of former NDC president John Dramini Mahama with the writer and gay rights activist Andrew Solomon. However, George denied that the bill is meant to corner the government. “This has no political colouration. It is a national agenda. I would love to see them [government] stand up for the constitution and show up,” he said.

Shooting down the bill could deal a big blow to the governing party and its future election prospects.

It is important to note that in February 2021, government officials including Godfred Dame (the attorney general); Kojo Oppong Nkrumah (information minister); Sarah Adwoa Safo (minister for gender, children and social protection); and Ebenezer Kojo Kum (chieftaincy  and religious affairs minister) took a tough stance against LGBTQ+ activities and activists during their respective ministerial vetting sessions.

International community pushback

The Australian high commissioner to Ghana, Gregory Andrews, whose government continues to invest heavily in different areas of Ghana’s economy, has been vocal on the subject.

The diplomat’s passion for LGBTQ+ persons has not been hidden. He was among the influential faces behind the opening of a resource center for LGBTQI+ persons in Accra that was later raided and closed down by security officials in May.

“On the LGBTQ+ issues, Australia will really encourage Ghana’s parliament not to pass legislation that would discriminate the LGBTQ+ community, remove their rights or to make it illegal for people to advocate for their human rights,” he said during an April 2021 meeting with Ghana’s speaker of parliament, Alban Bagbin.

Bagbin, who until 2021 was a long-serving NDC MP, responded saying: “We already have a legal framework within which to work. We will not legislate to infringe on the human rights of people, but we will legislate to ensure that culture and traditions are not violated. This is something that we see as an abomination, it is something that we abhor and therefore, we will continue to go according to our culture.”

However, the public LGBTQ+ advocacy by diplomats and international organisations seems to have rattled many government officials into silence on the bill.

‘Fear and anxiety’

“The bill is the most homophobic document we have ever seen. Our fear is that the bill is far-reaching; it may become a template that would be used to introduce homophobic laws in other African countries,” Rightify Ghana, an LGBTQ+-advocacy group, said in its response to The Africa Report via Twitter.

The group said it wants the president to consider his human rights background and the potential economic and social implications assenting to the bill may bring upon the country and immediately reject it.

…the US – Ghana’s biggest aid donor – Britain, the European Union, and the World Bank have already expressed their discomfort with the bill.

“We believe the President Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo will not assent hurriedly to the bill, however we do not think he will never do it. We are urging the president to reject the bill because he has touted himself as a person who support[s] human rights,” the group said. “Both the US government and World Bank cautioned Ghana after the Ho 21 [LGBTQ+ activists] were arrested. So, passing this bill would have economic consequences.”

Professor Henry Kwesi Prempeh, the executive director of the Center for Democratic Development (CDD),  is uncertain as to whether President Akufo-Addo will assent to the bill even if it gets parliamentary approval given its ‘extremist’ and ‘intolerant’ nature and the president’s human rights credentials.

According to him, Ghana may face legal actions internationally if the president signs off on the bill. “It may well pass [in parliament], whether or not the president will sign the bill into law, it is doubtful…It might even go beyond Ghana’s courts. It could go to regional courts because I think this is a very extreme display of intolerance,” he said.

‘Bound to happen but not now’

President Akufo-Addo told Aljazeera’s Jane Dutton in 2017 that homosexuality was bound to exist in Ghana if there was a strong coalition advocating for it.

“I think it is something that is bound to happen. [However] at the moment, I don’t feel that […] there is that strong current of opinion that is saying that this is something that we need [to] even deal with. It is not […] a matter which is on the agenda,” he said.

Three years later, the president said “it will not be under the presidency of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo that same-sex marriage will be legal.” Though assenting to the anti-gay bill may boost public ratings of the NPP government, the move could hamper Ghana’s international reputation and donor inflows. A Reuters report indicates that the US – Ghana’s biggest aid donor, Britain, European Union, Britain and the World Bank have already expressed their discomfort with the bill.

However, Gabby Otchere-Darko, an influential figure in the governing party, believes that the promoters of the bill deliberately want to put the government in a fix.

Government officials and the president have stayed tightlipped on their position on the bill. Shooting down the bill could deal a big blow to the governing party and its future election prospects in Ghana, a country once seen as a shining light of democracy and respect for human rights in Africa.

An 18-member constitutional, legal and parliamentary affairs committee of Ghana’s parliament is reviewing the bill ahead of a larger debate by the legislators on whether or not it should be approved. An approval vote will leave the ball in the court of President Nana Akufo-Addo to make a final decision.

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