Ghana, a country often regarded as among the most progressively democratic nations in Africa, homosexuality remains illegal, punishable by up to three years imprisonment. A recent Pew survey of various countries, not all African, reveals that 98 percent of Ghanaians feel that homosexuality is “morally unacceptable,” the highest percentage of any country surveyed.
“In Ghana, everybody is culturally and religiously blinded,” says Fred K., an openly gay man living in the Ghanaian capital of Accra who didn’t want to share his last name for fear of criminal and social repercussions. “They think that it’s demonic … so I just pray that a time comes that they decide to change and be like the Western countries.”
The HRC/HRF report is out just a week before U.S. President Barack Obama is slated to hold the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.. Advocates from the U.S. and Africa are jumping on that opportunity to bring the the continent’s controversial LGBT rights record to the world’s attention.
“My fellow gays don’t want anything to be legalized,” Nana Yaw, a human rights activist and openly gay man, says. “All they want is for their rights to be respected and protected.”
For years now Ghana has styled itself as sort of an Israel for Blacks. Just as Israel presents itself as a destination and homeland for every Jew throughout the world, Ghana likes people to think of it like a home away from home for the African Diaspora. The African nation takes their enticement so seriously, in fact, that they’ve long considered allowing African-Americans to have dual citizenship. Though the government has yet to follow through on its goal to one day provide a legal home for international Blacks, at least one Black American does hold both an American passport and a Ghanaian passport.
Ghana was once a major channel for African slavery, a memory Ghanaians do not take lightly. "We want Africans everywhere, no matter where they live or how they got there, to see Ghana as their gateway home," J. Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ghana's tourism minister, told the New York Times in 2005. "We hope we can help bring the African family back together again."
Ghana’s move to bring farflung Africans back together is, in many ways, beautiful, which is why their latest bit of controversial legislation is so sad. This week, following a news report that noted a rise in homosexual relationships, a minister in charge of Ghana’s oil-rich Western sector called on the government to arrest gays and lesbians. There is currently no distinct law against homosexuality in Ghana, a very Christian nation, but there is a precedent for people being arrested for having gay sex.
Thankfully, a human-rights lawyer told Reuters that people “should not be worried about it because it does not really mean anything within the context of the law.” Still, it’s easy to worry when a major official is saying that people should be arrested on the basis of who they are. What makes the pronouncement even sadder is that it calls into question the true openness of Ghana. Blacks from everywhere are apparently welcome—just as long as they’re not gay.