Backlash in Ghana: New anti-gay legislation discussed

a Ghana headline from 2003: but we need more laws!

Ghana, in recent months, has been the scene of a mounting moral panic about the “threat” of homosexuality. The press warns about  “increasing growth In numbers” of homosexuals:

Some people make the claim that homosexuality (sexual relations between people of the same sex) became known in Ghana when tourists, international workers and even missionaries flooded the country in the 70s. Those within the group who were homosexuals invited innocent boys to their houses, flushed them with gifts and money and promised to send them to the rich countries. … Many Ghanaians went abroad and returned as homosexuals. Many also went to prison and indulged in gay habits which became habitual, and followed them even after their release from prison.

Girls also pick it from boarding secondary schools. Senior girls have their “supi” and only God knows what they do with them. There are now gay prostitutes in Ghana.

Some people claim that homosexuality is not a disease and it cannot be cured. They claim, further, that even though somebody can entice you to have anal intercourse that cannot make you a homosexual. One is born that way. However, another school of thought insists that one can be addicted through being enticed to practice it.

The Christian Council of Ghana condemns the “detestable and abominable act” :    

Declaring the position of the Council on homosexuality in Ghana, Reverend Dr Fred Deegbe, General Secretary of the Council, said the issue of homosexuality had become so serious that Ghana had witnessed gay marriages . … He said the Council had observed with dismay the claim of homosexuals that nowhere in scripture was homosexuality and the same-sex committed and loving relationships condemned and called for the need for Christians to frown such behaviours.

He explained that some Ghanaian youths have adopted and emulated certain lifestyles including homosexuality being practiced by the western world and there was the need to condemn this abomination from happening on Ghanaian soil. “We Ghanaians and for that matter Africans cherish our rich and strong values on issues such as homosexuality and we must not allow anyone or group of people to impose what is acceptable in their culture on us in the name of human rights”.

The baiting quickly moved into the political arena. When an opposition-party expert on health said the right to privacy protected private sexual acts, and asked “Why should what two people do in their privacy without confronting anybody, be subject to the law?” — a presidential spokesman accused his entire party of “supporting and promoting the activities of homosexuality in Ghana.”   And the Minister for Ghana’s Western Region promptly “tasked the Bureau of National Investigations and all security agencies to smoke out persons suspected to be engaging in same sex.”

He also enlisted the services of landlords and tenants to provide reliable information which will lead to the arrest of homosexuals.  His directive follows months of campaigns against the practice of homosexuality in the country.

Fortunately, that order appeared to be mostly hot air and bluster.

But the British government’s recent public claim that it will link overseas aid to human rights performance, especially singling out LGBT rights as an issue, has served to make the “threat” homosexuality poses explicit. Now the homophobes know what they’re fighting, and they are fighting mad. Yesterday Ghana’s President proclaimed he would forgo foreign aid if necessary: “I will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana.”

Today comes news that the country’s parliament may consider new legislation to keep homosexuality from “flourishing.”

In Ghana, legislators are set to begin discussions on strengthening legal sanctions against practicing homosexuals.

This came after British Prime Minister Dave Cameron threatened to withdraw aid from countries that ban homosexuality. But Ghanaian President John Atta-Mills sharply says his government will never legalize homosexuality.

President Atta-Mills was quoted as saying “no one can deny Prime Minister Cameron his right to make policies, take initiatives or make statements that reflect his societal norms and ideals.  But he does not have the right to direct other sovereign nations as to what they should do especially where their societal norms and ideals are different from those which exist in the Prime Minister’s society.”

Catherine Afeku, an opposition MP, offered a somewhat ambiguous note of caution. She has previously “called for a comprehensive policy from government on the way forward when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.” She echoed previous reminders of protections for private life:

Member of Parliament Catherine Afeku says there seems to be overwhelming support from legislators backing a review of the penal code to address homosexuality. “Ninety-nine percent of the members in the chamber support the statement that as a people, our cultural norms, our societal upbringing, does not accept homosexuality,” said Afeku. “But, once we have brought out the emotional condemnation, we have to put our thinking caps on and look at the law… What people do in their rooms cannot be legislated upon because we don’t have anything on the books right now that will punish that act.”

It’s not clear, then, what any new legislation might do, since Ghana still retains its colonial-era sodomy law punishing “unnatural carnal knowledge.” It could follow the lines of Nigeria‘s or Uganda‘s long-bruited bills: prohibiting organizing around sexuality, advocating for human rights, or any form of public visibility.  Or it might strengthen the existing law’s intrusion into private life.

Or the rhetoric might die down in due time, as the advantages of political posturing recede. What’s certain is that Cameron’s own posturing continues to feed a backlash across Africa. It’s hard not to think: God save us from our friends. And in that spirit, a coalition of sexual rights and human rights groups in Ghana issued a statement today:

Press Release on the British Prime Minister’s ‘Homosexuality Threat’ To Ghana

Accra, 03 November, 2011: The Coalition against Homophobia in Ghana (CAHG), the Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana (GALAG) and other LGBT Networks in Ghana are surprised and in total shock at the increased interest by the UK government to withdraw aid to some African countries who are homophobic. Though the Coalition have no problem with calling on government to abide by the British code of conduct for financial support, we believe LGBT people do not live in isolation in Africa.  We have families and friends who need these aids to survive on daily basis.

Cutting aid to some selected Africa countries due to homophobic laws therefore will not help the LGBT people in these countries, but will rather stigmatize these groups and individuals. LGBT people will be used as scape goats for government inability to support its citizens and some sectors of the economy.

The challenge now is that,

1.     Homosexuality is now being seen as western import due to the continuous threats from the UK government. It is now difficult to convince the ordinary person on the street that homosexuality was not imported into Africa; although we know and have always had African indigenous people who are born homosexuals.

2.     LGBT groups and organizations are finding it very   difficult and risky to organize their programs due to such threats and continuous discussion on radio and television stations in Ghana.

3.     Support from government agencies for LGBT programs with regards to health will be affected since the government will not want to be seen as promoting or supporting LGBT activities in the country.

We believe the UK government can use diplomacy to get some of these important issues across to the countries noted for promoting hate against homosexuals or the LGBT community in Africa. We encourage the UK government to find other alternative way to address the issue other than this option, which is going to increase   the level of stigma, violence and discrimination against LGBT people in Africa.

Though all these noise continue to go against LGBT groups and individuals in Africa, development partners never supports LGBT initiatives on the ground. Embassies and consulates including the EU offices continue to turn deaf ears to LGBT issues insisting that their priorities do not include LGBT people in Africa. 

We are by this release appealing to development partners to channel some support to LGBT groups and organization in countries like Ghana to support local or internal advocacy as well as network building with state institutions.

This we believe will go a long way to help the LGBT people in Ghana and Africa at large.

###

For more information, please contact the coalition on coalition.homophobia.gh@gmail.com

Signed: 

1.     Coalition against Homophobia in Ghana

2.     Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights, Ghana

3.     Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana (GALAG)

4.     Face AIDS Ghana

5.     National Association of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (NAP+)

6.     Development Communication Initiatives – Ghana

7.     Young People Advocate for a Change

8.     Youth and Human Rights -, Ghana

The lines harden

Atta Mills: Not in my back yard

The Ghana News Agency reports more consequences of the UK move. Recalcitrant leaders now see the benefits of carving their homophobia in stone:

Accra, Nov. 2, GNA – President John Evans Atta Mills on Wednesday stated categorically that he as the Head of State he will not support any attempt to flourish homosexuality in Ghana.

“I as president of this nation I will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana.

“As government we will abide by the principles as contained in our Constitution, which is supreme.”

President Mills stated the government’s position on issues of homosexuality in an interaction with journalists at the Osu castle in Accra.

British Prime Minister David Cameron following the Commonwealth heads of state meeting in Perth, Australia threatened a cut in the flow of development assistance if African countries did not relax or reform their laws to favour homosexuality.

He was said to have mentioned particularly Ghana and Uganda for maintaining strict laws against homosexuality.

President Mills acknowledged the development assistance from the United Kingdom to Ghana, but said the country would not accept any aid with strings attached if that aid would not inure to Ghana’s interest or would rather worsen the plight or destroy the people whose lives the money was supposed to improve.

Growing pains: More on British aid

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg with the Queen

Kirk Cameron, the former child star and British Prime Minister, has threatened developing countries with dire consequences if they do not eliminate the sodomy laws that his distant ancestor Alan Thicke brought in his hand baggage on Qantas. Trapped in a loveless civil union with coalition partner and former rapper Marky Mark, Cameron made the move to bolster falling poll ratings among key fans. Possible sanctions include plagues of boils, locusts, and frogs, conversion of first-born children to child stars, and massive increases in agricultural development aid that would reduce the entire population to starvation. “These countries don’t want to be left behind,” Cameron said, referring to the popular series in which twelve contestants from all walks of life, stranded on a remote island in an exotic location after the Rapture, compete in tests of skill to keep God from throwing them into eternal damnation. “British aid should have more strings attached, in terms of do you persecute people for their faith or their Christianity, or do you persecute people for their sexuality.”

No. No. This is all wrong. It’s late; my mind isn’t working. Former child star David Cameron is the current British Prime Minister. Kirk Cameron, current child star and former Prime Minister, lives in Moldova, where he eats children in his converted castle on the Transylvanian border.

The silliness and posturing over Cameron I’s proclamation that he will tie overseas aid to LGBT rights issues has started. It is risible indeed, but it’s no laughing matter to the people whose rights will be affected.  An advisor to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told the BBC that Cameron had a “bullying mentality”:

“Uganda is, if you remember, a sovereign state and we are tired of being given these lectures by people … If they must take their money, so be it.  … But this kind of ex-colonial mentality of saying: ‘You do this or I withdraw my aid’ will definitely make people extremely uncomfortable with being treated like children.”

The main political consequence? Repressive leaders and regressive initiatives now have a new excuse to couch themselves as anti-colonial assertions of independence. In Nigeria, where a new bill to restrict LGBT people’s rights is moving forward, a news source reports:

One of the backers of the same sex prohibition ban … told USAfricaonline.com that “Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron still think [sic] we are under his colonial rule. Let him keep his financial aid  and same sex agenda. Nonsense. He wants to run our country for us?”

And in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s supporters are wielding Cameron’s comments to undercut opposition leader (and Prime Minister) Morgan Tsvangirai, who recently voiced support for including sexual orientation protections in a new Constitution.

“It is possible that Morgan Tsvangirai could have been told by whites in the UK that part of their support to him would include him publicly supporting issues to do with gay rights in Zimbabwe. That could be the threat he was issued by the British and we all know that Tsvangirai has never been his own man,” said Mr Alexander Kanengoni [an author and former Mugabe propagandist who was allotted a farm in the violent land reforms ten years ago]. …

Zanu-PF spokesperson Cde Rugare Gumbo said it was clear that the British were pushing Mr Tsvangirai to support gay rights in Zimbabwe.  “There is a clear link between what Cameron said and what Tsvangirai is now advocating, and it is not surprising. They (MDC-T) [Tsvangirai’s party] are sponsored by the British and the West and they have to toe the line. Failure to do so would cost them British support,” he said.

It’s still not clear what Cameron’s initiative means in practice. When the UK cut back on aid to Malawi in July, after months of bluster about human rights, the reductions were limited to general budget support — a form of assistance that allows governments maximum flexibility in allocating the funds, “to deliver their own national strategies for poverty reduction against an agreed set of targets.”  Money shifted to other channels, and the overall donation figure didn’t change. But the scope of what will happen matters less than the publicity, which makes LGBT people’s human rights look like neocolonial meddling.  As a coalition of African activists wrote last week, their movements have

been working through a number of strategies to entrench LGBTI issues into broader  civil society issues, to shift the same-sex sexuality discourse from the morality debate to a human rights debate, and to build relationships with governments for greater protection of LGBTI people. These objectives cannot be met when donor countries threaten to withhold aid.

Meanwhile, Peter Tatchell has stormed into the fray, with a press release warning that

“The British government is wrong to threaten to cut aid to developing countries that abuse human rights. … Cuts in aid would penalise the poorest, most vulnerable people. Many are dependent on aid for basic needs like food, clean water, health care and education … Instead of cutting aid, Britain and other donor countries should divert their aid money from human rights abusing governments and redirect it to grassroots, community-based humanitarian projects that respect human rights and do not discriminate in their service provision.”

“I stand in solidarity” with the African activists’ statement, he proclaims. This is a welcome move. Tatchell, of course, has a long record of supporting aid conditionality. In a US speech in 2008, he said:

“We must urge the US State Department to make foreign aid and trade conditional on the recipient countries agreeing to respect human rights, including the human rights of LGBT people. Tyrannies should not be rewarded: No US aid for anti-gay regimes.”

And during the controversy in 2010 around a Malawi couple’s brutal imprisonment under a sodomy law (during which Tatchell’s self-publicizing made his white, British visage the possibly uncongenial face of homosexuality over a large swath of Africa), he urged cutting UK assistance: “If [diplomatic negotiation] fails the UK should reconsider its aid and trade agreements with Malawi. There can be no blank cheque for countries that violate human rights.”  But even mountains move: usually after an earthquake that brings down houses on their inhabitants.

However, redirecting aid “to grassroots, community-based humanitarian projects,” as Tatchell demands,  has its own problems. Such redirection is one of the strategies African activists urge on governments in their letter, but is hardly plausible for the full aid package. Some rights and needs — “food, clean water, health care and education” — are arguably the state’s proper business. To saddle NGOs with responsibility for the water supply is not much different from privatizing it: turning something that should be a general good over to particular, and perhaps partial, hands. And while civil society in some places has played important roles in providing health care and schooling the young, treaties and international law still make these core tasks of governing. There is no reason to think that NGOs, without the resources and experience of a state, can do an adequate job on their own. Redirection by itself echoes the neoliberal solutions of the 80s and 90s, practiced at home by Thatcher and Reagan and enforced abroad by the IMF and World Bank. Governments sloughed off responsibilities for their peoples’ welfare; civil society was told to pick up the slack. Advocates who had pushed for improved state action necessarily transformed themselves into exhausted, overburdened service providers. The poor, sick, uneducated and disenfranchised got more so.

Nor is it certain that rights-based and non-discriminatory service providers will be the ones to take advantage when aid to governments, and consequent state capacities, dwindle. It’s a truism that the growth of political Islamism in the post-70s Middle East came in the wake of lender-promoted government retrenchment. As welfare and services shrank, movements flush with Gulf oil money moved in to provide what the state once had, in older days. In the process, they built networks of gratitude, dependency, and political support.   In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, education is already as much the province of Christian churches as of the government. It would not much benefit LGBT people to promote policies to make it even more so.

All this means simply that the politics of aid are unsimple: complicated, full of unpredictable consequences, and fraught with both political and ethical concerns They are not susceptible to simplifying rhetoric. But rhetoric almost childlike in its simplicity is what the UK government is offering the domestic constituencies it strains to entice. Talk about growing pains! — but while British policy struggles to grow up, the pains will be felt in other, distant corners of the globe.

African activists on human rights and aid

Credit: Daniel Berhane, http://danielberhane.wordpress.com/

This statement, released this week, is worth reproducing in full:

Statement Of African Social Justice Activists On The Threats Of The British Government To “Cut Aid” To African Countries That Violate The Rights Of LGBTI People In Africa

28/10/2011

We, the undersigned African social justice activists, working to advance societies that affirm peoples’ differences, choice and agency throughout Africa, express the following concerns about the use of aid conditionality as an incentive for increasing the protection of the rights of LGBTI people on the continent.

It was widely reported, earlier this month, that the British Government has threatened to cut aid to governments of “countries that persecute homosexuals” unless they stop punishing people in same-sex relationships. These threats follow similar decisions that have been taken by a number of other donor countries against countries such as Uganda and Malawi.  While the intention may well be to protect the rights of LGBTI people on the continent, the decision to cut aid disregards the role of the LGBTI and broader social justice movement on the continent and creates the real risk of a serious backlash against LGBTI people.

A vibrant social justice movement within African civil society is working to ensure the visibility of – and enjoyment of rights by – LGBTI people. This movement is made up of people from all walks of life, both identifying and non-identifying as part of the LGBTI community. It has been working through a number of strategies to entrench LGBTI issues into broader civil society issues, to shift the same-sex sexuality discourse from the morality debate to a human rights debate, and to build relationships with governments for greater protection of LGBTI people. These objectives cannot be met when donor countries threaten to withhold aid.

The imposition of donor sanctions may be one way of seeking to improve the human rights situation in a country but does not, in and of itself, result in the improved protection of the rights of LGBTI people. Donor sanctions are by their nature coercive and reinforce the disproportionate power dynamics between donor countries and recipients. They are often based on assumptions about African sexualities and the needs of African LGBTI people. They disregard the agency of African civil society movements and political leadership. They also tend, as has been evidenced in Malawi, to exacerbate the environment of intolerance in which political leadership scapegoat LGBTI people for donor sanctions in an attempt to retain and reinforce national state sovereignty.

Further, the sanctions sustain the divide between the LGBTI and the broader civil society movement. In a context of general human rights violations, where women are almost as vulnerable as LGBTI people, or where health and food security are not guaranteed for anyone, singling out LGBTI issues emphasizes the idea that LGBTI rights are special rights and hierarchically more important than other rights. It also supports the commonly held notion that homosexuality is ‘unAfrican’ and a western-sponsored ‘idea’ and that countries like the UK will only act when ‘their interests’ have been threatened.

An effective response to the violations of the rights of LBGTI people has to be more nuanced than the mere imposition of donor sanctions. The history of colonialism and sexuality cannot be overlooked when seeking solutions to this issue. The colonial legacy of the British Empire in the form of laws that criminalize same-sex sex continues to serve as the legal foundation for the persecution of LGBTI people throughout the Commonwealth. In seeking solutions to the multi-faceted violations facing LGBTI people across Africa, old approaches and ways of engaging our continent have to be stopped. New ways of engaging that have the protection of human rights at their core have to recognize the importance of consulting the affected.

Furthermore, aid cuts also affect LGBTI people. Aid received from donor countries is often used to fund education, health and broader development. LGBTI people are part of the social fabric, and thus part of the population that benefit from the funding. A cut in aid will have an impact on everyone, and more so on the populations that are already vulnerable and whose access to health and other services are already limited, such as LGBTI people.,

To adequately address the human rights of LGBTI people in Africa, the undersigned social justice activists call on the British government to:
·        Review its decision to cut aid to countries that do not protect LGBTI rights
·        Expand its aid to community based and lead LGBTI programmes aimed at fostering dialogue and tolerance.
·        Support national and regional human rights mechanisms to ensure the inclusiveness of LGBTI issues in their protective and promotional mandates
·       Support the entrenchment of LGBTI issues into broader social justice issues through the financing of community lead and nationally owned projects.

Read the ist of signatories — 53 organizations and 86 individual activists across Africa — here.

There is some controversy over exactly what the British government actually said. Paul Canning of the chronically inaccurate blog LGBT Asylum News notes, accurately, that the story originated when the Daily Mail — a right-wing, anti-everything rag — took a general Foreign Office statement on linking aid to human rights, and spun it to stress the LGBT angle. But Canning’s attempts to minimize the shift ignore the fact that David Cameron has prominently emphasized the linkage in recent days. Just this weekend Cameron told the BBC:

“Britain is now one of the premier aid givers in the world. We want to see countries that receive our aid adhering to proper human rights, and that includes how people treat gay and lesbian people … British aid should have more strings attached, in terms of do you persecute people for their faith or their Christianity, or do you persecute people for their sexuality. We don’t think that’s acceptable.”

It’s hard not to conclude that this move is about domestic politics, not rights. The Daily Mail, piously endorsing the gay-rights cause (which it fought for years) used the emanations from the Foreign Office to further its anti-foreign-aid agenda — opining the government acted because “deeply rattled by the ferocious public opposition to its decision to increase overseas aid by more than one third while deep cuts are made in other areas.” (The UK has announced a 35% increase in overseas aid by 2013, in an effort to bring it up to the level of 0.7% of GDP recommended by a UN General Assembly resolution as long ago as 1970.) But there’s probably truth to this. Proclaiming loudly that he’s tying strings to aid gives Cameron some protection from the xenophobic fanatics on his own side of the political aisle. (Half of Tory MPs apparently want Britain to leave the EU; their attitude toward Malawi or Uganda can hardly be imagined.) If one of those strings is rainbow-colored, it also helps him with the gay vote.  The Tories have been making a pitch for those ballots recently, with the PM publicly endorsing gay marriage.  With the ruling coalition’s policies deeply unpopular, the Tories’ core support among foxhunters and Colonel Blimps needs a rejuvenating jolt from a new constituency.

In other words, as the activists’ letter says, the UK’s internal politics are dictating the lives and determining the safety of LGBT communities in other countries. An Indian blogger comments:

There is another more urgent and specific problem with the UK government policy – and that is the manner in which it denies the possibility that there might be local movements, dialogues and activisms around sexuality and homophobia. … At one level it places the concern for sexuality rights outside the given country, and at another, it disavows the significance and strategies of local activists and movements that are engaged in the project of actualising citizenship.

While the rise of sexuality on the development and rights agenda, is a welcome development, to be truly progressive western forces might do better by supporting Queer movements in the global south, learning from them, and recognising the specificities of Queer struggles.

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