Monday , 20 January 2020

Holyrood’s intervention regarding LGBTI rights backfires in Ghana

GhanaFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon raised on Friday LGBTI rights with the President of Ghana during his visit to Holyrood.

The intervention, uncalled for by LGBTI Ghanaians, has caused a backlash against the LGBTI community and a media moral panic against a “homosexual lobby” trying to allegedly tarnish Ghana’s image and force “unAfrican” habits unto the nation.

The Ghanaian leader, John Dramani Mahama, met the First Minister during his tour of Scotland, which will saw him presented with an honorary degree from the University of Aberdeen.

Ms Sturgeon has come under some pressure to raise issues of LGBTI rights with Ghana’s leader, John Dramani Mahama as his visit to Scotland comes against a backdrop of increasing vigilate violence LGBTI people in Ghana. The Kaleidoscope Trust, Amnesty International and, in particular, Patrick Harvie, co-convener of Scottish Green Party called for the First Minister to confront Mahama about LGBTI rights.  It has also been reported that opposite leaders of the Scottish parliament have boycotted a meeting with the president.

Far from helping matters this has resulted in a fury of negative reporting on a “homosexual lobby” trying to force “unAfrican” habits onto Ghana, thus further fuelling anti-LGBTI prejudice and hysteria rather than combat it,

It has also effected mounting pressure on Ghana’s Socialist government, which has been relatively supportive of LGBTI rights and Human Rights in general, to distance itself from LGBTI issues and “stand up for Ghana”; with accusations that the president has been too weak in resisting “colonialist” pressure or him being “insulted” by Scotland.

Speaking with KaleidoScot, Mac-Darling Cobbinah, founder and director of Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights Ghana (CEPEHRG), said: “I must stress my disappointment that no one contacted LGBTI activists in Ghana, either politicians in Scotland or journalists, to find out what the communities here needs. While we welcome raising the issue with the president, it could have focused on concrete steps that LGBTI Ghanaians can be helped rather than a critical media focus on Ghana and its government.”

This is despite the fact that KaleidoScot supplied to Patrick Harvie and the First Minister the contact details of LGBTI Ghanaian activists.

Mac-Darling added: “Far from helping the LGBTI communities in Ghana this incident has generated exactly what we are hoping to avoid. What it has done is to generate an anti LGBTI moral hysteria and backlash with allegations that a ‘homosexual lobby’ is trying to impose its values on Ghana.

“Not only this strengthens the hands prejudice in Ghana but actually puts pressure on the government to act against our communities during an election year which might see the socialist president kicked out of office, with him being ‘too soft’ on gays as on of the ammunition levelled against him.

“I also want to stress that he pressure on president Mahama was uncalled for, we, the LGBTI communities of Ghana, never asked for it and the Ghanian government does not merit it, as it has relatively been supportive”, said Mac-Darling.

Asked what Scotland and the West in particular can do to help, he answered: “Our priorities really are about diversity education so people see LGBTI people as part of our culture and society.  Workshops with the police, teachers and health workers are essential to combat widespread prejudice.  This is one area that organisations and governments from the west, including Scotland, can help with resources and experience.

“In addition, religious leaders, especially of evangelical groups, are promoting anti LGBTI hate within the society as well as in the media.  These groups sometimes receive help from their affiliated organisations in the West, principally from the USA and Europe.  These leaders put pressure on the government to take actions against Ghana’s LGBTI communities and pass further discriminatory laws.  When Ghana’s Constitution Review Commission recommended in 2012 to legalise same-sex acts these leaders caused such a moral panic and uproar that the attempt to do away with this law were abandoned.”

Not only the intervention from Holyrood has actually played right into an anti-LGBTI discourse it has failed to potentially help where the West could really help, Mac-Darling explains: “This climate of hate against LGBTI encouraged by religious leaders and some aligned politicians is basically causing moral hysteria and affect us in various ways.

“This is designed as a weapon to push force the government to take an anti LGBTI stance, when in practice it has resisted this pressure and even taken courageous steps to combat it. Our President has not only ignored these pressures but has even appointed human rights lawyer, Nana Oye Lithur, who has publicly advocated for LGBTI rights, as the Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection. Her appointment sparked a lot of controversy in the media and religious leaders mounted a campaign to have her fired.”

The outcome of such a hate campaign has encouraged and incited the vigilante violence against LGBTI people in Ghana: “As a result of such anti LGBTI hate and activities by religious leaders’ incitement against the LGBTI communities has escalated.  Not only LGBTI rights advocates like me and others have been attacked but many who are identified as LGBTI have faced violence.  Many young people get abused, bullied and forced to leave school because of their perceived sexuality and gender identity.”

Mac-Darling is clear about what can be done to help, less rhetoric and more concrete steps from Scotland: “Again, if Scotland and other western countries want to help they can provide such victims of violence counselling and alternative placement in education.

“What would be helpful from politicians and NGOs in Scotland and elsewhere to try and cut or restrict funding to such religious hate groups from the West. Scotland and other western countries can also help with sponsoring and providing resources for interfaith programs which will teach leaders to engage with our LGBTI community in a more positive manner.

“We also need help with health work and safer-sex education, as many men who have sex with men have no access to resources and often suffer from prejudice which leads them to take risky behaviour and therefore spread HIV and STDs.  Fear of prejudice in the health system also leads to such risky behaviour, and this is again where resources from Scotland and elsewhere in the West can make a difference for diversity training.”

Speaking with KaleidoScot, Patrick, a 25 year old Ghanaian gay man, said: “These uncalled for statements and pressure has set us back, now the government and the LGBTI community will come under the spot light and any work with the government is in jeopardy, as politicians have already started to exploit the issue for election purposes. Just because Ghana is an African nation doesn’t mean all countries are alike – our community should have been consulted first about what we need, rather than what politicians in Scotland felt is needed.  We do not need a white saviour complex but concrete and specific help.  I also note that it was the UK, under colonialism, that introduced the anti-LGBTI legislation, maybe this is something our allies in Scotland need to think more carefully about.”

Davis Mac-Iyalla, a campaigner for LGBTI rights in Africa, originally from Nigeria but who is now residing in London, told KaleidoScot: “Personally, I don’t see anything wrong in raising LGBT human rights issues with the President of Ghana. My concern is that the organisers of that meeting have done so without consulting the LGBT community in Ghana or those us in living in the Diaspora.

“It’s very profitable to work with local groups in ground asking them to inform you about the best kind of support you can give to them.

“Ghana still has criminalization of LGBT people but the Ghanaian society in general keeps a don’t ask don’t tell attitude culture towards homosexuality, yes we still have a work to do but we need to work sensibly to avoid a serious backlash and putting in the people on ground at risks.

“LGBT West Africans at home and in Diaspora can speak for themselves. They need support and collaboration not taking the lead and calling them to follow your style.  Stop giving us useless strategies that only benefits you and your policy.”

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican LGBTI rights campaigner who has worked closely with grassroots African activists told KaleidoScot: “I appreciate that allies in the Global North are anxious to help with the LGBTI liberation movements in the global south.  As such, I would hope that they would engage with us before rushing in as that can often things worse.  What we have found works with our political leaders is positive provocation.

“So, leaders from the global north can adopt what I have come to call the A.R.E. approach: First ACKNOWLEDGE that the global north has struggled and continues to struggle with homophobia and also that much of the anti-LGBTI animus originated in and is sometimes being supported by global north players.  Therefore, some humility would help to foster understanding. Second, RESPECT our elected leaders.  They may be bastards but they are OUR bastards.  Respecting their office and positions respects our democratic process.  Also, respect and celebrate the work of local civil society groups and individuals that are engaged in the liberation struggle.  Third, ENGAGE as EQUALS with our local politicians by suggesting practical ways that we can collectively reap the benefits of inclusion.  Sell those positives (e.g., better healthcare for all, less brain drain, improved productivity when people bring their WHOLE selves to work, etc.).  Some of these engagements will require financial resources so clean up the toxic export of homophobia from the global north laws.”

Tomlinson added: “So, please invest in groups fighting for LGBTI liberation locally, and give us a voice when you can.”

Scott Cuthbertson, Development Manager at the Equality Network, told KaleidoScot: “We fully understand LGBTI people in Scotland wanting to support LGBTI people in Ghana, its vital therefore that we listen to Ghanaian voices, amplifying them when needed, and support them in the ways they ask, such as supporting education, better HIV treatment and prevention in the country.”

KaleidoScot reached out to Patrick Harvie for a response and received the following answer: “It is unfortunate that the President of Ghana has not said that he supports decriminalisation of homosexuality in his country. We support the grassroots pro-LGBT campaigners in Ghana and we encourage him to come out in stronger support of them.”

Kaleidoscot also asked for clarification from the First Minister, explaining the impact of the intervention and what LGBTI Ghanaians need. A spokesperson said: “The First Minister and President Mahama had a positive and constructive meeting. The First Minister raised the importance of the Commonwealth values of humanity, equality and tolerance, and there was a specific discussion on LGBTI rights.”

About Dan Littauer

Dan Littauer is a journalist who specializes in LGBTI current affairs, travel writing, feature writing and investigative journalism. He is a correspondent for LGBTQ Nation, ManAboutWorld, and previously worked for Gay Star News, PinkNews, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Gay Middle East, Lonely Planet as well as contributing occasionally to the BBC, Al-Jazeera, CNN and The Guardian. He also had an extensive career outside journalism, which included teaching psychoanalysis and social science, and consultancy work for the travel market. When he is not busy writing, he can be spotted rambling around the stunning Scottish landscape, where he lives, spending time at home with his cat.

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  1. Silience empowers the oppression. There are backlashes and rantings against human rights no matter what. Being quiet about it will not change that. Talk about it all the time. Empower people to think about things – challenge perceptions and prejudices. That is how the world moves forward. Stonewall was about standing up. Haters are gonna hate no matter what and burn themselves out.

  2. Maurice Tomlinson

    I wonder if those Britons who support the unsolicited approach of speaking to the Ghanaian President about LGBTI human rights with no offer of concrete assistance to rid the country of this UK imposed law are also willing to grant UK residency visas to all the LGBTI Ghanians who would have to flee the backlash? Armchair activism is pointless if you are not willing to put yourself in the shoes of the people who would be impacted by your actions. They have to live with the consequences. Listen to them. Quit being so neo-colonial. They know what they need.

  3. “no offer of concrete assistance to rid the country of this UK imposed law ”

    They have had years and years to get rid of it if they really, really wanted to.

    The Ghanaian leader didn’t say, “Yeah, now you mention it, it is a bit of a colonial hangover, totally at odds with out values.”

    • Actually, if you read the article closely, you will see the current government tried to do exactly that. As Andrew explains below, the approach by Patrick Harvie and Nicola Sturgeon, in this case, was not coordinated or designed in mind of LGBTI Ghanians. Otherwise they would have been consulted and the damage caused avoided. Instead this looks at best as a well meaning but very naive approach, at worst, empty gimmick designed to appeal to potential voters ahead of elections.

  4. Andrew Page

    Ultimately it’s a question of strategy.

    Presumably those “raising the issue” are primarily motivated by improving the lives of LGBTI people in Ghana.

    Therefore the way in which they “raise issues” should be not only with those people in mind, but also in a way that serves the best interests of Ghana’s LGBTI communities. The kind of headlines this generates in Scotland are quite different from the kind of headlines being generated in Ghana at the moment. It’s always helpful to consider possible consequences.

    If we’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s that we shouldn’t be doing anything for people without including them. Of course the issue should be raised, as should many other human rights matters, but ideally with those directly affected first.

    It’s also taken 50 years in the UK to get from decriminalising homosexuality to legalising same-sex marriage. Other countries also can’t be rushed. We can’t simply impose our own standards onto others. However, there are ways we can influence, educate and support. The spectre of colonialism, while not an excuse for inaction, also means we have to tread sensitively. And unless we think that aversion to “outside culture” is a purely African problem, let’s take a moment to remember that in a few months the UK will vote on whether to retain EU membership, mainly because there is a perception that others are meddling too much in our politics and forcing their values onto our own culture.

    Paul – of course the President didn’t say: “Yeah, now you mention it, it is a bit of a colonial hangover, totally at odds with out values.” But in recent years he has said things such as “the question [of same-sex marriage] is not settled…[but] it’s very difficult for me. I’d rather not comment.” And, on whether he’s want to change the country’s LGBTI laws he suggested he might want to but “in [Ghana] there is a strong cultural hostility towards it.” Hardly a definitive statement of support, but a lot more promising than anything that other African leaders (with one notable exception) have been saying.

    Given what happened to Joyce Banda in Malawi when she tried to move too quickly to make improvements, a cautious approach is understandable.

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