Ghana president: Anti-gay anger blocks even talk of change

Ghana President John Dramani Mahama (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Ghana President John Dramani Mahama (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

As in many African countries, intense anti-gay hostility in Ghana creates barriers to even  discussing the possibility of fair treatment for LGBT people, especially by politicians.

Ghana President John Dramani Mahama made that clear during his recent visit to Georgia at the invitation of Kennesaw State University, which has devoted a year to studying the West African country.

“I believe that laws must prevail. For instance, people must not be beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, but in my country there is a strong cultural hostility towards it,” Mahama told the Marietta Daily Journal in Marietta, Georgia.

Under Ghana’s laws, consensual sex between men is punishable by a prison sentence of up to three years.

“It’s a difficult situation, but I guess it’s something that –– it’s very difficult to comment on because often it creates more problems,” Mahama said.

The newspaper reported:

Ghana President John Dramani Mahama laughs during visit to Kennesaw State University. (Photo courtesy of MDJonline.com)
Ghana President John Dramani Mahama laughs during visit to Kennesaw State University. (Photo courtesy of MDJonline.com)

Mahama was asked on Monday whether he supported gay rights in Ghana, specifically gay marriage.

“Well, like you’re saying, even here the question is not settled,” Mahama said, referring to how some states in the U.S. allow gay marriage and some do not. “It’s controversial. And it’s the same, it’s controversial everywhere else, especially in Africa. It’s a difficult situation. …

Mahama laughed when asked if he would support gay marriage in Ghana in the future.

“It’s very difficult for me to … I’d rather not comment on it,” he said.

The newspaper also recounted the uproar that occurred in the Ghanaian media because a gay National Book Award winner helped promote Mahama’s memoirs:

Andrew Solomon (Photo courtesy of Twitter)
Andrew Solomon (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Earlier this year, Andrew Solomon, winner of the National Book Award, wrote in the New York Times of his experience helping to promote Mahama’s memoir, “My First Coup d’État,” in 2010, and how Mahama thanked him in the book’s acknowledgments.

Shortly thereafter, the Ghanaian president, John Atta Mills, died and Mahama became president. The Ghanaian press, Solomon wrote, “suddenly exploded with references to Mahama’s relationship with me.” Solomon wrote that one article reported that, “Andrew Solomon reportedly gathered a few affluent people from the gay community to raise campaign funds for President Mahama with the understanding that when President Mahama won the elections, the president would push the gay rights agenda.”

In his description of the incident in the New York Times in February, Solomon said:

The surprise of John Mahama’s book is its tender humanism, and I thought it would go a long way toward breaking down prejudice in the United States.

I blurbed the book when it was published last July; I hosted a party to celebrate its publication; I conducted an onstage interview with John Mahama at the New York Public Library and I am thanked in the book’s acknowledgments.

Soon after, the Ghanaian president, John Atta Mills, died and John Mahama stepped into the presidency; in December, he was elected to another term. Two weeks ago, the Ghanaian press suddenly exploded with references to Mr. Mahama’s relationship with me. …

The occasion of these revelations was Mr. Mahama’s appointment of what one newspaper called the “fiery human and gay rights advocate, Nana Oye Lithur” to head the newly established Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. In confirmation hearings before a parliamentary committee, Ms. Lithur averred that “the rights of everybody, including homosexuals, should be protected,” thus invoking a firestorm.

I was presumed to have pushed through her nomination, even though I had in fact never heard of her. The argument that Ms. Lithur was selected not for her formidable skills, but because of a foreign devil fit with the continuing position among some Africans that homosexuality is an import from the decadent West.

I have neither the ability nor the inclination to meddle in foreign elections, and I paid not one red cent for the book John Mahama inscribed to me.

The only way I may have influenced him on gay rights was by welcoming him into the household of a joyful family with two dads. It is deeply unsettling to be implicated in a national scandal, to know that my attempts to be kind and helpful to someone would become his millstone.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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