Scottish LGBTI rights pressure on Ghana’s president leads to backlash

President John Mahama

President John Mahama

Pressure on President John Mahama to address LGBTI rights during his state visit to Scotland last week has caused widespread outrage in Ghana.

There are reports that some Scottish MPs refused to meet Mahama and boycotted his address in parliament. His speech was also met with heckling and muted applause.

In a letter, members of the Scottish Greens party wrote: “We believe that the Scottish parliament should be a place where everyone can feel safe. Yet the invitation to President John Dramani Mahama to address MSPs can only undermine this, given his full support for the horrific discriminatory laws towards the LGBTI community in his country.”

It’s believed that Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also raised the issue of LGBTI rights with the president and shared “her strong view that the Commonwealth values of humanity, equality and tolerance are universal values.”

Ghana’s media is up in arms over what has been dubbed the president’s “shabby treatment.” Former Ghanaian politician Professor Mike Ocquaye responded to the furore by calling for anti-gay Africans to “stand our ground.”

Speaking on Class 91.3fm on Monday he said: “We have got to make certain things clear as Africans, and we’ve got to make people, at least, respect us that as for Africans, we say a man is not going to put his sexual organ into a man’s back, and that is Africa for us.

“There is a global gay lobby. They are fighting for recognition. They are fighting with plenty of millions of dollars to transport their anomalous behaviour globally. We must resist it with all our strength,” he added.

According to journalist Dan Littauer, anger against the president’s reception in Scotland has resulted in a backlash against the LGBTI community in Ghana.

“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,” wrote Littauer on KaleidoScot.

Mac-Darling Cobbinah, founder and Director of the Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights Ghana (CEPEHRG), complained to Littauer that LGBTI activists in Ghana were not consulted on how to approach the president.

He said that the Ghanaian government has made some initial progress on LGBTI rights and that foreign interference could undermine this.

Cobbinah argued that Scotland’s actions would put “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 one of the ammunition[s] levelled against him.

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

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Programme Director in Scotland, told The Guardian that, “We understand opposition leaders and MSPs choosing not to meet President Mahama during his visit to the Scottish parliament as Ghana’s human rights record has serious failings. However, we are not calling for a boycott of the visit as we view this as an opportunity to raise our concerns about LGBTI discrimination, violence against women and girls, and the use of torture.” 

Gay sex, described in the penal code as “Unnatural Carnal Knowledge”, is illegal in Ghana and carries a sentence of three years in prison. The country has also been plagued by a series of vigilante mob attacks against LGBTI people in recent years.

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