The President of Ghana says that the country is bound to eventually decriminalise homosexuality – but only after popular support grows.
Nana Akufo-Addo, who became the country’s President in January, was asked in an interview with Al Jazeera last month about whether he could see the country reform on LGBT issues.
It is currently illegal to be gay in Ghana, and gay men can face up to three years in prison. Human rights groups say that physical and violent homophobic attacks against LGBT people are still common, often encouraged by the media and religious leaders.
But President Akufo-Addo likened Ghanian society to the UK in the 1960s, before the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
He said: “These social, cultural issues… I don’t believe that in Ghana so far, a sufficiently strong coalition has emerged to change public opinion, and have a new paradigm in Ghana.”
He added: “I think that it is something that is bound to happen.
“Like elsewhere in the world, the activities of individuals and groups [will lead to change].”
The leader continued: “I grew up in England, I went to school in England and I grew up at a time when homosexuality was banned there and was illegal.
“I lived there at a period when among British politicians it was anathema to even think about changing the law. But the activities of individuals and groups and a certain awareness grew and grew stronger, and it forced a change in law.
“I believe those are the same processes that will bring about changes in our situation.”
He added: “At the moment I don’t feel that in Ghana there is a strong current of opinion that is saying, this is something we need to deal with. It is not so far a matter which is on the agenda.”
The President’s comments have been seized upon by the country’s media, with some outlets falsely claiming that the President said the country “is likely to legalize same-sex marriage”.
The Christian Council of Ghana has also led opposition to his claims.
The comments are marked shift from those made by the country’s former President, John Atta Mills.
Mills had reacted angrily to warnings that UK aid funding may be made contingent upon respecting human rights for LGBT people.
He said the UK did not have the right to “direct to other sovereign nations as to what they should do”, saying their society’s “norms” were different from those in the UK.
Mr Atta Mills told the BBC: “I, as president, will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana.”
His office subsequently suggested it would reject aid money that is “tied to things that will destroy the moral fibre of society”.
A cleric in Ghana recently claimed that gay sex “causes earthquakes”.
Mallam Abass Mahmud made the claims in an attempt to justify violence against LGBT people, claiming gay sex causes natural disasters.
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The cleric gave an interview to local media saying: “Allah gets annoyed when males engage in sexual encounters, and such disgusting encounters causes earthquakes.”
He said: “Should we allow such a shame to continue in our communities against our holy teachings?”
Going on, he said: “Certainly no, and we are very happy to chase away such idiots from our Zongo communities.”
A leading spiritualist in the country has also claimed tattoos can influence people to become homosexuals, prostitutes or alcoholics.
And a former political leader has insisted the country must resist homosexuality at all costs.
Mike Ocquaye, who was the deputy speaker in parliament, said that despite pressure from Western governments to adopt LGBT rights, Ghana must continue to persecute gay people.
He said: “We have got to stand our ground.
“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.”
Mr Ocquaye also claimed that gay sex caused Britain to have “a serious crisis” of family values, and claimed homosexuality is the new ‘sodomy slave trade’.