Actor Idris Elba and model Naomi Campbell joined some 65 other British celebrities, designers and politicians, mostly of Ghanaian heritage, in signing an open letter in support of gay rights in Ghana. Last month, a community center for LGBTQ+ people in the West African country was shut down by security forces just three weeks after opening. Religious leaders, politicians and anti-gay organizations had called on the government to close the center, which was operated by local charity LGBT+ Rights Ghana.
The 67 signatories of the open letter published on social media on Monday said they were worried about the developments in Ghana and called on the country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, and other political leaders to provide protection to the LGBTQ+ community.
“We have watched with profound concern as you have had to question the safety of your vital work at the LGBT+ Rights Ghana Centre in Accra, and feared for your personal wellbeing and security. It is unacceptable to us that you feel unsafe,” wrote the signatories of the letter, many of whom are British-Ghanaian, including architect Sir David Adjaye and British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful. Elba’s mother was also born in Ghana.
“As prominent and powerful advocates for this great country, we are beseeching His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, and political/cultural leaders to create a pathway for allyship, protection and support.
“We petition for inclusivity which will make the nation even greater and even stronger,” the letter added.
At the opening of the center for LGBTQ+ people last month, the Danish ambassador, the Australian high commissioner and some foreign diplomats were among the attendees, causing anger among many Ghanaians who lambasted the international community for promoting gay rights in the country and Africa as a whole.
In Ghana, gay sex is a criminal offense and punishable by up to three years in jail. Though no one has been prosecuted for same-sex relations in years, human rights activists say LGBT+ people are discriminated against, and often face death threats and abuse. President Akufo-Addo on Saturday said same-sex marriage will not be legalized under his presidency. “I have said it before, and let me stress it again, that it will not be under the Presidency of Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo that same-sex marriage will be legal,” he said.
Although some African countries are slowly accepting same-sex marriages, many are still very categorical in their denunciation of the idea. Some have even made it a capital offense punishable by death – Mauritania, Sudan, southern Somalia and northern Nigeria.
Many members of the LGBT community in these countries have been forced to hide their sexuality while others have fled their homes for fear of being attacked.
In Uganda, for instance, same-sex relationships have been illegal since British colonial rule, and in neighboring Tanzania, the situation is no different. As political landscapes continue to change across the continent, new ideologies are slowly taking shape and societies are becoming more accepting as far as embracing same-sex relationships is concerned.
In January 2019, Angola shed the divisive “vices against nature” provision in its law, widely interpreted to be a ban on homosexual conduct. The changes were made on January 23 when the oil-rich southern African country parliament adopted its first new penal code since it gained independence in 1975 and removed the “vices against nature” provision that it inherited from its Portuguese colonizers.
There had been no known prosecutions under the law, but the “vices against nature” provision tended to place the lives of LGBT people in Angola under scrutiny.
In 2015, a Kenyan court ruled in favor of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission – a non-governmental organization supporting the LGBT community – which had moved to court to compel the Kenyan government to recognize it as a legal entity. In its ruling, the court argued that refusing to register the commission was an infringement of the right of association for gay people.
In Uganda, the controversial 2014 law criminalizing homosexuality has since been overturned, although the constitution still doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships.
In South Africa, LGBT people enjoy constitutional and statutory protection from discrimination at work, school, and places of worship, as well as, in the provision of goods and services.