Arthur Kobina Kennedy, Orangeburg, South Carolina
Last week, on the first anniversary of President Atta-Mills, he was memorialized for very different things. For Ghana and Africa, perhaps the defining moment in his leadership came in response to British Prime Minister David Cameron's remarks during the Commonwealth summit in Perth, Australia in 2011. The British Prime Minister urged African countries to recognize the rights of homosexuals or expect decreases in British aid. Echoing the sentiments of the British Prime Minister, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, 'Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality.'
Responding to the British Prime Minister, President Mills said, 'Prime Minister Cameron should have taken into account the fact that social and cultural circumstances were not the same as it prevails in the UK.' The President continued, 'The people of the UK may accept the practice but our people frown on it.' Speaking later to journalists at the Castle in Accra, the President was even more forceful, 'I as President of this nation would never initiate or support any attempt to legalize homosexuality in Ghana.' He went on to pledge that we would not accept any aid with strings attached. While others had made the same point, nobody made Africa's case better than President Mills. He was restrained but firm in rebuffing the West.
Earlier this year, during his tour of Africa, President Obama revived the issue in Senegal. He said in Dakar, 'My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to the law, people should be treated equally.'
Echoing President Mills, Senegalese President Sall replied, 'We are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality', while insisting that his country is 'very tolerant.'
Ironically, since the West started this latest offensive to push homosexual rights in Africa, the plight of gays has worsened. According to Monica Mbaru, a gay rights activist based in South Africa, 'It has never been harder for gays and lesbians on the continent. Homophobia is on the rise.' Indeed.
Amnesty International has reported that 38 countries criminalize homosexuality. Last June, a PEW Research centre survey found nine out of ten in Senegal, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda believed homosexuality should not be accepted. While the majority is not always right, national leaders must keep them in mind as they make and change policy.
As Africans and citizens of the world, we can and must respect the rights of all people, including gays while defending our culture and our sovereignty.
The new push by the West for homosexuality in Africa can be opposed on grounds of culture, sovereignty, the Westerners own journey regarding gay rights and our priorities.
It is clear that homosexuality does not sit well with African culture. As Cardinal Turkson wrote in the National Catholic Register in relation to homosexuality, 'the intensity of the reaction is probably commensurate with tradition.' Africans, by large majorities, are not comfortable with open homosexuality. That is why the recent push is leading to a backlash. While most African countries have laws against homosexuality on the books, these laws were rarely enforced. The attention brought to homosexuality by the West will lead to more demands for these laws to be enforced, to the detriment of gays. It seems the push by the West will create more of the very problems they are meant to solve. This is unnecessary since nobody is peeping into bedrooms to find what activities are going on.
The push by the West, on the face of it, diminishes our sovereignty, particularly when demands to repeal laws are tied to aid. The West obviously failed to learn from the Uhuru Kenyatta experience when urging Kenyans to vote against him for the Presidency because of his ICC indictment created a backlash that got him elected earlier this year. After centuries of colonialism followed by a fragile independence, Africans are very wary of anything that smacks of our former colonial masters dictating to us.
Next, the US experience shows that pressing the acceptance of homosexuals is not consistent with the human experience. The US journey to the acceptance of homosexuals has been slow and tortured. Indeed, it is not yet complete. Despite the recent Supreme Court ruling in the US, homosexual rights are not yet generally accepted in America. The court ruling, with dissent, still left the states with a lot of power to regulate marriage. Some things take time. Recruiting nine women cannot lead to a baby in one month—it will still take about nine months.
Finally, on grounds of our priorities, the focus on homosexuality is a luxury we cannot afford. We have problems with child labour, discrimination against women, education and unemployment and we are discussing homosexuality! Why?
If the West cares about us, they should help us in solving these big issues. When George W. Bush saw the HIV epidemic and Malaria ravaging Africa, he did not preach. Instead, he launched the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) which pledged 15 billion USD to fight HIV in Africa. In 2005, he launched a 1.2 billion USD plan to fight Malaria with a declaration that, 'There is no reason for little babies to be dying of mosquito bites around the world'. Today, millions of Africans who would have been dead are alive because of George Bush.
Let Obama, Hillary and Cameron follow President Bush's footsteps and help us deal with our real problems instead of phony problems that we have no time for.