By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
I have been observing with keen interest from afar the ongoing discourse on the nomination of Nana Oye Lithur as Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection and her subsequent vetting in Parliament vis-à-vis homosexuality in Ghana. A lot of views have been expressed and shared by writers and readers on this sensitive subject from different perspectives and may not be necessary for one additional opinion but as a firm believer in and an advocate of equality and human rights, I do not want to keep silent on such an important subject in my country of birth. I am also mindful of what the great human rights campaigner, Martin Luther King, Jr once said, and I quote, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. This article is a contribution to what has been said and written but from another angle.
My understanding of what is happening in Ghana is that, Nana Oye Lithur stands accused of “promoting” homosexuality in Ghana and therefore not fit to be a minister in ‘the land of the righteous’. If my understanding is right, what does the word promote really mean is this context?
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary has a number of definitions but those may be relevant to the topic for discussion are as follows: “to help the progress of something; to encourage or support something and to give publicity to something in order to sell it”. For those who are against her nomination, are they really saying that, Nana Oye Lithur has committed any of the three act as defined above by either her actions and or omissions in the past? In my view, the answer is, absolutely not.
Nana Oye has not helped the progress of homosexuality in Ghana, neither has she encouraged or supported homosexuality in Ghana nor has she given publicity to homosexuality in Ghana in order to sell it. In fact, the opposite is true because those who are opposed to her nomination and confirmation have done more to publicise homosexuality in Ghana than her activism, advocacy, campaign and promotion of human rights.
The definitions relate to marketing more than the work of a human rights promoter, activist, advocate or campaigner. Is there a single soul in Ghana who can testify against Nana Oye Lithur in any court of law, that she has publicly or privately promoted homosexuality in Ghana? The promotion of homosexuality should not be equated to activism, advocating and campaigning for or promoting human rights. In fact, in my experience here in the UK, I have not come across any human rights activist, advocate, campaigner, or promoter (including those in same sex relationships) who has embarked on an act to privately or publicly encourage others to become homosexuals.
A human rights activist, advocate, campaigner or promoter does not act to promote, spread or popularised the act of homosexuality but rather the rights of fellow human beings including those who practice homosexuality. The two are not the same. For example, when as Director of a Race Equality NGO, I promoted, advocated and campaigned for race equality among people of different ethnicities I was not asking people of different skin colours, nationalities, ethnic or national origins to become Black, Asian or White. Neither did I promote any particular religious practice of belief when I advocated and campaigned for or promoted religious equality. I was not promoting any particular ethnicity over the other nor did I promote any particular religion to any group. Instead, I was asking society to accept our differences and to accord people of different ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, disability and religion, belief or faith, etc their human dignity and equal treatment. They were no lesser human beings just because of the differences and that is exactly what Nana Oye has been doing.
Another good example is the case of gender equality. Often, male chauvinists erroneously claim that gender equality means men should become women in the home or the reversal of roles. That is not possible and far from the truth because men can never be women by conceiving and giving birth to children.But that is only by nature, which as humans we have little control over it. On the other hand, the home is nurture that we have every control over. It only means a review and re-evaluation of the social construction of the sexes or the engendering of male and female sexes in contemporary society. The traditional role of the woman and the man is no longer the case in reality and must change for the betterment of both men and women and above all, gender equality simply means, the human rights of women and men must be respected and protected and treated as equals but not to treat men the ‘same’ as women.
Who is an activist? One who is involved in a vigorous action to bring change. Is Nana Oye’s activism to convert (change) Ghanaians into homosexuals? Emphatically no, rather, she wants Ghanaians to stop the senseless attacks on, molestation against and violation of the human rights of homosexuals and that is the only change she is seeking through her human rights work.
What does advocate mean? Again, the dictionary states, “to speak publicly of something or to recommend or support something”. There is no doubt that, this is what Nana Oye has been doing. That is, she has been speaking publicly and or supporting human rights. The misconception is Ghana is that, most people have taken the word “something” in the above definitions to be ‘homosexuality’ instead of human rights. That is the biggest deception or hoax in this debate. Homosexuality is not and cannot be human rights. Indeed, even campaigners of same sex relationships are not promoting homosexuality per se but rather the human rights of those who practice homosexuality.
Finally what is to campaign? The dictionary says, “a series of planned activities with a particular social, commercial or political aim”. This is also about effecting change in society. Again, to campaign does not necessarily mean to promote homosexuality, though it is a fact that Nana Oye’s human rights campaign activities are to seek social, cultural and political change in Ghana. In other words, she is seeking a change in social, cultural and political attitudes of Ghanaians towards human rights issues and asking Ghanaians to respect the human rights of all but not the promotion of homosexuality. Ghanaians do not have to accept or like homosexual practices in order to respect the human rights of homosexuals. It is possible and feasible to dislike homosexuality and at the same time respect the human rights of homosexuals. That is what is known as tolerance or co-existence.
Let me address briefly the question of legality or illegality of homosexuality in Ghana. I have had a look at the supreme law of Ghana, the 1992 Constitution but unfortunately, there is what the lawyers say “casus ommissu” on this matter as far as the constitution is concerned (a case not provided for by the law) or simply, a lacuna. What exists in Ghana on the subject in terms of legislation is the Criminal Code, which says, “unnatural carnal knowledge” is criminal.
Carnal knowledge is a phrase used in early statutes to mean sexual intercourse. Though statutes, legislation and law continue to be in language that is difficult to understand, morden language is these days the norm. Most states have repealed such archaic statutes but Ghana seems to be stuck in the past.
The problem is not what is contained in the criminal code but its proper interpretation and application. What is “unnatural” or “natural”? The word ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ is subjective and relative. What is natural to X could be unnatural to Y and vice versa. For example, polygamy (a man marrying more than one wife) is natural in most African societies, including Ghana but in some other societies, the norm or natural is the other way round (that is, polyandrous, the practice of a woman marrying more than one husband). Again, what is natural or unnatural today may not be tomorrow and vice versa. In other words, the word natural or unnatural is a matter of time and space. The words “unnatural carnal knowledge” in Ghana’s criminal code have therefore become irrelevant in today’s Ghana, make no sense and must be repealed.
Is carnal knowledge only unnatural in Ghana if it is between same sex people? Do Ghanaian heterosexual couples practice oral or anal sex and are these natural carnal knowledge or unnatural carnal knowledge? In my view, carnal knowledge or sex is only unnatural if it is with a minor, without the consent of the other party or takes place in public. Same sex between two consenting adults in private cannot be unnatural and criminal in the same way that anal and oral sex between two consenting heterosexuals adults in private are not. However, any form of carnal knowledge (natural or unnatural) with a minor, by force or in public is criminal. That is the societal norm and not what happens between two consenting adults in privacy, whether natural or unnatural.
Those who oppose Nana Oye Lithur’s nomination claim this is a moral issue. By the way, whose morals are they talking about? The morals of religious leaders who rape women, children and the wives of other men, or who rip off their congregants and steal from the pulpit; the politicians who steal from the state and the poor, or students who cheat in exams or gain admissions though fake results? Do they even know that morality cannot be legislated or what is moral is not necessarily legal?
In short, Nana Oye Lithur as a human rights activist, advocate, campaigner and promoter has never promoted homosexuality in Ghana. To advocate and for campaign and promote the values of and respect for human rights is not equal to promoting homosexuality. Equally, to advocate and campaign for and promote the human rights of homosexuals is not promoting homosexuality. That is a fallacy and those who accuse her of doing so are misguided and deceptive. They should take a closer look at themselves and re-examine their conscience because they have accused an innocent person who stands for truth and justice for all. I was appalled and horrified by the way NDC parliamentarians unashamedly subjected her to questions on her private and family life, a clear breach of the constitution that they have sworn to protect.
In conclusion, Nana Oye Lithur is not the devil. She is only the devil’s advocate in a so called ‘righteous society’ of Ghana. We need more of Nana Oye Lithur to advocate and campaign for and promote the rights of the minority, the voiceless, the weak and the vulnerable in society. The Church, Parliament and NUGs that are expected to protect and promote the human rights of the minority, the voiceless, the weak and the vulnerable in Ghana have not only turned their back on them but also crucified Nana Oye Lithur for having the courage and decency to speak up for them. They should remember this quote from Martin Luther King Jr. “The ultimate measure of a man (woman) is not where s/he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where s/he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK