Outspokenness is not usually counted as one of the strengths (for lack of a better word) of Ghana's President, John Mills. Last week, however, Mr. Mills was quite decisively vocal in speaking against British Prime Minister, David Cameron, threat that the United Kingdom would curtail aid to Commonwealth countries who criminalize homosexuality.
The Commonwealth of Nations, formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is a group of 54 countries who (with the exception of Mozambique and Rwanda) were part of the British Empire. The goals of the Commonwealth, spelled out in the Singapore Declaration, include the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, individual rights, and free trade. Technically speaking, the Commonwealth is not a political union and all members are regarded as equal. But in reality, as many of members receive aid from Britain thanks to their affiliation with the Commonwealth, Britain holds the most sway and sets the agenda at the organization's meetings.
Of the 54 members nations, as many as 41 have laws that criminalize homosexuality. In Ghana, male same-sex sexual activity is illegal and even public display of affection among is a no-no, even grounds for arrest. The Criminal Code of 1960--Chapter 6, Sexual Offences Article 105 states that "Whoever is guilty of unnatural carnal knowledge— (a) of any person without his consent, is guilty of first degree felony; (b) of any person with his consent, or of any animal, is guilty of a misdemeanor." What constitutes "unnatural carnal knowledge" is open to interpretation and jurisprudential nitpicking can border on the farcical e.g. whether that term applies to male-female sexual activities via alternative routes...you get the drift.
Back to Mr. Mills now. In criticizing Mr. Cameron position, the Ghana President declared that: "I, as president of this nation, will never initiate or support any attempt to legalize homosexuality in Ghana." Furthermore, Mr. Mills said : "Let me also state that while we acknowledge all the financial assistance and aid by our development partners, we would not accept any aid with strings attached if that aid will not inure to our interest or the implementation of that aid with strings attached would worsen our plight as a nation or destroy the very society that we want to improve."
Mr. Mills's words were received with thunderous applause and ovation across Ghana, which alongside Egypt, Uganda, Nigeria, are described as the most unfriendliest places for gays in Africa. In 2006, a proposed gay conference in Ghana was blocked by the Ghana government on the grounds that it was criminal. Later on the conference was said to be a hoax. The stark reality is that despite the verbal posturing from Mr. Mills and other public officials in Ghana, homosexuality is still practiced in Ghana, and there are known bars and spots that are hangouts for gays. However, when media developments like that recently precipitated by Mr. Cameron take place, the government feels the need to reassure the conservative voting masses that their so-called cultural integrity is still intact. The gay issue has crept in and out of intense public discussions in Ghana a few times this year alone, and with presidential elections in 2012, one wouldn't be a surprise if a voting issue is made out of it. As at this week, talks have already emerged from Ghana's parliament about strengthening anti-gay laws. This may just be the beginning of many things...