Ghanian activist at a rally near a Ghanaian flag.

Uganda's LGBTQ crackdown could have a ripple effect in Ghana and other African countries

Uganda recently passed a law that criminalizes homosexuality, punishable by death. LGBTQ people and human rights advocates fear that the Ugandan law may empower anti-LGBTQ movements elsewhere on the continent.

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Michael, 27, said he started developing feelings for the same sex when he was a teenager. When he came out to his parents, he said they disowned him and threatened to poison him. 

Michael, who asked not to use his last name for safety reasons and lives in Accra, Ghana, said he still does not feel free to explore his sexuality, especially in the wake of proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation currently being discussed in the country's Parliament. 

“Now, I find it difficult to go to town and even just be myself. Because you don't know who will suspect you of being gay or lesbian and probably lynch you or do anything harmful to you. Because now, the homophobia is so high,” he said.

Ghana’s proposed law criminalizes gay sex, which could mean up to 10 years in jail for LGBTQ people — and their advocates. The bill calls on Ghanaians to report those they suspect of being part of an LGBTQ community. LGBTQ people will also be forced into so-called conversion therapy — a practice widely condemned globally.

Michael said some of his LGBTQ friends have been beaten, tortured and nearly killed. 

Like many LGBTQ people in Ghana, Michael said he wants to flee the country before the bill is passed.

“Most of us just want to go to Europe or the US for asylum. We cannot even live in this country anymore because the bill will ignite so much hate and homophobia that even getting a job will be difficult not to talk of getting a place to live or to rent for yourself,” he said.

Wilhemina Nyarko attends a rally against a controversial bill being proposed in Ghana's parliament that would make identifying as LGBTQIA or an ally a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York on Monda

Wilhemina Nyarko attends a rally against a controversial bill being proposed in Ghana's parliament that would make identifying as LGBTQIA or an ally a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Oct 11, 2021. 


Emily Leshner/AP

'We are extremely scared'

Homosexuality is illegal in more than half of the countries in Africa, with four countries enforcing the death penalty. Globally, 67 countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality, and nearly half of these are in Africa.

Ugandan lawmakers passed anti-gay legislation just last month. LGBTQ people in Uganda risk life in prison under a new bill that aims to crack down on homosexual activities. 

All but two of the 389 legislators voted for the hard-line, anti-homosexuality bill, which introduces capital and life imprisonment sentences for gay sex and “recruitment, promotion and funding” of same-sex “activities.” 

It also includes the death penalty in certain cases.

“A person who commits the offense of aggravated homosexuality and is liable, on conviction to suffer death,” stated Robina Rwakoojo, Uganda’s chairperson for legal and parliamentary affairs.

The bill will now be sent to President Yoweri Museveni to sign into law. Museveni has been an outspoken driver of anti-gay measures and has accused LGBTQ people of undermining stability in Uganda. 

Museveni at a recent meeting called on African leaders to reject “the promotion of homosexuality.” 

Robert Akoto Amoafo, a Ghanaian human rights advocate, worries about the bill's impact.

“I am sad and concerned mainly about the LGBT community in Uganda, about the impact of this bill on their daily lives and especially for those who have come out as LGBT people who are known by their community,” he said. 

Robert Akoto Amoafo, a Ghanaian human rights worker is concerned about the future of LGBTQ Africans.

Robert Akoto Amoafo, a Ghanaian human rights worker, is concerned about the future of LGBTQ Africans.


Courtesy of Robert Akoto Amoafo

Last year, authorities also closed down Sexual Minorities Uganda, an organization that supported LGBTQ people in the country.

A Ugandan lesbian staying in Kampala, the capital, who also requested anonymity for her safety, said the anti-gay law means she can no longer stay in Uganda with her partner. 

“Even before such a law, we were being treated like pigs in this country. Now, what this anti-gay law does is to grant people permission to hate and harm us with impunity,” she said. 

Akello, a gay man from Mbarara, Uganda, said that some of his LGBTQ friends have already been blackmailed from people threatening to report them.

“We are extremely scared at this point,” he said.

A ripple effect

Uganda’s anti-gay law has resonated with some African leaders.

George Peter Opondo Kaluma, a member of Parliament in Kenya, cited the Ugandan anti-gay law as his motivation to submit the Family Protection Bill to the National Assembly of Kenya.

The new bill proposes a ban on homosexuality, same-sex marriages and any other LGBTQ-related activities. It also clamps down on funding for LGBTQ advocates and allies.

Ghanaian Parliament Speaker Alban Bagbin urged lawmakers in a recent meeting to take inspiration from Uganda and expedite the passage of the country’s anti-LGBTQ bill.

Amoafo, the human rights worker, is concerned that African countries and politicians are influencing one another through this type of legislation.

“In Uganda, in Ghana, in Kenya, in Mali and in Niger, it's only politicians that are making these statements. And of course, politicians who see this as an opportunity to make more numbers for their votes,” referring to Ghana’s upcoming 2024 election. 

Henry Ikenna Ugwu, a human rights activist based in Nigeria, said religious leaders and politicians in his own country are fueling hate predicated on traditional values. 

“As long as traditional and cultural values continue to shape public discourse, it will be difficult for LGBT individuals to gain full acceptance and protection under the law,” he said.

Henry Ikenna Ugwu is a human rights activist based in Nigeria. 

Henry Ikenna Ugwu is a human rights activist based in Nigeria. 

Credit: Courtesy of Henry Ikenna Ugwu

Same-sex relationships are illegal in Nigeria. And in many jurisdictions, flouting these laws could lead to long prison sentences.

Many of the laws criminalizing homosexual relations stem from colonial times.

Out of 53 countries in the Commonwealth, a loose association of nations that are mostly former British colonies, 29 have laws that criminalize homosexuality.

The original British laws applied only to men, but countries that criminalize homosexuality today also penalize lesbians.

Some African countries, however, have recently moved to decriminalize same-sex unions and improve LGBTQ rights.

In February 2021, Angola signed into law a revised penal code to allow same-sex relationships and ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Botswana's High Court decriminalized homosexuality in 2019.

Mozambique and the Seychelles have also scrapped anti-homosexuality laws in recent years. But same-sex marriages and civil unions are only legal in South Africa, and the French Islands of Mayotte and Reunion.

Ghana’s Parliament intends to pass the anti-gay legislation before the next presidential election in 2024. 

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