It’s an election year in Ghana, and you wouldn’t expect anyone to talk about anything other than football – and what each party plans to do to achieve prosperity in Ghana. And, the year certainly started out that way as everyone swept the horrors of dumsor into 2015.
But, March has been an interesting month in Ghana – or rather, in Ghana’s foreign affairs. And, it looks like the issues are just beginning to heat up.
While President Mahama was visiting Scottish parliament as part of his state visit, several of the Scottish MPs stormed out of the chambers. The cause of the uproar is Ghana’s stance on the rights of its gay and lesbian citizens. In Ghana, it is still illegal to be homosexual or engage in sexual activities with another person of the same gender. Indeed, being gay is punishable by prison sentences. While Ghana is hardly the only country with such legislation, it is a violation of human rights as declared by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – and the Scottish MPs were well within their right to protest as they did.
Interestingly, a study released by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN) ranks Ghana as the 124th happiest country. The report suggests that countries with the highest levels of equitable rights are the happiest (and Denmark holds the top spot). Perhaps this is something the government should reconsider – as the remarks of Ghanaian diplomat, H.E. Ambassador Victor Emmanuel Smith suggest it’s not been discussed; the sentiment is just known.
Still, the events in the Scottish Parliament will have less effect on the people in Ghana than passport laws – and the backlog of Ghanaian passports. The president’s State of the Nation address a few weeks ago made mention of new visa laws for citizens of African Union countries. Rather than lengthy visa processes for visitors before their journeys; AU citizens will now be issued with visitors visas on arrival.
This is an enormous step for Ghana and the AU – and one can’t help but notice the irony given that many Ghanaians cannot manage to get their own passports in a reasonable amount of time. Besides the requirement of physically being in Accra to apply for passports, the machines responsible for printing these documents suffer from glitches far too often. In addition to requiring assistance from foreign experts, there are distressing rumours about the bribes and payments that must be made to secure a passport.
Interestingly, there are a number of non-Ghanaians carrying diplomatic passports, including those persons that are wanted in other countries.
Still, it’s worth noting that the relaxed visa regulations are only available to AU passport holders. As such, the families of the ex-Guantanamo Bay detainees will need to apply for visas to visit their family members living in Ghana. And that’s another story the Ghanaian government will need to justify to the people. Though the public had been told there were no strings attached to welcoming the Yemenis into the country… it appears there might be.
Should the Ghanaian government not be able to monitor or prevent the Yemeni ex-detainees from engaging in terrorist activities (or leaving the country), American aid to Ghana will be decreased… significantly. Members of the US government have called for aid reductions by $10 million per detainee should an incident occur.
Yes, there’s a lot to talk about in Ghana at the moment; none of it is football, and very little of it is likely to make it to campaign promises. Indeed, much of what’s happened in Ghana over the past few weeks is likely to be swept under the carpet alongside dumsor, just as soon as the country can do so.