In December 2022, CNN published an investigation linking aid funding from pro-LGBTQI+ Western governments to anti-LGBTQI+ groups in Ghana.
Between 2016 and 2021, reporting by Claire Provost and Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah of CNN found, “at least” $5 million went to Ghanian churches whose leaders are vocally opposed to LGBTQI+ human rights.
In the same period, these leaders and their organizations have advocated for the so-called Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill. This bill, not yet passed into law, would sentence LGBTQI+ Ghanaians to jail time or conversion therapy. Advocacy in favor of LGBTQI+ communities would be punishable by up to ten years in prison, while even public displays of affection between gay people—and public expressions of trans identity, via “crossdressing”—could result in fines and jail time.
As they emphasize, Provost and Sekyiamah did not find that Western aid money flowed directly to Ghanaian churches’ anti-LGBTQI+ activities or into political advocacy for the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights Bill. However, their investigation did find clear violations of an essential principle of international LGBTQI+ advocacy.
This principle is especially important in LGBTQI+ advocacy, where publicizing a person’s sexual identity can lead directly to violence. The Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), an organization encompassing pro-LGBTQI+ governments and civil society groups, describes as one of its founding principles “consulting closely with civil society to ensure our individual and combined international efforts adhere to the principle of ‘Do No Harm’, do not undermine or further marginalise LGBTI persons or other persons in vulnerable situations, and instead create an enabling environment in which their human rights can be respected, protected and promoted.”
According to the CNN investigation, aid budgets from ERC members the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy “have funded projects by or for churches in Ghana that have…opposed LGBTQI+ rights before, during, and after they benefited from aid money.” The groups receiving this taxpayer funding are largely religious organizations, the largest being the umbrella organization Christian Council of Ghana (CCG) and the Catholic Church. In media statements and other publicly available materials, these groups have clearly expressed their opposition to human rights for LGBTQI+ Ghanaians.
Of the ERC members found by Provost and Sekyiamah to have contributed taxpayer money to anti-LGBTQI+ churches in Ghana, the German government made the largest individual and total donations. Between 2014 and 2018, the German government gave the CCG €208,000. (The UK, the second largest donor, gave slightly over half that amount.)
Many of religious groups’ explicit attacks on LGBTQI+ people were made as part of a debate on sex education in schools, a strategy mirroring debates in donor countries. In a 2020 press release, for example, the CCG wrote, “We seek to reiterate our earlier position on the Comprehensive Sexuality Education and reject any attempt to introduce them into the syllabus of our primary schools as they have underneath them a subtle agenda to introduce gay and lesbian rights into our nation.” Paul Yaw Frimpong-Manso, the President of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, called the attempt to introduce LGBTQI+ rights into school curricula “satanic.”
Between 2016 and 2021, the German government also gave $3.6 million to the Catholic Church in Ghana. (The second largest donor, the U.S., gave the Ghanaian Catholic Church under $1 million in the same period.) In a 2019 press release, the President of the Ghana National Catholic Bishops’ Conference, referring to the same Comprehensive Sexuality Education proposal as the CCG, wrote that “we oppose very strongly any CSE that teaches the acceptances of LGBTQ and same sex marriages as normal,” adding that he considers such education “the subtle agenda of lobbyists and some NGOs to promote a lifestyle that is against universal natural values… As a nation, therefore, we must make our position unequivocally clear and put in place measures that will stop those who propagate this evil agenda.”
Out in the Open
The principle of “Do No Harm” sounds simple in theory but is more complicated to realize in practice. As the CNN investigation notes, Ghana is majority Christian country, and its churches are influential. For aid organizations searching for reliable, effective local intermediaries, churches can be powerful allies, with proven records in education, healthcare, and agriculture. Still, as one queer Ghanaian told CNN, “I am mad because these churches are not hiding the fact that they are homophobic.” Many of the anti-LGBTQI+ statements unearthed by Provost and Sekyiamah in their reporting were matters of public record. In some cases, donors could have discovered such statements with simple internet searches.
A Muted Response
So far, the reaction to CNN’s investigation has been relatively muted, a fact likely reflecting the multifaceted crises dominating the current media landscape. But there has been some reaction in overlapping queer, Ghanaian, and international development and advocacy circles.
In a blog post, Davis Mac-Iyalla, the Executive Director of the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA), said, “I think the Western culture that promotes equality and diversity should not compromise their standards. Why aren’t these western governments looking at the groups they are funding to see if they share the same values. I don’t believe in giving funds conditionality but I am not in favour of bigots and hypocrites receiving foreign support while they report that it’s only LGBT+ supporting groups that are getting support from foreign donors.” The report was further shared by the South African queer magazine Gay Pages and the advocacy group Rightify Ghana.
For the news website Ghana Web, however, the fact that the CNN investigation could not find a direct link between Western aid funding and anti-LGBTQI+ activities from beneficiary organizations in Ghana implied a lack of a smoking gun. “Did CNN goof in its report on LGBTQI+ and churches in Ghana getting foreign funding?” the unnamed author wondered. They added, “CNN suggests through its findings that by funding churches in Ghana to implement developmental projects, among other things, foreign donors are supporting and fostering homophobic activities, which is far from the truth.” (In its report, CNN differentiated funding for anti-LGBTQI+ groups and for anti-LGBTQI+ activities. It stated clearly it found no evidence of the latter.)
In a statement on the Alliance for Christian Advocacy Africa website, Rev. Dr. Kwabena Opuni-Frimpong, the former General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana, said that Provost and Sekyiamah “did not talk to any church leader on the subject of benefiting from LGBT funds.” The current President of the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, Matthew Gyamfi, also said that his organization was not contacted by journalists. (According to CNN, church leaders did not respond to requests for comment.)
But Gyamfi added, “We will not accept any monies from LGBTQ or those who are proposing those things, or we accept it to promote their views, no. We have our views, we have our stance on certain issues and you can’t buy it.” Gyamfi added, “If they gave [aid money] on the assumption that they can change the church’s stance on LGBTQ, then they were making a very big mistake.”
In Germany, the largest giving nation to anti-LGBTQI+ Ghanaian churches, the response to CNN’s investigation has been especially muted. German media have covered the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill extensively, but so far, no major German outlet has picked up CNN’s reporting. ¶
Jeffrey Arlo Brown
This text is part of the project “Do no harm – How to minimize risks for LGBTI in international project work” from the Hirschfeld Eddy Foundation. All Articles and documentation in our blog are tagged DNH-2022.