The anti-LGBT campaign in Ghana is the last cry of a dying breed
Some of the most popular arguments in defence of homosexual humanity have never appealed to me. It may be as a result of a self-imposed attitude of intellectual rigour, making my points but weary of competent criticisms.
I do not buy the argument that finds an affinity between homoeroticism in lower animals and homosexuality in humans. It is an argument that falls easily into the naturalistic fallacy. I do not like to buy the “it’s their lifestyle, leave them” argument mainly because it leads down a path of atomized humanism that inspires hyper-individualism. It screams the self-centredness of the Twi phrase Mena mede mehu (carrying the idea of owing no explanation to anyone but one’s self)
It is the same logic by which we as a country have maintained a permanent erection for defending rich people – “it’s their money, they can do what they want”. This, in spite of ballooning wealth inequality in our country, rocketing cost of living, and the shattering of hopes for hundreds of thousands of young ones who were born with the pre-existing condition of underprivileged parents.
If you do follow me on Twitter you will know that for about five years, I have carved a niche for making communitarian critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism, at large. I am not a communist and neither am I a Nkrumahist socialist. My training is in academic philosophy, specifically in moral, social, and political philosophies. My arguments are not perfect and I do not promise the following will be. I have however been part of those referred to as allies of homosexual individuals for over a decade. Through these years, I have exposed my thinking to be challenged several times and I have arrived at the best versions of the cases I make in support of people whose humanity is being crushed by the likes of Moses Foh-Amoaning, the chief anti-gay rights campaigner in Ghana. Foh-Amoaning is a man with albinism, and whose humanity would have been in question were he to find himself in some parts of Africa. This irony is not lost on many Ghanaians.
The African Identity argument
In fairness, Foh-Amoaning and his cohorts are not the only Africans who bring up “African culture” whenever they launch into an anti-homosexual mode. It is done by others of a similar mission in other countries on the continent. A few years ago, when he had only started his campaign, Foh-Amoaning raised an intriguing point against an interlocutor who alleged that Africa’s history carries evidence of homosexual humanity. Foh-Amoaning rejected this claim, and to paraphrase him, “if Africans had the concept of homosexuality they would have had a word for it.” A sort of ontological argument – the case that we can affirm or deny a claim by looking at the rational possibility as sufficient evidence. If there was homosexuality in Africa, there would possibly be a word, claimed Foh-Amoaning.
Ontological arguments are used every day, thanks to the 11th-century priest St. Anselm of Canterbury, by those who say such things as “it is unimaginable to say there is no God”. If there is no God, where and how then do we have the concept of God in our heads? If there’s a rational possibility, i.e. an idea or concept of the thing, it must exist. If there’s no rational possibility, it does not.
Foh-Amoaning’s argument fails on multidimensional levels but I will address two. First, he conflates the presence of a concept with the presence of a word. In this case, he is using words as proof of concepts. He does not take into cognizance, as we are told by the experts in linguistics, the fact that human experience precedes language, not vice versa, and therefore we could very well have ideas and notions we have no words for. And this is even if one subscribes to the extreme version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. That is strange coming from a lawyer and a law teacher. One would not like to think an astute legal brain would not commit such a blunder. Is it even a blunder or is it intentional sophistry?
The other problem with Foh-Amoaning’s argument is more simplistic. If words are proof of concepts, how come we have no empirical basis to accept the existence of unicorns? Or the chimera? Or the orishas? Or even, I daresay, God?
But remember that the impulse to fall on culture is both a political and philosophical ploy. It is political because it seeks to arrest the imagination of those who call themselves Africans into a “us vs. them” scenario where we as Africans would stand against them, Europeans and Americans, who would like to inflict us with this cancer. The “culture” argument provokes nationalist and somewhat Pan-Africanist sentiments against them, the foreign intruders. How many times have you not found someone or yourself making the point that “these people want to push homosexuality on us because we went for a loan”?
The philosophical dimension of this argument makes a little more sense to me than the political case. It is the idea that African cultures have evolved to fit African aspirations. So that, Christianity and Islam, the two major religions on the continent that were dreamed up by Middle Easterners, are now very much part of African identity, like sweetness to a ripe healthy banana.
There are many times that pro-homosexual rights advocates have tried to point out credible evidence of homosexual attitudes among some African societies in the distant past, before, and during colonization. Archaeologists found near Guruve in northeastern Zimbabwe, a cave with a drawing done by the San people, some of the earliest peoples on earth. The drawing showed what law professor Sylvia Tamale called “some form of ritual sex” between two men. The 19th-century ruler of Buganda, King Mwanga II, was known to have taken male lovers. The notion of effeminate men – mudoko dako among some East Africans and the yan daudu among the Hausa of West Africa have been interpreted as acknowledgments by African peoples of the mystery of human sexuality, and these go back to before colonization.
Yet, African culture is now overwhelmingly Christian and Islamic and there is no need to deny that. According to the World Bank, Africa will be home to the largest Christian population on earth in the next decade. We have read of how Africans were Christianized and Islamized and thus, had their innocence and identity stolen. Now, it is time to accept that the two major religions are very much undergoing Africanization. This syncretism started centuries when the first Catholic missionaries and Arab Muslim traders settled on the continent.
The anthropologist André Droogers in The Africanization of Christianity, An Anthropologist’s View made the remarkable argument that this Africanization is not so much a displacement of Africanness. Rather, it is a mishmash, the dislodgement, and addition of different aspects of the two phenomena. Africans may very well have looked kindly upon homosexual humanity in the past but now they do not, thanks to Christianity. Africans are now not ashamed to use their local names along with identifying as Christian, a beautiful departure from the days of colonization, thanks to a renaissance brought about through the independence struggle.
This neo-Africanness – this gay-hating African culture – is still very much African. African peoples, under the influence of European Christians, created this and there is no way to deny it. For advocates of homosexual humanity to deny this is for them to deny the dynamism of culture when dynamism is the same point some within their ranks raise about why homosexual humanity must be defended. For campaigners against LGBT folks, to say homosexual humanity is not African is to reveal a rather limited understanding of what has been part of societal evolution on the continent for so long.
The Scientific Argument
One of the worst public relations disasters for those who have campaigned for homosexual humanity was the search for the so-called gay gene. Science, being a philosophy of reductive materialism, researchers thought they could explain at the genetic level why a few of our kind are into homoeroticism and homosexuality. I believe this was a disaster because it was a venture whose conclusion was miscommunicated and this miscommunication has since been wielded by homophobes like the comical Thor wields his Mjolnir.
The opening sentence in the BBC reportage on the results of the research in 2019 went: “A genetic analysis of almost half a million people has concluded there is no single “gay gene””. The headline was worse: No single gene associated with being gay. Beneath all of these, and buried inside the story was a statement that, indeed, it was not only a gay gene that was not found but that there is no such thing as a straight gene. I am not taking issue with the BBC’s editors (and other media platforms) alone but rather, with the survey in itself, however well-intentioned. As Andrea Ganna, a co-author of the study, which is the largest in human history, said at the time: [It] is not a first study exploring the genetics of same-sex behavior, but the previous studies were small and underpowered.”
We had known for a while, based on previous research that there were no genetic explanations for human sexual orientation. To put matters bluntly, your identification as gay, bisexual or straight cannot be pinned down to biological and psychological facts. Religion enthusiasts should celebrate at this point because this is one aspect of human life scientists have concluded we do not have all the answers. We do not know what makes men like women and women, men.
Procreation is a fairly understood concept via evolutionary psychology and biology. How and why we are attracted to certain smells, attitudes and physical features are all explicable. But we don’t get why we are psychologically and physically attracted to people of the opposite or same-sex. As far as I am concerned, the pretension anti-homosexual humanity proponents have put on for so long that homosexuality is unscientific is a joke that must come to a shameful end.
For people who identify as queer or homosexual, the scientific conclusions from the massive genetic project and other researches are good, if communicated well. They point to a mystery of human nature. The assumptions of humanness, and by extension mental sanity, that have served as bases for psychiatry and clinical psychology for centuries are now buried under tons of progress in the fields of scientific understandings of our humanity.
The morality argument in the LGBT debate is definitely the trickiest and as such, it is where I spend little time even if I am trained to indulge for hours. Moral psychology, the scientific attempt at explaining ethical thoughts, is still very much a young field. Sentimentalism, I have deduced, cannot be removed from the equation when we dialogue about the rightness and wrongness of actions. People are defensive about what they feel even if they do not know the influences upon their feelings and how they have evolved into such a state. I do not urge “emotionless rationality” because human beings are not robots. We have the capacity for self-awareness and introspection, processes that are never possible without emotional outcomes.
I have laid bare my biases and I will not pretend there is a superior moral argument for accepting the humanity of gay people. However, I will address the God-basis of religion which seems to animate the opposition to homosexuality.
People with a scripture, supposedly the words of their supreme deity, find within these texts reasons to suppose that same-sex relations are sinful. It is sinful because it offends their deities. Or is it the other way? Are same-sex relations sinful because they offend the deities or they are sinful and that is why the deities are offended? Religious claimants often have a hard time with this Euthyphro-esque interrogation. But let us presume same-sex relations are sinful because the deities say so; that is, it is wrong for a man to lie with another man because God says it is wrong in the Book of Leviticus.
Personally, I adopted historical, utilitarian, and anthropological humanist critiques to the Divine Command Theory (The God Says principle). I ask, how many times have “God said” been used as the basis in the last thousand years for exploitative ventures? The Crusades, slavery colonization, and segregation were all passionately justified with the Divine Command Theory. For an African whose humanity was debated by Christian Europe for so long, I find it ironic that I am called to this moment by Christian Africa to debate the humanity of others. That being said, we have so many terrible antecedents on which to rely if we have doubts on how these dates on human dignity end.
How many people are made happy if we shut out those whose humanity we question? Obviously, in Africa, we will be making the majority of people happy with this. The question of what happens to those who have few or no defenders is usually not one to bother us. Utilitarianism is a mathematical game that leaves the losers wailing and gnashing their teeth. It says nothing about acts in and of themselves. Is it Christian? Is the utilitarian argument one that can survive modern Christian theology? I do not think highly of the evangelical prosperity gospel theology that is spreading across the continent but even I hold that proponents of that would not be in and all the way with utilitarianism.
Lastly, I ask of the religious moralists, knowing all that we know about the science of sexuality, how does antagonizing the humanity of others please a deity you have never seen? Better still, how does one antagonize the humanity of others while guaranteeing peace for all who inhabit the earth? It is bewildering how hostile we are provoked to be by the facts of people’s existence – facts that do not provably threaten the tranquility of social existence. Ethnicity and sexual orientation, for instance, are harmless accidental qualities of our humanity, yet we are incited to harm based on perceptions of these qualities.
The Republic argument
Connected to the culture and identity argument is the argument about the sovereignty of African nations. When former American president Barack Obama visited his father’s home of Kenya and suggested that Kenya could do well to guarantee the dignity of gays and lesbians, he was told that such courtesy could not be extended to people whose humanity is anti-Kenyan. America would also have to back out of the debate in Kenya because the African nation was sovereign, capable of making and executing its laws.
Almost all African countries are sovereign republics but very few necessarily entertain republicanism, at least, not to the extent that the state’s laws guarantee non-domination of peoples as well as encourage civic participation with reference to scientific evidence for decision-making. The African situation is almost a mockery of what is intended by republicanism. I have always appreciated the concept of republicanism as defined by the second president of the United States, John Adams – “the science of politics [as] the science of social happiness”. This is not a case of judging Africans by western standards. Republicanism is a very distinct system of governance where Adams’ use of science is not synonymous with art but that rather with technical know-how. Republicans – not the American political party – are hopeful political philosophers, who find the progressivity of empirical knowledge necessary to formulating laws and constituting the ideal state. Republicanism is rule of law. Laws informed by empirical knowledge.
My argument here is that republicans worth their salt will encourage debate about homosexual humanity with recourse to technical and/or scientific knowledge about human nature and society. Republicanism would, in my view, guarantee homosexual humanity to the extent that it is proved to have no negative impact on the human community. Republicanism would require that African and Ghanaian lawmakers, in particular, make better-than-shoddy arguments in the constitution of the ideal state. Legal minds like Foh-Amoaning would have to put down the sophistry too and put their best foot forward.
Generally, I think the opposition to homosexual humanity in Ghana is coming from a crowd that is desperate to cling on to a weak branch. I do not suppose the learned among this crowd do not know the problems inherent in their opposition. I just believe they do not care. And that is one of the reasons I expect them to fail and fall.
Nii Sarpei Hornsby
The writer is interested in academic philosophy with specific attention to moral, social, and political topics. He is currently the Associate Editor in-charge of Global Political Content at the global Pan-African online magazine Face2Face Africa.