Growing safety concerns impact IDNOWA’s LGBTIQ+ work in Ghana

A reflection by Davis Mac-Iyalla, the Executive Director of the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA), a valued partner of IAM working towards our common vision on the continent.

The IDNOWA team and our in-country partners were excited as we prepared for the regional MEL convening. In advance of our participation, we set up security protocols as we do for all programs and events we organize. However, recent events have meant that we needed to be even more cautious than ever.

Growing violence against LGBTIQ+ community in Ghana

While the LGBTIQ+ community have never been accepted by the Government in Ghana, since the beginning of 2021 the LGBTIQ community in Ghana has faced even more backlash. 

First it was the raids and shut down of the LGBT center in Accra, an action fully supported by religious leaders and government actors.  

Then came the arrest of 21 human rights defenders in the city of Ho in the Volta region in May 2021, many of whom are IDNOWA members and intersex persons. This arrest saw the 21 people locked up in very poor conditions without access to medical care or support for those with underlying medical conditions or taking HIV/AIDS treatments.  The 21 human rights defenders were ultimately acquitted in August as neither the police nor the court had sufficient evidence to prosecute the individuals, but the damage was done.

These attacks occured against the backdrop of the “Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021” set to be voted on in the coming weeks that would impose hefty prison time for anyone identifying as LGBTIQ+ or who promotes or supports non-straight sexual identities.

The LGBTIQ+ community and human rights defenders are more exposed than ever to an increasingly hostile environment. A group called Journalists against LGBTIQ in Ghana has increased their negative portrayal of LGBTIQ people and identities in the media and to the Ghanaian public. While we try to manage the risks and security situations created by the never-ending negative media coverage about LGBTIQ people, it increased the difficulty of our daily work tremendously.

Preparing for the regional convening

Taking into account the situation in the country, IDNOWA became very discreet in planning for the MEL convening, sharing limited information with only the relevant people involve directly with the planning. However, we got the shock of our lives when a few days before hosting the convening, an unknown caller called me to enquire about the convening and asking for more details about the venue and program. I politely ask the caller to introduce himself and explain how he got my private number.  The caller said “that’s not important, give me the names of participants and confirm the date and venue for me, you will know me when I turn up.”  I had to cut off the call at this point and was panicking because I knew that the convening has been compromised. 

I immediately called my contact, who advised me to move the convening out of the Cape Coast Central region to Accra. Through a trusted event organizer, we found a new venue though at a higher cost, taking safety and security into account in the price.  

All participants were then contacted directly by phone and asked to meet me and IDNOWA team at a designated place and time before being taken to the hotel venue. 

We had to build security and safety training into the program and invited an assistant police commissioner to come give a talk – in part to inform the authorities that our convening is known to him and official in case anyone would make complain against us.   

Luckily, all participants adhered to our strict security and safety protocols and kept the convening private from social media. No participants were allowed to invite friends or visitors to the venue. Once all the security challenges were addressed, we had an amazing MEL Convening and the learning and memories will stay with us forever.