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Could Ghana’s tough anti-LGBTQ+ bill be blocked over economic fears?

PARLIAMENT’S approval of a bill cracking down on LGBTQ+ people in Ghana has raised fears in the government that the country could lose international aid vital to help its economy recover from a deep crisis.

If President Nana Akufo-Addo ignores Finance Ministry advice and signs the bill into law, penalties for gay sex would be toughened and new offences introduced.

Akufo-Addo has said he will wait for the outcome of a Supreme Court challenge over the constitutionality of the bill,  which the Finance Ministry has warned could jeopardise nearly $4 billion in World Bank financing.

Here’s what you need to know.

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What is Ghana’s anti-LGBTQ+ bill?

The bill passed unanimously by lawmakers on February 28 is one of the harshest of its kind in Africa, and has raised concerns that members of the community in the West African nation could face further discrimination and marginalisation as they are denied access to jobs, healthcare services and housing.

Same-sex relations are already punishable by up to three years in jail in the West African country, but the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill would further criminalise LGBTQ+ sex.

If it becomes law, possible jail terms would be lengthened and a slew of new offences added – including simply identifying as LGBTQ+ or showing support for gay and transgender rights.

Why is the finance ministry opposing it? 

Ghana’s Finance Ministry said in a document in March that final presidential approval of the legislation could lead to the loss of $3.8 billion in World Bank financing over the next five to six years, derailing a $3 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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When Uganda passed a similar anti-LGBTQ+ law in May 2023, the World Bank halted new lending to the Ugandan government after concluding that the law contradicted the bank’s values.

The Ghanaian Finance Ministry document said it summarised deliberations between the finance minister, central bank governor, head of the tax authority and other senior officials.

Economic analysts have also voiced concern about the bill’s potential impact.

“Currently, we are in a very tight corner and if we pass this bill and it has all of these economic implications, it will send us back to the 2022 level that forced us to go the IMF,” said Isaac Kofi Agyei, an economic analyst at sociopolitical risk consultancy firm SBM Intelligence.

How bad is Ghana’s economic crisis?

One of the fastest-growing economies globally just five years ago, Ghana is struggling to recover from its worst economic crisis in a generation.

The crisis has taken a particularly heavy toll on the roughly quarter of Ghanaians who live below the poverty line, with double-digit inflation prompting anti-government protests in September 2023.

Small businesses have also been hit hard.

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While the government came to an agreement to increase the wage of public sector workers by 23% in November, the national minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation, according to the World Bank, which expects the poverty rate to rise to 34% by 2025.

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What happens to the bill next?

The bill cannot become law unless it is signed by the president.

In his first comments on the bill’s passage, Akufo-Addo  said last week that Ghana would not backslide on its human rights record, adding that he would wait to make a decision on signing the legislation until a Supreme Court ruling on its constitutionality. 

The legal challenge is based on procedural rules, with lawyer Richard Dela Sky arguing that the number of MPs required to be present to pass a bill was not fulfilled.

Previously, Akufo-Addo has said he would sign it if a majority of Ghanaians backed it.

This story is part of a series supported by HIVOS’s Free To Be Me programme

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By PELUMI SALAKO

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