The LGBTQ+ rights movement in West African countries like Ghana and Nigeria is progressing and has gained visibility over the years, despite state-sanctioned limitations that make queer existence and activism difficult in both countries.
Anti-LGBTQ+ laws have also made it impossible for West African LGBTQ+ communities to gather together or organize. In Nigeria, laws like the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) and sharia laws persecute queer Nigerians and burden them with a life of erasure, struggle, and violation of their human rights. Ghana also criminalizes same-sex relationships according to section 104 (1) (b) of its Criminal Offences Act. Ghanaian society has launched physical, psychological, discriminatory, and sexual attacks on its LGBTQ+ citizens.
The fight to combat queerphobia and its violence in these countries is very overwhelming but various individuals and groups have come together to form organizations, platforms, and unions to help their queer brothers and sisters while also implementing action for systemic change.
The Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation (QUEST 9ja) and The Oasis Project in Nigeria and LGBT+ Rights Ghana in Ghana are three organizations that aim to achieve systemic transformation in their residing countries.
The Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation (Quest 9ja)
Quest 9ja is a queer, abolitionist, anti-imperialist, pan-Africanist organization striving towards queer liberation. Although it has not launched an official website yet, Quest combines online digital rallying for its activism (Twitter and WhatsApp) with members from both Nigeria and international communities.
The organization was founded by Ani Kayode Somtochukwu, a 21-year-old openly gay biologist, writer, and award-winning queer liberation activist. In his interview with GO Magazine, he talks about the organization’s objectives, abolition, and what freedom will look like in an equal society.
GO: What is the main objective of your organization?
AKS: Our main objective is to achieve the dismantling of cis-heteronormativity and capitalism in Nigeria, as we believe these systems are queerphobic and have created and/or contributed to the exacerbation of queer oppression in Nigeria. We have four principal pillars through which we focus our organizing: mutual aid, community building, ideological education, and Pan-Africanist solidarity.
GO: Where did the idea for Quest 9ja come from?
AKS: QUEST 9ja was launched during the EndSARS protests to support queer protesters materially and to advance a more abolitionist solution to the epidemic of police violence. We believe it is necessary for there to be an organization that links the oppression we are facing to the economic and historical factors that birthed and reinforced our subjugation.
We believe queer liberation is impossible under capitalist dictatorship and so our fight for queer liberation includes a fight for a Pan-Africanist socialist revolution in Nigeria.
GO: Abolition is part of the commitments of your organization. Is this possible in Africa? Also, can you walk us through a brief understanding of what abolition in Nigerian society looks like?
AKS: Abolition is very possible in Africa. We know this because the police and the carceral state which we seek to abolish are vestiges of colonization; they did not always exist here. They were created to enforce imperial exploitation. We know abolition is possible because we have a history of existing without prisons or police. For African queer people, abolition is a necessary act of decolonization.
What it looks like is a future without police killings, without jails, without incarceration. It is a future where the economic conditions that cause crimes are tackled instead of criminalizing its victim.
GO: Is freedom for all possible in our future?
AKS: Liberation is possible. But we have to fight for it. The fight for Queer liberation is a holistic one that is concerned with every type of oppression that queer people face so our work will reflect that by being structural in its approach.
A structural approach will be one that seeks to replace the system because of how entangled it is in maintaining these oppressions that victimize queer people. This means that at the center of our analysis is opposition to the sociopolitical system taken as a whole, instead of focusing on this or that individual oppressive part of this system.
The Oasis Project
As a non-profit organization, the Oasis Project aims to promote positive representation and humanization of queer people in Nigeria through education and empowerment. The organization also advocates for the rights and humanity of all Nigerians. Its founder, Matthew Blaise, 21, is a Nigerian nonbinary and gay award-winning LGBTQ+ rights activist who is passionate about queer rights and liberation. They have been committed to working to create safe spaces for queer Nigerians.
GO: What issues in Nigeria does your organization aim to address?
MB: Oasis aims to address the issue of safe housing and safe spaces in the Nigerian queer community as most of these spaces are not available for a lot of queer people who have been outed and thrown out of their families. This also includes queer people who are just looking for ways to access a community of love.
We hope to create more educative and informative content to put word out there about queer issues for people in our society to understand thereby accelerating acceptance.
GO: When and how was your organization created? Do you have plans on expanding your organization on the African continent?
MB: Oasis started with the need to utilize my social capital especially the one gotten during #endsars, to help more queer folks in need of these supports. We started in February.
Our organization is focused on the Nigerian community but we still show solidarity with other international communities.
GO: What are the current challenges faced by queer Nigerians caused by the SSMPA and sharia laws?
MB: I think we have lots of challenges aside from the SSMPA, even though the law is one of the pressing ones. As queer people, we were thought to internalize so much hate and this hate has caused us so much and deprived us of loving others and ourselves. This hate prescribes most of our internal problems like femmephobia, transphobia, misogyny, and fatphobia. It is very important to let go of these biases and form a bond as our struggles are connected or interconnected.
GO: What words of advice do you have for allies in the international community?
MB: Allies should do their best to keep supporting us however they can.
LGBT+ Rights Ghana
LGBT+ Rights Ghana started as a cyber activist group in 2018 highlighting the struggles of LGBT+ Ghanaians in the country. In 2021, the organization opened its office in Accra amidst queerphobic backlash from anti-LGBTQ+ groups and individuals. The office was unfortunately raided and shut down on February 24, 2021 by members of Ghana’s national security force together with the police.
According to Abdul-wadud Mohammed, who is the communications director for LGBT+ Rights Ghana, the general atmosphere for queer people in Ghana is not safe at the moment. The organization, in collaboration with other groups, has been able to implement safety protocols to aid members of the queer community. These protocols include, but are not limited to, welfare assistance; legal support in blackmail cases (although few of these cases make it as far as a courtroom); financial aid and bail for victims of arrest; and informative material, such as ‘dos and don’ts’ lists and maps flagging dangerous areas, to help queer people safely navigate their environments.
“The community center was supposed to serve as a safe space for victims of abuse and those that have been put out of their homes but unfortunately it was closed,” Mohammed tells GO.
GO: What are the issues that your organization aims to combat in Ghana?
AM: The mission of our organization is simple: we’re trying to build a society where it will be more inclusive and safe for LGBT Ghanaians. That is the basic core mandate of our activism.
We deal with so many issues concerning the LGBT community here – legal issues, psycho-social issues, health issues, security issues, and practically anything that harms the community.
GO: According to the news, the state, people, and church in Ghana are against the country’s LGBTQ+ community. Can you give us a brief background of this situation?
AM: Our movement was able to open our community center with the help of allies for community members to be able to geographically locate a safe place to access help. Unfortunately due to our visibility online, anti-LGBTQ groups sent this information to traditional Ghanaian media and it was reported that ‘the gays have now opened an office.’ There was so much false news and misinformation going around. We put out a statement to address the situation but that sparked more controversy.
More people, including religious bodies, started inciting hate against the LGBT community in the country; since Ghana is predominantly religious, people just listened to whatever their pastors said. Some people even threatened to burn down our community center if the government did not intervene.
There were numerous church services and sermons with whole-day prayers and fasting sessions against the LGBT community. Even after our center was shut down, they held a prayer session at the community center site, saying we brought in ‘demons’ to the country.
GO: Did organizations both home and abroad show support for the LGBTQ+ community in Ghana?
AM: We had so many organizations, celebrities, activists, notable people, and feminists sign/stand in support and solidarity with us from Ghana, Nigeria, the diaspora, and the international community.
GO: What is it like to resist and continue to fight for queer liberation with so many state-sanctioned barriers and limitations?
AM: It isn’t easy fighting with these barriers and limitations, obviously, but then growing up in the system, you actually know how the system is; you study it and you still move on as it progresses. Ghana has been super homophobic since we were born into it and we believe moving forward, it will get better with more education and more visibility. So right now, we just have the hope that there is change coming, in as much as it’s going to take some time, it’s going to happen.
This personally makes me continue fighting because I believe we deserve better as queer Ghanaians. We have to continue fighting. Oppression is still here, the monster doesn’t disappear just because we close our eyes. We have to face it head-on.
We acknowledge the limitations and barriers but we know it’s going to get better; that is what fuels our fight.