In the five years up to 2021, at least $5 million in aid from Europe and the US went to projects run by or benefiting churches in Ghana whose leaders have backed this bill and have a long track-record of anti-LGBTQI+ statements and activities, according to CNN’s analysis of financial data and communication with the donors.
CNN’s analysis also found that some other members of the Equal Rights Coalition — the US, Germany, and Italy — have funded projects by or for churches in Ghana that have similarly opposed LGBTQI+ rights before, during, and after they benefited from aid money.
Human rights advocates called Western donors’ funding practices exposed by CNN “surprising” and “inconsistent.”
“It’s like stating you’re going to go green and then funding the petrol industry,” said Neil Datta, executive director of the European Parliamentary Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Rights.
Donor agencies need to be “more aware that sexual and reproductive rights are contested issues”, and make sure that “they are not inadvertently funding the organizations who are working against some of their other objectives,” he said, calling for stricter “background checks” on potential grantees.
“This reveals inconsistencies in the funding practices of major donors and implicates them as complicit in fostering homophobia and transphobia in Ghana,” said Caroline Koussaiman, executive director of the Initiative Sankofa d’Afrique de l’Ouest (ISDAO), an activist-led fund supporting gender diversity and sexual rights in West Africa. “This is the antithesis of “do no harm” principles.”
“We need donors to support our struggles for liberation, and not directly or indirectly fund anti-gender movements which we know are extremely well resourced,” she added.
Western aid flowed into Ghana despite years of campaigning against LGBTQI+ rights
When presented with the findings of CNN’s analysis, donors whose aid went to projects for or by religious organizations that oppose LGBTQI+ rights said that all such support stopped before the legislation was proposed, or that the funding was given under now-outdated guidelines. Details provided at the bottom of the story.
In addition, 208,000 euros (about $245,000) of German aid money went to the CCG between 2014 and 2018, via an intermediary called Brot für die Welt, a spokesperson for the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development told CNN. Government funding ended in May 2018, but Brot für die Welt continued cooperation with the CCG for almost three more years — until another anti-LGBTQI+ statement to the press in February 2021 that “clearly positioned the CCG against LGBTQI+”, according to CNN’s communication with the spokesperson.
German as well as Italian aid also went to development projects run by or benefiting some individual CCG member churches that have spoken against LGBTQI+ rights, CNN has identified. Projects of Ghana’s Methodist, Evangelical Presbyterian, and Presbyterian churches received at least $670,000 from these countries via intermediary religious NGOs between 2016 and 2020, according to the most recent available aid data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), corroborated by correspondence with the donor countries.
Germany, Italy, and the US have also funded projects by or benefiting the Ghanaian Catholic Church.
German Catholic intermediary NGO, Misereor, disclosed spending 2.8 million euros ($3.1 million) of German taxpayers’ money on projects by the Catholic Church’s partner organizations in Ghana between 2016 and 2020. This included $127,000 that was spent on a project with a broad goal of strengthening strategy and management standards for the churches’ development work.
Aid benefiting Ghana’s Catholic Church also included $850,000 from the US. Between 2019 and 2020 this money went to Ghanaian and US contractors for a project whose goal was to transition several dioceses of the Church to solar power, as confirmed by the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA).
The CCG and none of the churches in this story responded to CNN’s multiple requests for comment. The spokesperson for the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values, Foh-Amoaning, also declined to answer questions.
Criminalizing same-sex relationships in Ghana
The organization said the bill has “contributed to an increasingly hostile climate” and cited “mob attacks, physical violence, arbitrary arrests, blackmail and online harassment, verbal harassment, gang rape” and other abuses reported by LGBTQI+ Ghanaians.
Leila Yahaya, executive director of queer Muslim organization, One Love Sisters Ghana, told CNN how police raided the paralegal training session her group had organized for activists in the city of Ho, leading to the arrest of 21 people, including herself.
Many of those arrested lost their jobs and were ostracized by family members as a result, said Yahaya who received a death threat and was told she needed “a real man” in her life on social media. “I didn’t talk to anybody for more than six months. I was still in my shell trying to recover and pick up the pieces of my life,” she said.
Yahaya told CNN she felt the introduction of the anti-LGBTQI+ bill was “trying to erase” her “whole existence as a human being.”
“Your whole life is full of question marks. What if it’s passed? What if it’s not?” Yahaya said, adding she particularly fears for fellow queer people who may not know their rights as citizens or how to keep themselves safe.
Mohammed said he had to go into hiding for several months to avoid persecution, moving from one house to another with a group of fellow activists until he moved abroad to study.
Why do Ghanaian churches get foreign aid?
While Ghana is a nominally secular country, faith-based organizations wield significant influence on life and politics.
We must acknowledge that “over the years, many mission churches and African indigenous churches have been involved in development work, such as building primary schools, developing wells, formal and informal education, hospitals and clinics,” professor of gender studies and African studies at the University of Ghana, Akosua Adomako Ampofo, told CNN.
She added that while it is not fair to paint all churches with a broad brush, some have adopted a more restricted understanding of gender and sexuality, which she sees as problematic. “Within churches, some people’s understanding of the Gospel seems to have led them to believe that if there is a disagreement between the way they understand Christianity and other people’s lives then they have the right to impose their view because they see that as the right view.”
LGBT+ Rights Ghana communications director Mohammed echoed this view, telling CNN: “I understand why they [churches] are getting this money. Donors expect results — and one of the entities that can show results is the church because they are seen as people that are helping the community.”
“It becomes disturbing when this very same aid can be used [indirectly] against marginalized communities,” Mohammed added.
‘I’m mad because these churches are not hiding the fact that they are homophobic’
Asibi (a pseudonym is used to protect her identity) has experienced firsthand the “increasingly hostile climate” members of Ghana’s LGBTQI+ community face.
She had been volunteering to help set up the LGBTQI+ community center in Accra before it was raided. Local TV channels broadcast videos from the center’s YouTube page, and Asibi believes that visibility put her at risk.
According to the 25-year-old, she suspects that a family member took screenshots of her social media accounts — which she used to connect with the queer community — and shared them with other family members. Some relatives then called her mother. At this point, Asibi, who is estranged from her family, began to worry.
One night in her studio flat, she thought that she could hear someone trying to open a window from the outside. The next day, a neighbor told her that a man — who she suspects was a family member — had come by with four others. Asibi immediately went inside, packed a bag, and left her neighborhood. She stayed with different friends for months, until she got a visa and fled the country.
“I am mad because these churches are not hiding the fact that they are homophobic,” Asibi told CNN. “I don’t get the justification for funding churches. It further erodes my trust that these international bodies are truly interested in safeguarding the rights of marginalized groups in Ghana.”
What Western donors had to say
When presented with CNN’s findings, a spokesperson for Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) told CNN that the country is aware of “the human rights situation of LGBTQI+ persons in Ghana” and that its intermediary NGOs do not support any projects which endanger the rights of LGBTQI+ communities. These intermediaries, the spokesperson added, are now “seeking to distance themselves from statements made and opinions expressed by the Christian Council of Ghana [CCG].”
However, CNN learned that the NGO intermediary, Brot für die Welt, continues to support projects run by individual CCG members. Those projects are: a three-year grant worth €320,00 for the Methodist Agricultural Program, approved in 2021; a vocational training program by the Presbyterian Church of Ghana which received €460,000 last year; and a three-year €295,000 grant for a health education project by The Salvation Army.
For its part, German intermediary organization, Misereor, continues to use public money to support projects run by or benefitting the Catholic Church in Ghana.
A spokesperson for Brot für die Welt told CNN the organization “strives to engage in constant dialog with local churches” on human rights. “BfdW is aware of some churches conservative and outdated attitude and very much concerned about the discriminating actions in which it sometimes manifests itself,” the spokesperson said.
“Misereor does not support projects that oppose LGBTQ rights in Ghana,” its spokesperson said. “In our internal dialogue with actors in the Church of Ghana, we raise the issue and call for the indiscriminate observance of human rights for all people.”
Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation told CNN it “is not responsible for the use of these [identified] funds”, saying they go directly from people’s taxes to different religious organizations that distribute the money for development work. The two religious institutions the ministry said sent some of this money to Ghanaian churches, Conferenza Episcopale Italiana and Tavola Valdese, did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
The US Trade and Development Agency, which allocated funds to the solar power project benefiting the Catholic church in 2019 and 2020, said: “Legislative and executive branch regulations in place at the time of USTDA’s grant activity would not have prohibited funding by reason of the statements [opposing LGBTQI+ rights] that you provided.”
“We urge Ghana to uphold constitutional protections and to adhere to Ghana’s international human rights obligations and commitments with regard to all individuals, including members of the LGBTQI+ community,” said a spokesperson for the US State Department, which is the agency accountable for the grant the US provided to the CCG. “US government assistance is intended to improve the lives of all Ghanaians, without discrimination.”
A spokesperson for the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO, formerly Department for International Development) told CNN: “The UK has long been at the forefront of promoting LGBT+ rights internationally and we have regularly raised our concerns about the Family Values Bill with the Ghanaian authorities.”
A spokesperson for Christian Aid, the charity that managed UK aid to the CCG, said it is no longer active in Ghana, adding it “takes seriously” its work to promote equality and helps tackle discrimination against LGBTQI+ communities in various countries.
If the proposed bill passes, many LGBTQI+ Ghanaians and their allies would be left with no choice but to try and flee the country.
Editors: Eliza Anyangwe, Krystina Shveda
Data editor: Krystina Shveda
Video: Nima Elbagir, Barbara Arvanitidis, Alex Platt
Photography: Alex Platt