I can’t speak for all of Africa but I can for Ghana. And with the exception of a few countries, I know I can safely say that what applies to Ghana applies to most of Africa. Now Africa is this weird and wonderful place that has recently come to the attention of the Global Media Machine. There have been a great number of advancements on this continent, due in most part to aid from Europe and the USA. Africans themselves have done so very little to lead the charge regarding their own development. The Chinese have taken over our markets with their unstoppable economic might. The Latin-Americans have taken over primetime TV with their telenovelas and the Nigerians have taken the rest with their (awful) Nollywood dramas. Ghana music seems to be the only truly Ghanaian thing that is holding its own in this new globally aware Ghana. Even then, Ghana music has been overly influenced by American hip-hop themes of money, ‘swag’, violence, and sex. Yes, sex! Sorry to burst your bubble if you thought I was leading up to some great exposition entitled ‘Africa: The AmeriEuroChinese battle for global dominance. A native African perspective.’ I’m sorry, but this is about sex!
In Africa, why are we taught, from a very early age mind you, that sex is a bad thing? A thing that invariably leads to abandonment, disappointment, disease, suffering, an almost certain unfulfilled future, hellfire, brimstone and the clutches of Lucifer? And when I say sex, it’s by no means restricted to the actual copulative act of a boy/girl and man/woman ‘doing it’ so to speak. It’s that, and everything else that sex represents; hand holding, kissing, canoodling, masturbating and pretty much anything physical that can give any sort of carnal gratification.
I remember when I was dating the girl who became my wife. This is not a story set in 50's Ghana when sex did not exist in the Ghanaian consciousness and only happened behind closed doors. And when it did happen, it was always done missionary style and very quietly and conservatively. No! This is a story set in the late 90's, well into the information age where majority of the population were aware of and frequently downloaded and shared porn or ‘blue films’ as Ghanaians call them.
She was in film school and I was in university. During my visits to Accra, I’d frequently go and visit her at the hostel (as a good boyfriend does) and stay late. At the end of my visit, we’d walk hand-in-hand to the roadside where I’d get a taxi to go home. All very cute but not the point! EVERY single time during this 15 minute post-visit walk, motorists (taxis , private cars etc.) would frequently slow down, attempt to catch a glimpse of us in their high beam and promptly shout out some sort of asinine, humourless and frankly unnecessary remark along the lines of ‘Get a room!’ There was once a taxi driver actually slowed down beside us and asked us ‘The thing you are doing, is it good?’ We were holding hands.
I was ever so slightly confused. No arms around the waist, no tight provocative holding. Nothing of the sort! We were simply holding hands. This nonsense in a country that frequently advertises and promotes the use of potent aphrodisiacs on primetime radio and TV (well before the watershed period). Potions and concoctions that would render a man god-like in the bedroom with the energy to pound away for hours on end. And when you were done inflicting penile annihilation in the boudoir, your woman would be all too ready to acknowledge your godliness in an uncomfortably 50’s America submissive way using phrases like ‘me wrua me pa wokyew, eden na wo pese meye ma wo?’ ‘My master, how else may I serve you?’
I’m a Whatsapp user and I think it’s an awesome mobile communications app. Just a couple of months ago, a friend of mine sent me a video via Whatsapp with a message that said ‘You have to see this. Hilarious! The little girl is hard oh.’ ‘Hard’ in this context means ‘bad-ass’. Now being of Ghanaian heritage but European upbringing and mind-set, there’s some sh*t that I simply don’t expect to see when the words ‘little’ and ‘girl/boy’ appear in a sentence. Instead of a video which showed a cute little girl on stage in front of a 10,000 capacity audience at the Accra Sports Stadium belting out a funky gothic rendition of the national anthem, I saw 30 seconds of a 5 minute child pornography video involving a 5/6 year old girl and what must have been a 3 year old boy.
Yes, the video was disturbing, very much so. Especially since I had kids of my own and couldn't imagine this happening to them. What was even more disturbing was the fact that throughout the day, at least 6 more people sent me this video remarking on how ‘bad-ass’ the little girl in it was to be doing the things that she’d so obviously been taught to do by someone much older. Not one person mentioned the fact that the content of the clip was horrifying and deplorable. Not one person mentioned the fact that the poor little girl was probably being abused by someone much older. Not one person mentioned the fact that she was probably damaged for life unless a professional intervened and helped her through this. It was actually supposed to be funny!
I was supposed to watch 5 whole minutes of child pornography and find it outright hilarious. There are very few things in this world that can make my stomach turn. This did the trick!
But still, in 2013 Ghana, the collective consciousness of the people finds it hard to accept even conservative public displays of affection. Hand-holding is more accepted these days you’d be happy to know but that’s about it. Kissing in public is still very much something that we should expect to come along with flying cars or bionic limbs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. If you’re Caucasian, Lebanese, Asian, Latino or any other race that visibly has less melanin than Black people, then you’re allowed to do whatever you want really. If you’re a Black man with a visibly melanin deficient woman (or vice versa), then again, you can get away with pretty much anything that is done in Europe. Black on Black however is held to a completely different standard. A more ‘culturally civilized’ standard which would see us express our sexuality only behind closed doors. Ghanaians expect white people to be ‘loose’ and ‘immoral’. After all, we've watched enough American TV to know about the 3 date rule. We've seen enough romantic comedies where sex is given easily but love is the ultimate goal; the decoupling of sex from love.
The third world is the way it is for many reasons; corruption, illiteracy, religion, apathy, economic slavery etc. That’s not to say that more ‘developed’ cultures are much better but I’m not doing an analysis of what or where is comparatively worse. If we get into that argument, then any and everything is okay because invariably, there’s something worse somewhere else. The fact that many other countries may be worse off than Ghana doesn't make Ghana’s situation okay!
So this is my bit to Ghana. Sex is not a bad thing. It never has been. Let us not let the dogmatists, the uneducated, the culturally repressive, and the religious right-wing in society lead the charge in determining where sex belongs in our society. Let us not raise a generation of people who are scared of openly talking about it. Like taxes, sex is with us to stay (the good, bad and the ugly). Let us disambiguate it, demystify it and enjoy it!