On shithole nations, fetish priests and river gods…

Esther A. Armah

Universal global outrage. Condemnation, anger, a call to action was the response to America’s 45th President’s verbal assault on African nations. Are we more moved to respond when powerful, white men insult African nations than we are by our African leaders’ daily insults and offensives within those same nations? Does such outrage reveal more about colonialism’s legacy that privileges what white men are saying about Africa, than what African leaders are doing in Africa to African people?

Can this be a moment to re-evaluate such outrage and turn it laser like within in order to make the kinds of changes that would improve our society?

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo tweeted back in what can be called a ‘presidential clap back’ to President Trump. He rejected the comment, defended his nation and rightly reminded the US that such an insult would not be tolerated no matter how powerful the nation.

Our president’s comments were just one of multiple responses. Cable television news featured  commentators, journalists, anchors all of whom weighed in. Think pieces were written and published in multiple publications. One correspondent researched and revealed statistics that highlight the powerhouses from African nations who are excelling in America. I saw a hash tag on Twitter – #AfricaIsBeautiful – with people posting images of the beauty within Africa.

America’s 45th president’s comment offers a crucial opportunity to teach some important American history. We should remind America, its Trump supporters and voters that our so-called ‘shithole nations’ built your wealth and your economy; you are a superpower specifically because your nation perpetrated brutality and injustice. We should remind America’s 45th president that enslaved Africans taken from shithole nations laboured and built the White House – the very place from which you issue 140 character insults.

I do not suggest we do not respond. We must. I invite us to evaluate the comparative ways we respond to this versus a major issue in Ghana – sexual violence.

What should ignite equal outrage and require equal focus and response is the horrific treatment too many girls and women are subject to in these African nations.

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Let me be more specific. I live in Ghana – a beautiful nation with actual shitholes due to the preponderance of public defecation. That is another article on sanitation for another day…….

Can we leverage our outrage in response to the ways in which sexual violence flourishes in our African nations? Can we be equally exercised in our calls for action when stories are reported that discriminate against girls in our nations?

Let me be more specific.

Headlines reporting menstruating girls in the Central Region are banned from crossing a river that gets them to school due to instruction from that regions’ river god, should also ignite outrage. Using culture as a weapon to police girls’ bodies, discriminate against their access to education and threaten their future is an outrage – one that fails to ignite universal condemnation and a specific call to action. It is a headline about which some will pass comment, and the day will continue unabated and uninterrupted.

Another headline reported a fetish priest who beat and then poured acid into a 12 year old girl’s vagina in order to exorcise evil spirits from her body. She was brought to him by her father; he had accused her of being a witch and blamed her for his financial issues.  The fetish priest penetrated her vagina using a stick and in the hospital, medical staff say her vagina is burnt and there is internal injury whose extent is yet to be assessed. This is sexual assault, rape and abuse in the name of culture. The story further reported this  father had been selling his two daughters –  to men to have sex with and pocketing the money.  He has been arrested. There is a manhunt for the fetish priest. The father is a pimp and the fetish priest is a rapist and an abuser. All this in the name of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’.

Does such a story stop this nation in its tracks and ignite global outrage?

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Essentially, these stories   and a nation’s response – or lack of it – are markers of  a greater malaise.

We deal with such stories of sexual violence, rape and sexual assault as individual incidents, where individual families or victims struggle for justice. We are momentarily outraged by them. We are horrified by the latest statistics that continue to reveal the number of teachers sexually assaulting and then impregnating their students. We rightly critique Ministries, politicians for their inaction.

It is an ongoing cycle of sameness.

Each of these is engaged as separate, single struggles. They are not. They are inter-connected issues that require wide-ranging strategy turned funded action.

Sexual violence is not considered, treated or funded like the national crisis it is. Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) is the national strategy to deal with sexual violence, however there are only 110 DOVVSU offices in the entire country of Ghana. Statistics from Brong Ahafo, Central and Western Region revealing disturbing numbers of young girls being made pregnant by teachers continue to spiral up – there is a mismatch between the scale of the issue and the focus on the resolution strategies. That disparity continues to grow.

My call is for sexual violence, rape and defilement to be considered as a national crisis requiring flagship policy.  Detailed, accurate data collection is required in order to paint the most accurate picture of headlines that are snapshots of horror.

Sexual violence is a question of security – or for the vulnerable – the lack of security.  And nation building requires a security focus.

A President’s insult should not merit more movement than the heinous actions of fetish priests or river gods when it comes to the focus and future of girls and women in Ghana.

Let’s train our outrage in shaping strategy, policy and action to eliminate sexual violence.

Let’s turn our action inwards, with a laser-like focus on transforming our societies – that is our work.

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