By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Like everybody else, he is entitled to his opinion. Besides, he made his homophobic comment at a religious gathering of the Kumuyi-headed Deeper Life Bible Church.
That church is Nigerian-founded, but it has maintained a remarkable presence in Ghana. I even have several relatives who are devotees of Deeper Life, as it is popularly known. Still, as Vice-Chancellor of the country’s foremost science and technology academy, one would have expected Prof. William Otto-Ellis to have soberly laced his anti-gay remarks with a modicum of scientific analysis rather than emotional conniption. He is not the head of a religious institution, and one wonders what the fate of a known LGBT individual, or individuals, well-qualified for admission who applied to study at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), where he is in charge, would be.
I am also wondering what sort of academic culture he has been promoting at KNUST since he became the Vice-Chancellor. Well, whether he likes it or not, gays are integral to Ghanaian society and culture, and have been so since the beginning of time. Ghanaian gays are as Ghanaian as fufu or beans-and-gari and fried ripe-plantains and beans with palm-oil and Fante- and Ga- kenkey and cooked plantains and spinach stew – actually, what I was looking for is the English equivalent of “Kontomire.” But I guess spinach would do just fine, since both vegetables belong to the same floral family. And tuo-zaafi, of course, and akple and banku and kokonte/abetie and ofam and aprapransa and waakye.
It is ironic, but there was a time, not very long ago, when an African with his sort of blue-black complexion would not have dreamed of a college education, much less fathom himself as the head of one of the major institutions higher learning in Africa or the Western world, so-called. Maybe somebody ought to tell him about “The Brown-Bag Test” which was the norm at most of the so-called United Negro Colleges (UNCs) right here in the United States until quite recently. “Back in the day,” as African-Americans are wont to say, his “Afropean” name would not have helped him any much more than my “pure” African name would have helped me. By the way, the same system prevailed in Liberia and was largely the cause of the Samuel Doe Revolution.
I have my own hangup with Black-Africans sporting such incongruous names as “William Otto-Ellis” and “Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle” this late in modern African cultural and political consciousness. In this, I am in the noble company of legendary Africanist lawyer, philosopher, playwright and thinker Mr. Kobina Sekyi, who saw the light at the turn of the last century and changed his own “Afropean” name after his return from his eventful sojourn in England and studies at the University of London. He would also write a bilingual classic play titled The Blinkards (1915), in which he would searingly expose the ridiculous social pretensions of the Cape Coast “aristocracy.”
I just want Prof. Otto-Ellis to think about the endless cultural and traditional markings that could be tabooed and proscribed in order to fully and better appreciate the patent absurdity of his anti-gay ideological stance falsely projected as “Ghanaian” or “African” culture. Recently, a transgender middle-aged white-American colleague and friend of mine narrated to me a story involving a couple of my graduate school professors, whom I had known for the nearly ten years that I spent at philadelphia’s Temple University to be rabidly anti-gay and expediently racist.
Well my colleague, whom I first got to know some twenty years ago as a female (actually a hermaphrodite, for she had been known to have been born with both genitals, with one of them rudimentarily developed or underdeveloped), became a man nearly a decade ago. He has even redesigned his vehicular license plate to reflect his new gender affiliation. Brian (that is not his real name) told me about having gone on a study trip to Brazil, for some two weeks, with some of my former professors about two summers ago. Well, the most memorable, if also obstreperously amusing, part of his story had to do with sharing the same hotel room with the husband of one of the rabidly anti-gay women professors in the “Afrocentric” Studies Department where I obtained my advanced degrees in the 1990s.
So taken up with each other had Brian and his roommate, also an “Afrocentric Studies” professor, become that they even decided to maintain regular contact. When Brian told me his story, he was preparing to possibly embark on another trip involving my former professor’s husband who, by the way, also used to be her graduate student (talk of cradle-robbing and professional ethics!). Anyway, being the straight-shooting arrow that I am, I pointedly asked Brian, peering directly into his eyes, whether he had been mindful of the fact of having shared the same room with a rabidly anti-gay man and the husband of an ultra-conservative “Afrocentrist” who could well have gotten up in the middle of the night and rearranged his fate.
“Wow, I guess even the most intransigent of ideologues do change their ways and minds over time. Or don’t we all?” Brian replied.
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York