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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999: Ghana

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999

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Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

Religious institutions that wish formal recognition are required to register with the Registrar General's Department. This is a formality only. Most traditional religions, with the exception of the Afrikania Mission, do not register. Formally recognized religions receive some tax relief. However, beyond a certain point the institutions are required to pay tax. In 1989 during the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) regime, which ruled the country from 1981 to 1992, a law requiring the registration of religious bodies was passed in an effort to regulate churches. The Ghana Council of Churches interpreted this law as contradicting the concept of religious freedom in the country. The PNDC repealed the law in 1992.

About 35 percent of the country's estimated population of 18 million are at least nominally Christian. Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Mennonite, evangelical, Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal Zionist, Christian Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, F'eden, numerous charismatic faiths, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist, and the Society of Friends. Christianity often includes an overlay of traditional beliefs.

About 31 percent of the population adhere to traditional indigenous religions. These religions include a belief in a supreme being, referred to by the Akan ethnic group as Nyame or by the Ewe ethnic group as Mawu, and lesser gods who act as intermediaries between the supreme being and man on earth. Veneration of ancestors is also a characteristic, as they too provide a link between the supreme being and the living and may even be reincarnated at times. The religious leaders of those sharing these diverse beliefs commonly are referred to as priests and are trained in the arts of healing and divination. These priests typically operate shrines to the supreme deity or to one of the lesser gods, relying upon the donations of the public to maintain the shrine and for their own maintenance.

About 27 percent of the population are Muslim. Three principal branches of Islam are represented in the country: the orthodox Sunnis and Tijanis, and the less orthodox Ahmadis. The Shi'a branch is virtually absent from the country's Islamic community.

About 7 percent of the population practice other religions. This includes the Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Ninchiren Shoshu Soka Gakkai, Sri Sathya Sai Baba Sera, Sat Sang, Eckanker, the Divine Light Mission, Hare Krishna, Rastafarianism, and other international faiths, as well as some separatist or spiritual churches or cults, which include elements of Christianity and traditional beliefs such as magic and divination. Some consider the ethnic Ga tradition to be a religion (see Section II).

There are no statistics for the percentage of atheists. Atheism, as such, does not have a strong presence, as most persons have some spiritual and traditional beliefs.

The majority of the Muslim population is concentrated in the upper western and upper eastern regions. The followers of the more traditional religions mainly dwell in the rural areas of the country. Christians live throughout the country.

Reportedly, only 1.9 million of those who profess the Christian faith actually attend church.

Religions considered to be "foreign" include the Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Ninchiren Shoshu Soka Gakkai, Sri Sathya Sai Baba Sera, Sat Sang, Eckanker, the Divine Light Mission, Hare Krishna, and Rastafarianism. The Government neither monitors nor advises these organizations.

Foreign missionary groups, including Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Mormon groups, operated throughout the country with a minimum of formal requirements or restrictions.

Violent confrontations between Muslim sects in January and August 1998 led to deaths and injuries. The authorities acted in an evenhanded manner to restore order (see Section II).

On May 31, 1998, a mob of about 40 persons attacked a charismatic Christian church service, injuring dozens of worshippers and causing massive property damage. The police dispersed the attackers without firing any shots. A subsequent call by the Ministry of Interior for Christians to respect traditional practices by observing a ban on drumming provoked a strong reaction from some Christians who objected to perceived restrictions on freedom of worship. No suspects were charged in firebombings of the same church in December 1996 and March 1998. Four days before the May attack, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly had bulldozed the wall around the church parking lot, alleging violations of the lease (see Section II).

It is obligatory for all students in public schools up to the equivalent of junior secondary school level to attend a daily "assembly" or devotional service. This is a Christian service and includes the recital of The Lord's Prayer, a Bible reading, and a blessing. Students at the senior secondary school level are required to attend a similar assembly three times a week. Students attending boarding school are required to attend a nondenominational service on Sundays.

Although the Constitution prohibits slavery, religious slavery exists on a limited scale. Trokosi, a traditional practice found among the Ewe ethnic group and primarily in the Volta region, is an especially severe human rights abuse and a flagrant violation of women's and children's rights. It is a system in which a young girl, usually under the age of 10, is made a slave to a fetish shrine for offenses allegedly committed by a member of the girl's family. The belief is that, if someone in the family has committed a crime, such as stealing, members of the family may begin to die in large numbers unless a young girl is given to the local fetish shrine to atone for the offense. The girl becomes the property of the fetish priest, must work on the priest's farm, and perform other labors for him. Because they are the sexual property of the priests, most trokosi slaves have children by them. Although the girls' families must provide for their needs, such as food, most are unable to do so. There are an estimated 4,000 women and girls bound to various shrines in the trokosi system, a figure that does not include the slaves' children. Even when freed by her fetish priest from the more onerous aspects of her bondage, whether voluntarily or as a result of intervention by activists, a trokosi woman generally has few marketable skills and little hope of marriage and typically remains bound to the shrine for life by psychological and social pressure arising from a traditional belief that misfortune may befall a trokosi woman's family or village if she abandons her obligations to the shrine. When a fetish slave dies, her family is expected to replace her with another young girl, thus perpetuating the bondage to the fetish shrine from generation to generation.

In June 1998, Parliament passed and the President signed legislation to ban the practice of trokosi in comprehensive legislation to protect women's and children's rights. Human rights activists believe that the goal of eradicating the trokosi practice is attainable with the new law. Nongovernmental organizations, such as International Needs, and government agencies, like the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice(CHRAJ), have been campaigning against trokosi for several years and are familiar with the locations of the fetish shrines and the numbers of women and children enslaved. Activists know the community leaders and fetish priests and thus know with whom to negotiate. CHRAJ and International Needs have had some success in approaching village authorities and fetish priests at 15 of the 76 shrines, winning the release of nearly 1,000 trokosi slaves before the end of June 1999 and retraining them for gainful employment. When the achievements of other organizations are included, approximately 1,300 slaves had been released by the end of June 1999. The followers of Trokosi claim this to be a religion, but the Government does not recognize it as such.

Government employees, including the President, are required to take an oath on taking office. However, this oath can be either religious or secular depending on the wishes of the person taking the oath.

The Government does take steps to promote interfaith understanding. At government meetings and receptions there is usually a multi-denominational invocation. Often religious leaders from various faiths are present.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

There are generally amicable relations between the various religious communities, and spokesmen for these communities often advocate tolerance toward different religions, although debate intensified over religious worship versus traditional practices and respect for the rights and customs of others in a diverse society.

During the period covered by this report, there was tension between practitioners of the ethnic Ga (the Ga are the original inhabitants of Accra) tradition (which some consider to be a religion) and members of some charismatic churches over the annual ban on drumming and noise-making prior to the Ga "Homowo" (harvest) festival. Traditionalists believed that their time-honored beliefs should be accorded due respect, while some Christians resented the imposition of taboos, which they believed infringed on their right to worship as they pleased.

The ban on drumming in the Ga traditional area during the Homowo festival continued to generate heated debate in the media, and three incidents of violence were reported. On May 15, 1999, a group of men allegedly hired by the Ga traditional council entered the Living Light Ministry at Darkuman-Nyamekye in Accra during a worship service and began forcibly to remove music equipment. Some members of the congregation recognized individuals in the group and pleaded with them to leave the equipment, which they eventually did. There were no casualties. On May 29, 1999, a group of heavily armed men identified as Ga Wulome Council guards disrupted services at the Mount Zion Prayer Center at Abeka in Accra, wounding five members of the congregation. The church's collection for the day was stolen, and the church facility was vandalized. On May 30, 1999, a group of armed men attacked worshippers at the Ordorkor branch of the Apostolic Faith Mision in Accra. One member of the congregation was knocked unconscious and several others sustained minor injuries. The attackers seized musical equipment and allegedly stole money from members of the congregation. Police were called but did not respond, claiming that they were guarding other churches.

There have been occasional reports of interreligious and intrareligious incidents, but no violent incidents based on religious affiliation.

There were some outbreaks of violence due to disputes over burial rites between certain Muslim groups in January and August 1998, which led to death and injuries. On January 16, 1998, four persons were killed in a continuation of factional violence between two Muslim groups. Tijaniya and Al-Sunnah Muslims each were attempting to bury deceased members of their groups at a cemetery in Wenchi, 30 miles northeast of the Brong Ahafo regional capital of Sunyani. A dispute over burial rights resulted in a violent confrontation bewteen the two groups. Four persons from the Al-Sunnahs were killed and 26 were injured when the Tijaniyas attacked with rifles and machetes. A joint police-army contingent dispatched the following day restored order and arrested 57 persons. In late August 1998, clashes between members of the Al-Sunnah and Tijaniya Muslim groups broke out in Kumasi when a member of the Al-Sunnah group died after a protracted illness. The father of the deceased, who belonged to the Tijaniya group, decided to perform the burial but relented after persistent requests from the Al-Sunnah group. Tijaniya group members attacked the Al-Sunnah members as they were returning from the cemetery and five persons were injured in the clash. They Tijaniyas reportedly planned to burn a kiosk belonging to the Al-Sunnah group but police intervened. The police arrested more than 100 persons in the clashes.

On May 31, 1998, a mob of about 40 persons attacked a charismatic Christian church in Accra during a service attended by about 800 persons, injuring dozens of churchgoers and causing massive property damage. Police dispersed the attackers without any shots. The incident increased tensions between leaders of the Christian community and traditional authorities. The attack apparently was triggered by a combination of factors: the possibility that the church might defy the traditional authorities' 6-week ban on drumming, which precedes the Ga ethnic thanksgiving festival; a land use dispute involving the church parking lot; tensions between supporters of rival district assembly candidates; and ongoing intimidation by nearby residents to force the church to relocate. No suspects were charged in firebombings of the church in December 1996 and in March 1998. Four days before the May attack, the Accra Metropolitan Authority had bulldozed the wall around the church parking lot, alleging violations of the lease. The Minister of Interior's subsequent call for Christians to respect traditional practices by observing the ban on drumming provoked criticism from some Christians who objected to perceived restrictions on freedom of worship.

The clergy and other religious leaders actively discourage religiously motivated violence, discrimination, or harassment.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy monitors religious freedom in the country and discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

Embassy officers meet with various leaders of religious communities in the country from time to time. In November 1998, the President's Special Envoy for Democracy in Africa conducted a roundtable for members of civil society, which included religious leaders. Embassy officials met separately with government officials and church leaders to discuss the attack on Lighthouse Chapel in May 1998.

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