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Behind the Scenes: How I Created THE WHITEWASHED TOMBS


Book cover of "The Whitewashed Tombs" by Kwei Quartey, featuring a split image with the left side showing a close-up of a contemplative Black woman's face, and the right side displaying the domes and minaret of a mosque. The title "The Whitewashed Tombs" is prominently displayed in bold, red capital letters across the image, with the author's name, Kwei Quartey, at the bottom, and a subtitle indicating it is "An Emma Djan Investigation."
The Whitewashed Tombs: September 3, 2024

The Seed of an Idea for THE WHITEWASHED TOMBS


In the third novel of the Emma Djan series, LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ, I hinted that Jojo, Emma's favorite coworker, was gay. My Soho Crime editor, Rachel Kowal, suggested exploring this thread in the next book. Around the same time, Ghana's parliament was debating an anti-LGBTQ bill, with MP Sam Nartey George vociferously campaigning against LGBTQ Ghanaians. This political climate heavily influenced the narrative I was about to create.



U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, dressed in a yellow outfit, speaking at a podium to Ghana's House of Parliament. The parliamentary chamber features a large, circular ceiling with modern lighting, red carpet with intricate yellow designs, and wooden furnishings. The room is filled with seated members of parliament and observers in the gallery above. A large floral arrangement stands beside the podium.
Nancy Pelosi speaks to Ghana’s House of Parliament, 2019 (Image: Wikipedia)

Reality Shaping Fiction

The political tension in Ghana provided a poignant backdrop for THE WHITEWASHED TOMBS. In the story, Emma's boss at Sowah Detective Agency investigates the murder of queer activist Marcelo Tetteh. Characters like Peter Ansah were inspired by real-life figures such as Sam George. This real-life context helped shape the narrative about hate crimes in Accra.


Portrait of Sam Nartey George, the spearheader of Ghana's anti-LGBTQ bill, wearing a white shirt and smiling slightly, with a neutral background
Sam Nartey George, Member of Parliament and spearheader of Ghana's anti-LGBTQ bill (Image: Wikipedia)

History of the Anti-LGBTQ Bill

The controversial Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, introduced in 2021, aims to severely restrict LGBTQ+ rights, just as Uganda has chosen to do. Supported by various religious and traditional groups, it includes harsh penalties for LGBTQ+ individuals and their advocates.


Modifications & Sponsoring Parliamentarians

The bill has undergone several readings and amendments in Parliament. It criminalizes the promotion and funding of LGBTQ+ rights. MP Sam George has been a vocal supporter, framing the bill as a defense of traditional Ghanaian values.


Passage of the Bill

In February 2024, Parliament passed the bill unanimously after rigorous debate. It imposes stiff penalties on LGBTQ+ individuals and their supporters, extending its reach to public advocacy and private support.


Legal Challenges in the Supreme Court

Following its passage, the bill faced legal challenges in the Supreme Court, with significant opposition from human rights groups. These proceedings are crucial in testing the bill against Ghana's constitutional protections for individual rights.


 Exterior view of the Supreme Court of Ghana building, with neoclassical architectural design with columns and a grand entrance
The Supreme Court of Ghana, located in Accra (Image: Guido Sohne)

President Nana Akufo-Addo's Stance

President Nana Akufo-Addo has not yet signed the bill into law, citing ongoing legal challenges. This has created tension between the legislative and executive branches and could impact Ghana's international relations and economic situation.



Portrait of Nana Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana, wearing a suit and glasses, smiling slightly with a flag in the background
Nana Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana, currently navigating the anti-LGBTQ bill’s complex political landscape.(Image: yen.com.gh)


Broader Implications

Ghana, known for its stable democracy and economic progress, faces a significant departure from these ideals with this bill. The move aligns with increasing anti-LGBTQ sentiment in many African nations. As of 2024, 31 African countries still have laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity.





A Step Back for Human Rights

The bill is a regression in human rights and individual freedoms, contradicting global movements towards inclusivity. It tarnishes Ghana's image as a progressive society and impacts the lives of LGBTQ individuals.


Socio-Economic Repercussions

Punitive measures against the LGBTQ community could affect international relations and economic support. Balancing cultural values with human rights principles poses a complex challenge.


Conclusion

The struggle for LGBTQ rights in Ghana highlights the need for vigilant advocacy to uphold the dignity and rights of all individuals. Through THE WHITEWASHED TOMBS, I aimed to reflect these critical issues, using fiction to mirror the harsh reality.

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