Fighting rape culture in Ghana


A movement of young feminists are fighting back against patriarchy and rape culture in Afropop music in Ghana.

C.C. Chapman via Flickr (CC).

In early February 2019, someone on Twitter argued that that “Kakyerɛ me,” a song released in 2007 by Ghanaian musical trio, Praye, “would have hit more if it’d been released this year than years ago, because feminists would have blasted them for daring to ask who will wash the husband’s clothes and clean his room divider after his wife left him.”

Some six months earlier, towards the end of August 2018, two other friends and I stumbled on another song, “Konkontibaa” by Obour (featuring Samini) whilst making a playlist for an old-school themed party. We initially thought about including it, because the song was a hit song from the past; fifteen years ago to be exact. We soon realized we’d be much better off not including it. We also realized that we had sang along and danced to “Konkontibaa” when it first came out.

A closer look at “Konkontibaa,” points to how problematic the song is. Here’s an English translation of Konkontibaa’s opening lines: “… this one is indeed small / I know that she’s small / but she’s the only one that I like.” The chorus goes: “The little tadpole is bound to grow into a big frog.”

The tadpole he sings about is a young girl, specifically someone in her pre- or early-teens. Obour and Samini were both 22 years old when they put this song out, which makes the much beloved song predatory at best, and, at worst predatory.

As far as I know, “Konkontibaa” did not experience any significant pushback upon its release. However, something really interesting—and very telling—happened: One day in March 2005, the nomination committee of Ghana’s National Music Awards show summoned Obour and Samini, asking them to defend their songs—which were all vying for the Popular Song of the Year award—against charges of indecency. The former, there to defend “Konkontibaa,” and the latter, there to defend his own song, “Linda,” which features a young man pining for sex from a temporarily absent lover.

In the end, according to one article that reported on the proceedings, “Linda” was sentenced to non-inclusion in that year’s nominations while “Konkontibaa” was acquitted and included in the nominations. The article also noted that “another song that was dropped from competing in the Popular Song category was Mzbel’s ‘Awoso Me.’” (In MzBel’s song, much like in Samini’s, the singer expresses a yearning for sexual pleasure.)

So, the two songs wherein young adults were merely expressing sexual desire were incriminated, and the other song, the third one with its predatory, pedophilic content, was cleared. And thus, it was able to go on, freely, to win its maker not only the Most Popular song of the year award, but five other awards, which included the equally coveted artist and album of the year awards.

In a post-ceremony interview with the Ghana News Agency, Obour is reported to have said that he indeed expected to win massively at the awards, “because of the high level popularity ‘Konkontibaa’ generated last year, among the young and old; it became a household song.”

“Everywhere, you hear people singing it,” he added.

Any society that demonstrates this level of enthusiasm about such a song is a society where rape culture is normalized, and therefore, thrives. Examples abound to corroborate this fact, as brilliantly detailed in an essay by journalist and feminist activist, Nana Ama Agyeman.

Two years ago, rapper Sarkodie ran into trouble for spewing arguably misogynist lyrics that perpetuated a stereotype born from a myth about the Krobo people of Ghana—that Krobo women have been cursed, by Okomfo Anokye, a priest of the Asante kingdom, with promiscuity. There was a furor. And Sarkodie had to apologize, albeit halfheartedly.

A year earlier, in May 2016, a Ghanaian intersectional feminist website, Ghana Feminism, published an essay in which six out of seven women’s allegations of rape against a rapper, XO Senavoe, were detailed. According to founder of the blog, Obaa Boni, who published the article—even after the rapper’s attorney had called and threatened legal action if the piece went up—she wanted to publish the allegations to “disrupt the cultural wall of silence that allows perpetrators to continue to inflict their violence without accountability…” And disrupt silence she did, considering the level of attention created by the article. XO Senavoe’s public voice has been extremely muffled, his career suffering an arguably irreparable blow. His deflated power and reduced influence are little victories in their own right.

Ghana Feminism makes up but one part of the movement that has emerged a little short of a decade after the release of “Konkontibaa.” There are the likes of Drama Queens, Pepper Dem Ministries and The Young Feminist Collective who, to borrow from Ghana Feminism’s mission statement, “aim at liberating Ghanaians from constricting gender oppression,” essentially patriarchal violence, of which normalized rape culture is a central part. Together with several other Ghanaian women fighting patriarchy on the net and beyond, they wait for the artist who shall dare release the next “Konkontibaa” and expect no pushback or repercussions at all.

Notwithstanding these efforts, it is too soon to think the (male) Ghanaian rapper has ceased spewing offensive, inappropriate raps about girls or women. Yet it is worth acknowledging the shift in the cultural climate since fifteen years ago when Obour, the current  president of Ghana’s National Musician’s Union, released his rather despicable song.

In a fantastic scenario, the preteen girl who was so wrongly being sung about some fifteen years ago is now the twenty-something year old young woman who joined forces with her sisters and realized that long-chanted battle cry to “end rape culture.” Really, though, the news is not all that fantastic: there’s bad news, which is that the train moving towards a rape-culture-free destination is moving so slow; and the good news is that: the train is moving, regardless. A luta continua.

Further Reading