Veganism is rather unknown in Ghana – if you ask the average person in the street, they won’t know exactly what a vegan is. Vegetarianism, on the other hand, is a somewhat better understood in terms of dietary choice. When I say I am vegan and explain that I eat only vegan food, people often ask me if I eat fish or eggs as well.
I have met very few Ghanaians who see veganism or vegetarianism as anything more than simply a dietary choice rather than a political belief or movement against oppression. Even in the circles of the Vegetarian Association of Ghana, ‘animal rights’ are not discussed much – it can seem like the animal rights movement has yet to reach West Africa.
The Vegetarian Association of Ghana
The Vegetarian Association of Ghana, established in 2005, is the only active organisation that promotes the idea of vegetarianism and veganism in the country. The organisation holds regular meetings on the first Sunday of every month at the local Asaase Pa restaurant. The restaurant is located in the city centre and is easily reached by public transport. It gives a friendly and clean impression. The food there is delicious and you will find me having lunch or dinner there several times a week. It is the ideal meeting place for the association, as members can enjoy a good meal before or after their discussions.
I had the pleasure of joining two of the association’s meetings recently and found it very interesting that the majority of members were elderly men. Compared to Finland and other Western countries, where veganism and vegetarianism seem to be the domain of young women, Ghana is the complete opposite. Furthermore, while in Finland environmental or ethical concerns are more prominent, discussions in Ghana were focused almost completely on the health aspects of the vegan or vegetarian diet.
A major part of the association’s annual programme is the Ghana Vegfest, which is held every autumn. The festival is now in its ninth year. The two-day event was held from October 24–25 and it offered food tastings, discussions, music and presentations of various vegan and vegetarian goods. I thoroughly enjoyed the fantastic food at the event – there were vegan pies, fresh mango and pineapple juices, soya kebabs, traditional sauces made of greens and pepper, fried rice and plantain, and delicious cakes.
While the food was fantastic, I was rather disappointed with the religious – almost mystical – undertone present in the conversations and speeches. One long panel discussion concerned using certain vegetables to cure malaria, as the disease apparently "stems from toxins in the liver". In my opinion, this was unscientific nonsense.
Another discussion focused on the supposed dangers of GMO, which was presented as something so horrific that that could cause people all sorts of strange bodily deformations. GMO surely can be criticised for a number of reasons, but creating panic about it by distributing odd photos is not the way to go about it.
Leaflets handed out to me at the event included, for example, advertisements for slowing down the ageing process at the Quantum natural healing and resource centre, the opportunity to be baptised by the Christian religious group Brotherhood of the Cross and Star and an invitation to a transformation seminar by Master Shiva. I also did not feel comfortable with the repeated prayers and religiosity, as this could be very off-putting for the promotion of veganism and vegetarianism to the audience.
All in all, the event left me feeling that vegans and vegetarians there were members of a strange cult. I can imagine that complete newcomers to the movement would be turned off by these impressions.
Animal rights in Ghana
There was not a single session devoted to animal rights during the entire Vegfest and the topic was not discussed much at the association meetings either. My repeated questions about the existence of any active animal rights group in the country were always answered negatively.
There are some nature preservation groups, such as Save the Frogs! Ghana or Wildseas Sea Turtle Conservation, as well as other small local projects focused on the protection of specific species, but no larger organisations dedicated to the abolition of animal cruelty as whole.
I have witnessed the slaughtering of goats many times, and the dismemberment of a cow in the middle of the street in front of my house. I have seen the rough handling of hens and roosters packed in plastic bags. I have watched snails in baskets suffering all day in the scorching sun, I have seen my neighbours cutting the throat of a cat with a sharp knife and leaving her screaming and struggling on the floor.
The obvious animal cruelty in Ghana is hard for visitors to bear. While in Finland animal cruelty is hidden from view behind the walls of factories and farms, here it is all out in open. Therefore, it is easier for me to live in Finland where I don’t have to witness this daily cruelty.
There was a time when I thought that if people only knew about the cruelty behind the meat and dairy industries, if they only got to see it with their own eyes, it would turn them against animal food industry and farming and would motivate them to turn to a vegan lifestyle. But that is not the case. There are billions of people in the world who see animals being used and abused every day and they see nothing wrong with it. I am sure one becomes desensitised to the cruelty and a tied-up goat or a chicken doesn’t seem to affect one at all anymore.
If you grow up being told that killing and eating animals is normal, that God has put animals on the Earth for us superior humans to use them, then all the scenes I have described above will seem like growing vegetables to you. There is no gentleness, no kind word or careful approach. Animals are raw material, mere objects, things that exist for people to use without any value on their own; their only value is for us to use them. This attitude is widespread and visible in almost each and every aspect of life.
So, what can be done to get animal rights onto the Ghanaian people’s agenda? Promoting all the positive aspects of veganism and vegetarianism is surely the key – it is good for your health, good for water supplies, good for the rainforests, good for wildlife, good for peace and compassion, and good for feeding all the people of the world. It really is good for everything!
In addition to talking about the dietary choice, it is also important to get people to see the bigger picture: veganism is a social justice movement and a strong political statement against oppression and speciesism. Who would not want to be part of such a movement?
For anyone interested in joining this globally growing movement in Ghana, there is now a Facebook group called Vegan Ghana – a space to share ideas and thoughts. This is just the beginning, but I have the feeling it can grow into something very big.