God’s Plan? Reactions to the “Accra” episode on CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: Sex and Love Around the World

by Nana Bruce-Amanquah 

I had seen this series pass by my list of recommendations on Netflix, and it wasn’t until we were planning for this theme that I thought about it again. In this 2018 CNN series, famed CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour travels around different cities across the globe and talks to people about romantic and sexual relationships. The single season is only seven episodes long and as a Ghanaian I was particularly interested in the episode on Accra. There are quite a few topics that this single 41-minute episode covers and the common link between them is the role of religion in the romantic relationships found in what Amanpour says could be considered the capital of “one of the most religious places on earth”.   

As would be somewhat expected in such a religious place, talking candidly about sex and sexuality is kind of taboo, especially for women. Akumaa Mama Zimbi, who Amanpour compared to 1980s US media sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, has a radio show where she provides sex advice and education to people calling in with their problems. While with Amanpour, Mama Zimbi talked about other women being miserably sexually unsatisfied in their marriages but not actually saying anything: “They keep it quiet. It’s taboo. They don’t talk about it and it’s killing them slowly. And because of that too, they are not able to educate their children about sex”. Her show provides a way to discuss sex outside of a strictly biological or religious context. Clearly there is a need to actually talk about these things, especially when you consider how sex is not just seen as normal in romantic relationships but an expectation that women in particular need to fulfill. 

The Mama Zimbi part comes near the end of the episode, but what is clear from the very beginning is that religion and culture inform the expectations of men and women in romantic relationships, whether while dating or in marriage. Based on a conversation Amanpour had with two unnamed married women (as shown in the picture), women are expected to be prepared to be caretakers in every sense of the word especially after they tie the knot. They need to know to take care of the home, children, and the man himself, which requires spending time with him, providing him with food, and satisfying him sexually. That expectation of sexual satisfaction is key if a woman wants to keep her man, which is how these women explained their personal reasoning behind wearing waist beads. “In Ghana especially we try to please the men first,” is what model and actress Moesha Boduong said while explaining why Ghanaian women invest in products like the stretch mark creams and vaginal tightening gels (yup, it turns out that these are actually a thing and not just in Ghana). It’s all to increase women’s attractiveness in the eyes of men and enhance male physical satisfaction. 

In order to get that satisfaction, men on the other hand have high expectations to financially provide for the women they go out with. The more money a man has, the more women he can provide for and therefore have relations with. So even though Accra is a very religious city and people tend to look down on such relationships, as Moesha said, “it still happens everywhere”. Finances again play a big role in these situations. Amanpour asked a local footballer who goes by the name Nice One whether he cheats on his wife and his response wasn’t based on how much he loves his wife or whether infidelity corresponded with his morals. His response was about money: “When you are rich, you can decide to choose any woman at all you want. But I’m a poor person. I have to stay with one lady.” 

Even though it doesn’t happen all the time, it was interesting to hear how much male infidelity is tolerated. I emphasized the word “male” because this tolerance is very gender-specific. One of the married women I mentioned earlier said: “If a woman should be caught having an affair, the church will solicit for a divorce. But when a man is caught, they actually say that he should just apologize, repent, and then marriage is back on.” A woman named Christiana talked about how she wasn’t sure yet whether her boyfriend had another girlfriend but nevertheless, the main idea is “if you get everything you need, it’s normal”. This mentality is the same reason why Moesha had no reservations about being the girlfriend of a married man who already had other mistresses and girlfriends on the side. She talked about how much she loves him, mentioned that his wife knows about her, and said that he pays for her apartment, car, and anything else she needs. « In Ghana, our economy [works in] such a way that you need someone to take care of you. You can’t make enough money as a woman here.” Based on that outlook, she was fine with spending time with her man and having sex whenever he wanted to, all to assure him of her fidelity. “I believe biblically that the need of every man is respect and honor,” Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams said to Amanpour later in the episode. “And the need of every woman, it doesn’t matter what your culture, tradition, or color of your skin is, is love and security.” Moesha, who is also a Christian, seemed satisfied with the way her relationship worked, because she was getting the financial security she was looking for. She was, as she put it, being taken care of. But when Amanpour asked whether she was happy considering the man she loves has other lovers, her response was “Love…I don’t think true love works in Ghana.”

Now, when I was watching this part of the episode, I was mmm…surprised to say the least at her comments. It turns out I wasn’t the only one: Moesha got a significant amount of backlash for her interview because of the negative perception she perpetuated about Ghanaian–and by extension–African women (for examples see here and here). Her comments and the reactions that followed open a larger set of things to think about. For one thing, as some people pointed out, her personal experience didn’t show how possible it is to work to be financially independent as a woman in Ghana. The episode itself did touch on this when talking about women making money in Jamestown’s large fish market but I think the subject could have been discussed even more. The fact that Amanpour made Moesha a key part of the episode also brings up the ethics and value behind talking to people whose views may be seen as relatively extreme one way or the other. 

In the end, Moesha apologized in an Instagram statement (see here) that made several references to God. Meanwhile, Amanpour defended Moesha for speaking her truth and I think she was right to do so. I wasn’t exactly impressed by what Moesha said but I do think that her experience fits in with the whole goal of talking more openly about religion and relationships, how they work, and how we want them to work so that everyone gets respect and honor as well as love and security. The episode covered a bunch of other topics I didn’t even mention, so if you haven’t already, I encourage you to see it. Furthermore, I encourage you to continue engaging in interesting and important dialogues.

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