Social media never runs out of opportunities to experience creativity, scandals, and thought-provoking conversations. I feel the recent Akuapem Poloo case in Ghana showcases all three. In this video, I recap on developments from the case and discuss how Ghana handles freedom of speech, nudity, and social media etiquette.
The Akuapem Poloo case is about Akuapem, a Ghanaian actress, being arrested and sentenced for 90 days in jail for posting an Instagram photo of herself nude with her son wearing underwear to celebrate his 7th birthday. Misunderstandings over artistic expression, publishing obscene materials, and domestic violence brought this case to court. I took this opportunity to dig deeper to learn and reflect on Ghana’s track record on freedom of speech, cultural norms surrounding nudity and women’s autonomy, and social media etiquette for the African market.
Let’s make sure we are all caught up with the facts of the case. In June of 2020, Akuapem Poloo, a Ghanaian actress, posted a photo on Instagram to celebrate her son’s 7th birthday. In the photo, she was naked, crouching sideways and posing in a way to not expose any explicit body parts. Her son was standing holding her hands wearing only underwear. The caption for the photo was the following:
“I’m naked in front of you because this is how naked I was giving birth to you. So in case you find me lying somewhere don’t pass by but see me as your Mom who brought you to life.”Akuapem Poloo via Instagram
The complainant is the director of Child’s Rights International Ghana, Bright K. Appiah, who stated that her conduct undermines the privacy or likely detracts the dignity of the son. Below, he is interviewed explaining the NGO and the reason why he brought this case. (Note: if you could help me translate parts of the interview and summarize his response, please comment below. I’m still learning.)
She was arraigned in the Accra Circuit Court in November of 2020. Later in April 2021, she was charged and found guilty of publishing obscene materials, domestic violence, and undermining the privacy and integrity of another person. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Judge Christina Cann was quoted about the sentence that “it has become a worrying trend on Ghana’s social media indicating that this message should serve as an incentive to others.”
During this time, over 29,000 people signed a petition pleading with President Akufo-Addo to free Akuapem Poloo, which was signed and shared by Ghanaian celebrities, socialites, and fans.
On April 21st, the Accra High Court granted her 80,000 Ghc bail under the conditions that she reports to her case investigator every two weeks and the court registrar confiscates her passport. The case is now on appeal.
Later, on April 24th, Akuampem Poloo held a press conference in response to the case.
Freedom of Speech in Ghana
Like I said in my video, the first thing I thought of when I heard about this case was freedom of speech. So, I did some digging to learn about how Ghanaian law defines that right and how it has been implemented.
The 4th Republic of Ghana adopted a constitution that established the right to free speech in 1992. It states “all persons shall have the right to freedom of speech and expressions, which shall include freedom of the press and other media.” That constitution guarantees that the press and every individual in Ghana has the right to say anything they want, whenever they want and wherever they want. The only time this right can be revoked is when its use by an individual threatens the very life of another individual.
Ghana has been listed as the number one nation in Africa on the World Press Freedom Index. However, discussions of freedom of the press in Ghana question this status with the murder of Ahmed Suale, the investigative reporter most known for his film exposing corruption in Ghanaian football, and other incidents of confiscating equipment and intimidating journalists. Concerns have also been raised about the source of voices in media. Reportedly, in 2014, Ghana’s mainstream media is dominated by men, taking up 83%. Apparently, these men are exclusively part of the political, elite, and/or capitalist class. This leaves no voice for the rest of Ghana’s population, including women, disabled, and those who live outside of Accra.
Now, remember, freedom of speech did not come up in the Akuapem Poloo case. I still wanted to see if there were any previous cases in Ghana about posting on social media. I found one recent case. In 2020, Bless Amedegbe posted a video claiming the stay at home initiative was a hoax for the government to install 5G cables to kill Ghanaians. The video went viral and he was arrested. He was arraigned and remanded in court under the charge of false communication, assault on a public officer, contravening electronic communication act, criminal and other offenses act. He later stated the video was an act for kids. This case is a better example of how Ghana law is implemented to deal with content posted online that could incite harmful behavior.
Since the Akuapem Poloo case is focused more on the privacy and dignity of the child, I was expecting to find evidence of a child psychologist’s examination or statement. I have yet to find evidence of that. I also wondered if the NGO that is pressing charges has the same authority similar to Child Protective Services. Like, who is representing and advocating for the well-being and protection of the child in this case? These are questions I am still looking for answers for.
Nudity and Women’s Autonomy in Ghana
Among public discussion about this trendy topic, the concept of nudity and women’s autonomy over their bodies in Ghana came up. This extended to discussions about women’s rights in Ghana. Like I said in the video, I feel the attitude surrounding nudity in Ghana, especially of women, is nuanced. Generally speaking, in Ghana, everyone is expected to be fully clothed, regardless of religion or gender. Thus, using nudity for artistic expression attracts different responses. There are traditional wood carvings and paintings of naked women here. There are modern paintings of naked women here. There is a portion of social media content here dedicated to Ghana’s version of IG models, sometimes almost naked. As far as I know, none of this has been confiscated as obscene materials.
So, when it comes to a woman, in real life, choosing to be “going out more and dressing less,” or post her own photo naked, she is not expecting to be arrested. There is no clothing police in Ghana. Rather, her reputation is up for grabs. Some people will place her in a box that determines how much respect she deserves. Again, I’m not here to say if this is right or wrong. I’m taking this opportunity to learn more about Ghana through how its people think, interact, and respond.
The judge in the Akuapem Poloo case was quoted in saying that she is charging this case to make it an example and deterrent against all the inappropriate things that are being posted on social media in Ghana. Compared to all the other things happening in Ghana, some can’t help but feel this might be hypocritical, looking at other incidents of perversion and abuse that were not given the same treatment. I feel the discussion about nudity in Ghana must also include the fact that our concept of nudity is heavily influenced by the hypocritical, puritanical missionaries who came to Ghana. Prior to colonization, Africans were not walking around butt-naked. They dressed in a way that was appropriate for the climate and environment they lived in. They also had organized a society that was appropriate for their livelihood. So, in this case, it makes some sense to focus on the child instead of whether a woman can choose to showcase her nudity. But, we should also recognize that we are partly looking at this through the Western lens, which hyper-sexualizes everything, especially when it comes to women. If this is supposed to be used an example to determine how the younger generations coming up think about this, wagging our finger and saying “no” is not the best method. The youth have access to information and are aware of the hypocrisies in every aspect of our society. Maybe, to respect their curiosity and intelligence, it is time to use honesty instead of status-quo authority.
Social Media Etiquette in the African Market
Finally, I feel this case can be added to the growing list of examples of how the African market is defining it’s own social media etiquette. This reminded me of the case in Egypt where five women were arrested for violating public morals by posting videos on TIkTok. As well as the cases of social media and internet connection being shut down or censored deliberately during protests in Nigeria and Senegal. Also the cases of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania placing a tax on social media and internet contributors. Technology continues to carry Africa through this turbo-jet leap-frog jump in development. Thus, everybody is constantly running to catch up. African governments, in different ways, are evolving and stumbling in how they maneuver how important the internet space is for its people and the desire to maintain and preserve its culture and history, as well as protect it’s people from fake (or accountable) information.
This is a really fascinating time to be alive as we observe how this evolves. On the one hand, we do not want to create an environment that holds social media and the internet hostage for the sake of censorship. The internet has created somewhat of a level playing field for African innovators, creatives, and youth. Africa is being seen and experienced differently thanks to these Africans sharing there story, talent, and pride online. Africans are gaining access to new avenues to earn revenue and change their livelihood thanks to their presence online. Censorship, restrictions, and taxation on the internet space in Africa should not be taken lightly.
On the other hand, I understand the desire to attempt to preserve what is “truly African.” Just because we can see online how the rest of the world lives does not mean we should completely copy that here. However, we can protect our culture and history while also allowing the definition of “truly African” to evolve with the current times. Questioning what we have always done or thought does not automatically cast it as wrong or negative. Rather, it means we are evolving and hopefully growing in a better direction. Multiple truths can exist and be respected in the same space.
Regarding the Akuapem Poloo case, what does this mean for social media public figures in Ghana? Should they censor themselves? Should the money they earn be determined by the representation of morals on their online feed? This is where understanding what media we consume comes into play. Social media public figures can be both praised as a hero and dragged as a scapegoat. As much as we focus on them and what is being posted, we should also seek to better understand how to decipher information and take care of each other out here.
Overall, I enjoyed digging deeper into this discussion. What do you think about this case and the topics brought up? Do you have anything to add? Share with me in the comments. Again, I feel it would be inappropriate of me to state whether or not this case or the way it was handled was right or wrong. I am using this opportunity to continue learning about Ghana through how its people think, interact, and respond.
Also, remember to connect with me on social media. I love hearing from you.
Take care and be safe.