Africa’s bright hope dims?

While I’ve been reporting in Lima, there’s been big news from Africa.

While most reporting on LGBT issues in Africa usually focuses on countries tightening their anti-gay laws, Malawi has been the exception. When President Joyce Banda took office in April–after her predecessor’s sudden death–she announced that she wanted to repeal the country’s sodomy laws.

But last week, she announced that she’d drop the effort. She told the Associated Press:

Anyone who has listened to the debate in Malawi realizes that Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now. I as a leader have no right to influence how people feel…. Where Malawi is and most African countries are, is maybe where America or the U.K. where about 100 years ago…. The best thing the world can do is to allow each country to take its course, to allow each country to have that debate freely without the pressure of being pushed.

I don’t have the full story yet on what led to this reversal, but her words may say a lot. Banda faces elections in 2014, and gay rights advocates in the country were concerned that she would walk away from her commitment as election day approached. Gift Trapence, executive director of Malawi’s Centre for the Development of People, told me in July:

[Banda] is just coming into the government now plus the elections are just very soon 2014.  So I very pessimistic as to whether they’re going to make the decision to repeal the laws.  

Her suggestion that other countries should butt out of Malawi’s debate is especially interesting. The president she replaced, Bingu wa Mutharika, was pressured by Great Britain and other donor countries to pardon a couple convicted in a high-profile sodomy case in 2010.

The couple, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, were arrested after they held an engagement party that made the local press. President Mutharika suspended their sentence of 14 years of hard labor following a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.


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