Malawi police have been ordered to no longer arrest or prosecute homosexuals until their parliament has had the chance to address the laws governing homosexuality in that African nation. Currently, homosexual acts carry a jail term of up to 14 years. A number of Western leaders have said that they could start cutting off aid to Africa if LGBT rights are not recognized.
Malawi’s socially conservative society is resistant to recognizing such rights. One traditional leader, Chief Kaomba, called on parliament to not change the laws governing LGBT rights stating that “This is against our culture.” Such an assertion can be hard to prove since there are many African cultures which accepted homosexuality up until Christianity and Islam became rooted in the cultures. The BBC’s Raphael Tenthani reporting from Malawi’s main city of Blantryre stated that “repealing the legislation would be an unpopular move with many church leaders, as well as the wider population.”
However, Malawi’s Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara stated “It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail”
Back in 2010, Malawi ran into strong international condemnation when a Malawian man and a Malawian trans/intersex woman were arrested and charged with public indecency. At the time and into today, it has constantly been reported erroneously that the two were men. At the time, President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned the two on “humanitarian grounds” but still stated that the two had “committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws”.
Mutharika died of a heart attack earlier this year, and his successor, Joyce Banda, has told Members of Parliament, that she wanted to overturn the ban on homosexuality and stated in her first national address as President that “Some laws which were duly passed by the august house… will be repealed as a matter of urgency… these include the provisions regarding indecent practices and unnatural acts.”
There is hope that the suspension of the laws will encourage debate and help the parliament come to a decision. Kasambara also stated that “If we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional, it would be an embarrassment to government.”
Malawi would not be the first African nation to decriminalize homosexuality; however, even in those nations that have decriminalized being gay, hate crimes against LGBT people are still rampant.