I’d like to believe that Malawi’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) citizens and tourists had a few days to breath easier.
On 5 November, the government issued a moratorium suspending all laws decriminalizing homosexuality. Three days later, on 8 November, homosexuality was illegal again.
Had the moratorium held, Malawi’s LGBTQ citizens, who constantly walk in fear and have increasingly been singled out, could not be arrested by police or be reported for engaging in same-gender consensual activity. Tourists would also be protected from arrest—those accused of homosexual activity are expelled as ‘undesirable aliens’.
Malawians in opposition to the government’s moratorium contest it was not driven by a change in heart toward its LGBTQ citizens, but rather the change was solely motivated to appease the country’s Western donor nations, which to them is a present-day example of former colonialist interference, influence and dictate on African life.
Malawi’s Justice Minister, Ralph Kasambara publicly refuted his opponents’ cynicism concerning the motive behind the moratorium by stating to the Associated Press: ‘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.’
A few days later, Kasambara flip-flopped stating to the Daily Times: ‘There was no such announcement and there was no discussion on same-sex marriage.’
Kasambara’s reversal is a direct result of Malawi Council of Churches, cadre comprising of 24 homophobic churches that associate homosexuality with Satanism.
The country’s traditionalists and religious conservatives did not like the world’s interference in their business. They contend that homosexuality is an anathema to an African identity, cultural and family values; and it’s one of the many ills white Europeans brought to the Motherland (a similar homophobic polemic still argued among religiously conservative African Americans).
But if truth be told, criminalizing homosexuality in Malawi is a by-product of British colonialism. Nonetheless, the debate between ‘authentically African’ and Western colonial remnants always finds some way to dispute the reality of black LGBTQ existence. Malawi is not alone — 38 of 54 countries in the African continent criminalizes same-gender consensual activity.
Malawi’s anti-gay laws are some of the world’s toughest edicts criminalizing homosexuality so, understandably, the moratorium sent shock waves throughout the country and around the world.
Case in point, the infamous Malawi couple Steven Monjeza, a gay man, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a transwoman, who were sentenced to 14 years hard labor on charges of homosexuality in 2010. An international outcry and presidential pardon by Bingu wa Mutharika brought about their release.
Malawi got its independence from the British Commonwealth in 1964, but it hasn’t from the church.
The church willfully operates under colonial rule with its ecclesiastical edicts toward its LGBTQ brethren. I like to believe that the country’s justice minister should not have too.