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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Is Malawi risking Foreign Aid through conviction of gay couple?

Seal of the United States Department of State.Image via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

African Activist, the African LGBTI group blog, has suggested that the conviction today of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga "will place Malawi's United States foreign aid at risk."

They draw attention to recent moves pressuring the United States State Department around human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Africa, sparked by the 'kill-the-gays' bill in Uganda.

Malawi has already lost foreign aid from the Scottish Government. Some international donors had said they would review their aid programs to Malawi if the two men were convicted.

40% of Malawi's government budget is believed to come from foreign aid, African Activist suggests that the increased Congressional interest puts at risk large infrastructure grants from the United States.

Other African sources have pitched the debate in Africa around the couple's conviction, and Uganda's bill, as 'Aid Vs Sovereignty'.

Writing before the decision, Malawi Voice said:
The judgement will see if Malawian morals and culture prevail over western beliefs and culture. This is a big test to Malawi legal system to see if we really believe in our laws and it is very important for the future. Every country has its own rules and laws and let us  hope we follow our own laws independently despite wide speculations from within the country and abroad.

Many Malawian groups have shown concern over the case as donors are intimidating Malawi legal system by telling them that they might stop supporting the country financially if the verdict doesn’t go their way and in some cases demanding their release .
In January Malawi minister of information and civic education Leckford Thotho claimed that local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were being offered funding from foreign organisations to lobby for gay rights and said such aid was “meant to destroy the very fabric that makes Malawi a God-fearing and morally decent nation.”

Malawi was a sovereign state, Thotho said, and “would not allow itself to be used as a test ground for vices of homosexuality which are against the morals and cultural values cherished by Malawians.”

Other Africans, reflecting debate both in Africa and the diaspora have pointed out that Africa is going through development on LGBT issues which the West has been through in the past.

Says TMS Ruge:
Uganda will go through the steps and missteps of trying to figure out how homosexuality fits into its moral fabric as a nation. So too will Malawi determine its fate within its sovereignty. Maybe Kenya will follow, or Mozambique and Angola. But as every country proceeds with its growing pains, we will have to do so under the global microscope of myopic and unrealistic expectations.
However it has been argued that it is Western pressure on Uganda, including appeals from President Obama and former PM Brown, that have led the (realist) Museveni regime to back down on the 'kill-the-gays' bill despite similar calls around 'sovereignty' in that country as well as mass shows of support for the bill.

Jimmy Kainja on his blog explains exactly the position African leaders are in as gay issues come to the fore:
Malawi government may argue that the case is decided by the judiciary, which is a separate, and "independent" arm of the state but the state president has pardoning powers and so the case still resides in the hands of the government, as the President heads it.

Here is the conundrum Malawi government has to solve: acquit the couple and face the wrath of church organisations that are more than capable of galvanising their followers into voting against the ruling party. Or, arrest the couple and face the repercussions of donors, aid and international community.
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