The president of Malawi is dubbed “Africa’s star president” for his commitment to democracy. In fact, The Economist magazine has dubbed his country as the 2020 “country of the year.” However, on December 8th, he sent out a frightening speech with regards to same-sex rights in Malawi.
In response to calls to allow same-sex marriage rights in Malawi, the president (who is an evangelical cleric) said he has nothing to say on the matter and will “throw the issue to the public to adjunct.”
Public? Whatever that means.
Throwing same-sex marriage rights to a hostile “public” in Malawi is quite a dangerous act. This can be interpreted by rogues in Malawi as a call to apply mob-justice.
The same so called “public” in Malawi gained global notoriety in 2018 for murdering albino-skinned citizens for foolish ritualistic purposes. The same respected Economist Magazine reported that albino-skinned citizens who number up to 10,000 face grim realities of being criminally murdered in Malawi. Along with albinos, women’s body parts are also targets of criminal murderers in Malawi because some local politicians and businesspersons believe that ritualistic murders enhance chancing of winning votes or making profit. Clearly Malawi has no safe “public” for LGBT rights.
Malawi’s precarious life conditions of its LGBT-identifying citizens came into the international spotlight way back in 2010 when two gay men were sentenced to 14 years in jail for the crime of engaging in a traditional marriage ceremony.
Today, the same deeply conservative public and outright criminals could view the president’s remarks as a license to harm or hunt LGBT citizens in Malawi. Already online — hateful, right-wing commentators, fans and hoodlums in Malawi are supporting and amplifying the president’s positions.
Hate-filled online comments fill Malawi chat rooms. The likes of statements like: “Are same-sex marriages going to bring development to Malawi?” or “Our country can’t be held hostage by same-sex rights” or ”We stand with the president. Same-sex rights are inhuman.”
LGBT human rights advocates in Malawi are saying the president should simply guarantee and advance same-sex marriage rather than dangerously “throw the matter to the public.” As veteran Malawi rights activist, scholar and author, Jimmy Kainja put it furiously and candidly in response to his president’s reckless remarks: “You don’t put the fate of sexual minorities to a popular vote. You either you guarantee sexual minorities legal protection or not.”
The right of Malawi citizens to celebrate love with discrimination and on grounds of sexual orientation should be freely given without need for calls to put the matter into the hands of a dubious “public.”
Public is not a court of law when it comes to protecting the freedoms of same-sex marriage. As with elsewhere around the world, populist calls to put LGBT rights to the discretion of public has brought assaults, killings and insults from hateful right-wing extremist elements. Malawi, the so-called World Country of the Year in 2020, must not walk down this path.
About the author:
Nyasha Bhobo is a freelancer, feminist, and human rights activist in southern Africa.