Joyce Banda, Malawi's first female president plans to repeal laws against homosexuality
May 21, 2012 6:08 AM   Subscribe

Joyce Banda, who was recently sworn in as Malawi's first ever female president has announced plans to repeal her country's laws against homosexuality in her first state of nation address. She said: "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 will be repealed as a matter of urgency...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." More than two-thirds of African countries have laws criminalising homosexual acts with imprisionment, abuse and even murder being served as punishment to generally widespread public support. This, coupled with Malawi hosting the African summit in July makes Banda's move all the more laudable.
posted by jamiemch (25 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Concurrently Malawi's currency has significantly been devalued against the dollar impacting the majority of the population as their income stream becomes meaningless.

On May 7, Malawi’s President Joyce Banda made a decision to devalue the Kwacha from K168 to K250 to the dollar.

The lowering of the currency against the dollar has hit locals hard. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world: 74 percent of the population of this southern African nation lives on less than 1.25 dollars a day, and nearly one in 10 children die before their fifth birthday.

The devaluation of the Kwacha created panic among consumers who rushed to stock up on basic food items such as maize flour, cooking oil and rice as the price of products increased by an average of 50 percent.

Consumers suffered a further blow on May 11 as the prices of fuel and electricity also rose by 30 and 63 percent respectively.

"The devaluation has made us poorer than before. Our salaries remain the same, so how can we afford to pay twice as much on basic necessities such as maize flour?" asked Mada Mayuni, a civil servant who works as a copy typist in the capital, Lilongwe.

This is the fascinating paragraph linking the two topics at hand:

By devaluing the Kwacha, Banda was responding to requests that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and local economists had made to the country’s late President Bingu wa Mutharika. However Mutharika had repeatedly refused to take the step that economists believed would have saved the country’s failing economy.

Malawi’s donor relations suffered greatly following accusations that Mutharika’s government failed to respect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the right to freedom of the press.

Donors refused to release up to 400 million dollars and the United States suspended a 350-million- dollar grant. At the time, almost 40 percent of Malawi’s national budget was donor-dependent. Many donors have since pledged to help Banda restore the country’s economy.

Now that everyone in the country desperately needs the donor assistance, Ms Banda's arm can be twisted for the greater good of human rights.

I'm in no way decrying the value of the repealment, just pointing out who is really in control in lower income countries. I'd wondered when I read this article what resources Malawi had that the economic hit men would want, but perhaps there's a different agenda than simple human rights, imho, else you'd not demolish the entire economy and make us question which good is greater... I'm rambling and pondering out loud here even as I observe a classic case out of the "globalization for the 1%" textbooks.
posted by infini at 6:50 AM on May 21, 2012 [15 favorites]

Kick. Ass.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:52 AM on May 21, 2012

I'm choosing to ignore they why of it, it's awesome.

and hi, I was persuaded to join, this is my first time, be gentle.
posted by lith at 7:07 AM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm in no way decrying the value of the repealment, just pointing out who is really in control in lower income countries. I'd wondered when I read this article what resources Malawi had that the economic hit men would want, but perhaps there's a different agenda than simple human rights, imho, else you'd not demolish the entire economy and make us question which good is greater.

A fascinating insight infini. I think I can easily agree that extending human rights is a more valuable benefit than building roads, there is also a powerful argument to be made that western colonialism is western colonialism.

I mean if European colonialism is actually advancing homosexual rights in Africa, Metafilter's head might explode.
posted by three blind mice at 7:12 AM on May 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

The neoliberal economic agenda often involves promotion of human rights. Discrimination on the basis of race, orientation, or religion reduces the talent pool, and is therefore bad for business. Life is complicated.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:24 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Malawi is gearing herself up for those hot, sweet tourism dollars and Euros. Smart move, Madam presidente!
posted by Renoroc at 7:31 AM on May 21, 2012

European colonialism is the reason for the anti-homosexuality laws in the first place. In many cases they were copied word-for-word from the colonial countries anti-homosexuality laws. Same in the carribean.
posted by iotic at 7:34 AM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

I mean if European colonialism is actually advancing homosexual rights in Africa, Metafilter's head might explode.

The sad part is that the way the Europeans are going about promoting human rights is ironically making things worse: and why should that surprise us?

British Prime Minister David Cameron appears to have caused far more headaches for gay people in Ghana than his ‘gay aid’ comments probably intended. The Bishop Obinim scandal sometime ago had come as welcome relief to many gays after months of incessant comment and vilification of this issue, and Mr. Cameron inadvertently stirring the hornet’s nest brought it again to the fore of national discourse, most to their consternation. The president’s defiant reply to Mr. Cameron was predictable-there was no way he could have said anything less, else he would have been roasted alive.

Note where these laws came from in the first place :

Some 41 nations within the 54-member Commonwealth have laws banning homosexual acts.

Many of these laws are a legacy of British colonial rule, correspondents say.

posted by infini at 7:38 AM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Good. Hopefully it may help other African nations move in the same direction.
posted by sotonohito at 7:39 AM on May 21, 2012

Bless her and keep her safe.
posted by batmonkey at 7:40 AM on May 21, 2012

This is an awesome thing to do, no matter what the motivation. I can't help but be a little worried for her safety, though. This isn't exactly a region of the world known for its gentle tolerance of LGBT activism.
posted by elizardbits at 7:51 AM on May 21, 2012

no matter what the motivation

Yeah, we'll drag 'em all into the 21st century after having kept 'em in the 18th for so long. And good night.
posted by infini at 7:56 AM on May 21, 2012

The reverse case in Ghana to which you link, infini, presents this in a slightly different light. Obviously some African nations view this as nothing but an unwelcome colonial intrusion and there are political points to be earned in opposing it on that basis (from your president's defiant reply link):

"(President of Ghana) Atta Mills said Mr Cameron was entitled to his views, but he did not have the right to "direct to other sovereign nations as to what they should do".

He said Ghana's "societal norms" were different from those in the UK.

"I, as president, will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana," Mr Atta Mills said."

It's not hard to see that if there are points to be made in opposition, these are points to be lost by embracing.

I with President Banda well.
posted by three blind mice at 8:01 AM on May 21, 2012

That Ghanaweb article is perhaps more depressing than the writer intended. The author seems to be smart, progressivish, mostly tolerant. The opening paragraph is "Cameron's advocacy of gay rights inevitably turns people against gays, because there's hay to be made in yelling at the British", which, fair enough---there's certainly an argument to be made that Western countries should shut up about gay rights in former colonies lest they make gay rights seem like "stuff for foreigners". Which is hardly a problem restricted to Africa; I wish the Guardian readers had taken that lesson in the 2004 U.S. elections.

But then the rest of the article is "Well of course the government can ban gay sex, but you can't just ban people being gay! It's only if they have sex that you can arrest them!" Which is a position I regard as less than great, yet the author seems to think that's the liberal line.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:07 AM on May 21, 2012

Hey guys,

Thanks for the insight and opinion, particularly infini.

I've (passively) used Metafilter for a few months but thought it was time to get more involved so that was my first post, glad people found it interesting!
posted by jamiemch at 8:38 AM on May 21, 2012

I think what bothers me is the way its being done in more economically challenged nations where such financial arm twisting can work.

India repealed her colonial era laws a while back *and* has lately been chucking the aid peanuts back as well while Singapore which is pretty draconic can't really be economically arm twisted can it?

Does the end always justify brushing aside the means?
posted by infini at 8:38 AM on May 21, 2012

We're getting into metaethics now!

I fundamentally believe that the end doesn't always justify the means but the if the net result encourages positive change then it's a good thing.

Hadn't considered your points though so thanks for bringing it up.
posted by jamiemch at 8:58 AM on May 21, 2012

Being pedantic here, but Section 377 is still law in India; while the Delhi High Court issued its landmark ruling decoupling sex between consenting adults from the purview of the law, and while it just might very well the basis for future rulings, the case is still being heard in the Supreme Court, and will be law only after it rules on this. Let's not pop the cork just as yet.

(Also, it'll be interesting to hear from the ground on whether harassment from the police has reduced for the LGBT community as a result of the ruling. Haven't kept pace with this, but typically, it takes a while before values percolate from court rooms to your moholla's friendly khaki walla.
posted by the cydonian at 9:00 AM on May 21, 2012

There is a difference between a rich man loaning money to their poorer neighbor on the condition that they stop beating their child versus say, in exchange for sexual favors with their wife.
posted by Seiten Taisei at 9:02 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

if the net result encourages positive change then it's a good thing.

I hear what all of you are saying and I am not being closedminded about this. I think that why this particular issue bothers me so much is because I tend to spend a lot more time in countries like these, amongst those who will be hit hardest economically. I can't bring myself to see these activities (and here its just one instance of this particular law, whereas this arm twisting approach is SOP for everything you want from your poor neighbour, you may as well make him into an indentured labourer/slave again) as net positive if children starve.
posted by infini at 9:11 AM on May 21, 2012

The end doesn't ALWAYS justify the means, obviously. But the end in this case is that people will no longer be jailed and killed for the crime of squicking others out, which is a pretty massive good. I wouldn't think that to be enough to justify a war, for instance, but it justifies a fair amount of quid pro quo, even if it is high-risk.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:34 AM on May 21, 2012

So are we expected to finance 40% of their budget sight unseen, while at the same time genially wave our hand and say "Oh go ahead, kill all the homosexuals you want, you wild and crazy guys."? Is that what you're arguing for?

You talk a lot about the people who are being harmed, but what about the people who are persecuted, even murdered because of those anti-gay laws? Don't they count?
posted by happyroach at 11:32 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Re arm-twisting over gay rights...

It is a fact of life that if you're dependent on donors, you are at the mercy of the whims of donors. Maybe one year those whims will be that gay rights are an absolute must, maybe another year those whims will say your AIDS strategy can't mention condoms. Maybe you and I like what's flavor of the month in Washington this year. Maybe we won't like what's flavor of the month there this time next year.

Those btw are reasons why a lot of Africans prefer to deal with China these days. The Chinese just do deals: We give you X, you give us Y.

Anyway, think about the numbers. Nearly 10% of children born in Malawi die before they get to the age of five. A fair number of those kids were also going to grow up gay, except they'll be dead of malnutrition and disease before they get to even discover their sexuality.

But the fact is that people dying of malnutrition is not a hot button in the US. It doesn't carry much weight compared to those things that do get Americans excited.

Still I guess we can always have a philosophical debate about whether death is bad for you, huh?

As for the devaluation, unfortunately the choices in these situations are all too much like the old Woody Allen joke:

One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose wisely.

Looking at the numbers for what kinds of things Malawi imports and exports, it looks like this might actually help the agricultural sector and the rural poor, while hurting the urban middle-classes. I guess that's why all those civil society orgs supported it.

While we're dwelling on ironies, the big hope from this will be that Malawi will be able to earn a lot more money from its biggest export earner, tobacco.
posted by philipy at 12:47 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

happyroach: "You talk a lot about the people who are being harmed, but what about the people who are persecuted, even murdered because of those anti-gay laws? Don't they count?"

It's this kind of simplistic argument that has gotten even well-meaning US foreign policy into trouble so many times. Nobody is claiming that the rights of gay people should be ignored. At the same time, it's important to see the effects that economic arm-twisting can have on under-developed societies, even when it's for what is a good cause. The IMF is a good case study, as were the economic sanctions on Iraq.

What philipy said about countries doing business with China is perfectly true.
posted by vanar sena at 2:29 AM on May 22, 2012

Collectively, the European politicians are now faced with the dilemmas that African politicians have been battling with for decades: To whom should their loyalty belong? The banks and financiers that hold the purse-strings, or the populations in whose name they govern?

The problem was solved quite easily here in Africa: Selected factions of the local elite were allowed to form dictatorships that then locked the population out of the economic debate while the harsh economic measures demanded by the global finance system through the IMF and World Bank were imposed.

The financial powers have tried to get round this democratic inconvenience by demanding the appointment of “financially responsible” technocratic governments willing to push through the harsh fiscal measures.

With the latest round of elections, the European voters have begun to push back against this, and that is where the real problems will begin.
via The Norwegian Council for Africa
posted by infini at 7:03 AM on May 22, 2012

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