As same sex relations continue to capture the debate across Africa, and the United States, President Peter Mutharika says Malawians should decide. From the capital, Blantyre, our correspondent reports.
By Joseph Kayira | The AfricaPaper
Blantyre, MALAWI – For all its well-deserved reputation as a God-fearing nation, the debate on the contentious issue of same sex relations continues to divide the conservative southern Africa nation. President Peter Mutharika’s recent suggestion that Malawians should decide on whether or not gay marriages should be accepted has equally angered pro-gay advocates just as it has infuriated its opponents.
Speaking on national television, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Television in the program ‘Talk to the President’ mid September night, Mutharika pushed the debate to the people saying Malawians hold the card to bring the matter to rest.
“My government has always said the people must debate on the issue and decide and we have also said we will hold a referendum for Malawians to vote whether they want same sex marriages legalized or not. We will leave that to the people,” he said.
Just as is the case in many African countries, the issue of same sex relations is deeply divisive and frowned upon using culture and religious affiliation. In a country where the church is wielding a lot of clout, sexual minorities such as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are generally harassed, threatened and even physically assorted.
Ironically both proponents and opponents say a referendum, which would be the first of its kind on the continent, is unnecessary and a waste of time and resources.
Billy Mayaya, a renowned human rights activist says the republican constitution recognizes the rights of sexual minorities including those in same sex relations. He adds that such a referendum would only worsen the situation, as the playing field at the moment is not leveled.
“In the first place, it is wrong to say that Malawi is a God-fearing nation. We are a secular state. We believe in secular values and sexual minorities have a constitutional right to exist and enjoy life the way they want,” explains Mayaya.
“I already see that a referendum is already biased against those advocating for the rights of sexual minorities. It would not bring out the desired results. As a nation we should struggle to reconcile cultural values and what the republican constitution is stipulating on rights of sexual minorities.”
Gift Trapence, executive director Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) says human rights issues are not conditional on a majority assertion and as such are not decided by public opinion.
“I am shocked and surprised that calls for a referendum are coming from the President who is a professor at law who is supposed to be conversant with human rights principles. Human rights issues are not subject to populist assertions. They should never be determined by plebiscites or referendums,” said Trapence.
He thinks the Malawi Law Commission should review all laws affecting LGBTI persons to create an informed base for constitutional reforms “not based on emotional decisions.”
Some of the countries in Africa that have been in the forefront condemning LGBTI persons are Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe. During US President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta stressed that his country would not embrace homosexuals. It is a notion that is shared by many across the African continent.
Church Not Amused
Reverend Dr. Winston Kawale, a senior lecturer in theology and religious studies at Mzuzu University in northern Malawi says a referendum would be a waste of resources for a country that is struggling economically.
“There are no drugs in hospitals and the economy is struggling. The little resources that we have should not be wasted on a referendum to determine whether or not gays should be accepted in Malawi. Our colleagues in Kenya and Uganda have put the record straight that gays are not acceptable.
“In Kenya President Kenyatta told President Obama that homosexuality is not acceptable there. I think the general understanding in Malawi is that we are not going to accept anything that is foreign and against our religious and cultural beliefs,” said Kawale.
A catholic bishop, speaking at a ceremony celebrating the family in the commercial capital, Blantyre, said the law in Malawi prohibits any form of discrimination against any person on grounds of race, color, sex or other status. |TAP| Africa’s Newspaper of Record.
The AfricaPaper: Joseph Kayira is The AfricaPaper’s correspondent in Malawi, covering Blantyre.