Malawi to review homosexuality ban after US aid threat

Move comes after Barack Obama told US agencies to consider local gay rights when making foreign aid allocation decisions

Malawi is to review laws banning homosexuality in response to public opinion, according to reports.

The move comes just days after the US announced it would use foreign aid to pressure countries to decriminalise homosexual acts.

America currently gives Malawi about $200m (£128m) per year, with most going to healthcare.

Malawi was condemned by Barack Obama and international activists last year after jailing two men who underwent the southern African country's first gay "marriage".

It will now review provisions of the penal code concerning "indecent practices and unnatural acts", Ephraim Chiume, the justice minister, was quoted as saying.

"In view of the sentiments from the general public and in response to public opinion regarding certain laws, the government wishes to announce to the Malawi nation that it is submitting the relevant laws and provisions of laws to the law commission for review," he told the Africa Review news site.

The decision followed protests by civil society groups and pressure from foreign donors, including Britain, which has already suspended part of its aid programme, worth £19m, over concerns of bad governance and misspending.

Earlier this week Obama told US agencies to consider how countries treat their gay and lesbian populations when making decisions about allocating foreign aid.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, told an audience of diplomats at the UN in Geneva: "Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."

A country's cultural or religious traditions were no excuse for discrimination, she insisted. "Being gay is not a western invention. It is a human reality."

This followed a warning from David Cameron in October that countries that ban homosexuality risk losing aid payments unless they reform.

The prime minister's statement was condemned by several African countries where homosexual acts are banned, including Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Malawi and the UK expelled each other's diplomatic envoys in April after WikiLeaks published a cable citing the British high commissioner accusing president Bingu wa Mutharika of "not tolerating criticism".

Twenty people died in July when security forces cracked down on demonstrators angry about rising prices, fuel shortages and unemployment.

Last year in Malawi, gay couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were sentenced to 14 years in prison for sodomy after holding a traditional engagement ceremony.

During their trial, Mutharika called homosexuality "evil and very bad before the eyes of God". He later pardoned them following a worldwide outcry against the punishment.

Homosexuality is taboo in most of Africa. It is illegal in 37 countries and often viewed as un-Christian and un-Islamic, although many of the laws were introduced during British colonialism. Activists say few Africans are openly gay, fearing imprisonment, violence and loss of jobs.

Last week Nigeria attempted to tighten its homosexuality laws when the senate passing a bill banning same-sex marriages.

Before it becomes law, it must be passed by the lower chamber and then signed by the president.

Obama has condemned a bill proposed in Uganda which would make some homosexual acts a crime punishable by death.

Reacting to Clinton's speech this week, John Nagenda, a Ugandan presidential adviser, told the BBC: "If the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell."


David Smith in Johannesburg

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Malawi president vows to legalise homosexuality
Joyce Banda's promise to repeal homosexuality laws welcomed by gay rights campaigners across Africa

David Smith in Johannesburg and Godfrey Mapondera in Blantyre

18, May, 2012 @5:05 PM

Article image
Nobel peace prize winner defends law criminalising homosexuality in Liberia

Exclusive: In joint interview, Tony Blair refuses to comment on Liberian president's remarks supporting anti-gay laws

Tamasin Ford and Bonnie Allen in Monrovia

19, Mar, 2012 @12:36 PM

Article image
Malawi man arrested for putting up gay rights posters
Police search for 'chain of people' believed to be involved in campaign

David Smith and Associated Press in Blantyre

03, Feb, 2010 @1:45 PM

Article image
Malawi gay wedding couple denied bail for 'own protection'

Two men arrested after symbolic ceremony last month could face up to 14 years in jail

David Smith, Africa correspondent

04, Jan, 2010 @7:41 PM

Article image
Ugandan men to go on trial on homosexuality charges
Kim Mukisa and Jackson Mukasa face life imprisonment if found guilty in first such case since introduction of new anti-gay law

Barbara Among in Kampala

17, Apr, 2014 @3:37 PM

Article image
Gay rights must be criterion for US aid allocations, instructs Obama

Memo targets countries' abuse of sexual minorities, but leading Republicans reject linking cash with equality drive

Karen McVeigh in New York

07, Dec, 2011 @12:03 AM

Article image
Malawi prepares for $100m 'cashgate' corruption trial
Foreign donors suspend $150m of aid until scandal allegedly involving civil servants, MPs and businesspeople is cleared up

Godfrey Mapondera in Blantyre

14, Jan, 2014 @9:47 AM

Article image
Malawi gay couple who 'married' face harsh prison sentences
Case could become test for emerging gay rights lobby where homosexuality is illegal in 37 African countries

David Smith in Johannesburg and Godfrey Mapondera in Blantyre

14, May, 2010 @5:30 PM

Article image
Zeroes to heroes: Madonna's defunct school in Malawi to become cemetery

Site of Madonna's abandoned elite girls' academy in Malawi is to become 'heroes' acre' for national figures

Godfrey Mapondera in Lilongwe and David Smith in Johannesburg

20, Jul, 2012 @3:28 PM

Article image
Human rights lawyer jailed after calling on Malawi president to resign
Ralph Kasambara behind bars following criticism of his country's leader, Bingu wa Mutharika

David Smith in Johannesburg

16, Feb, 2012 @2:18 PM