Malawi's president hopes to overturn anti-gay law

Mon, May 21, 2012, 01:00

MALAWIAN PRESIDENT Joyce Banda has told the nation she intends to repeal the country’s ban on homosexuality along with a number of other oppressive laws which have been criticised by international donors and rights groups.

During her state-of-the-nation address on Friday, southern Africa’s first female president told parliament that “some of the laws that were duly passed by this house will be repealed as a matter of urgency”.

The laws include the “indecent practices and unnatural acts,” she said in reference to the gay ban’s legal name.

Ms Banda added that “bad” laws which allow authorities to ban newspapers and give police the power to make warrantless arrests should be repealed.

If she succeeds in overturning the anti-gay laws, Malawi will become the first African country to legally recognise homosexuals’ rights since 1996, when South Africa enshrined them in its constitution.

But Ms Banda – who took power last month after Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack – needs the proposal to be passed by a parliamentary vote and it is unclear how much support she has among MPs.

The laws have been under review by the Malawi Law Commission, an agency tasked with ensuring legislation complies with the constitution, since last year.

In 2010 two Malawian men were sentenced to 14 years after celebrating their engagement in public. But they were pardoned by Mr Mutharika after widespread international condemnation. One of the men later renounced his homosexuality and said he was going to marry a woman.

In the past western leaders have warned they will cut aid to countries that fail to recognise gay rights, but anti-homosexual sentiment is still prevalent across much of the continent.

In Friday’s speech Ms Banda said her government wanted to normalise relations with “our traditional development partners who were uncomfortable with our bad laws”.

In parts of Nigeria and Sudan homosexuality is punishable by death, while in Uganda offenders can receive a life sentence.

In Liberia, Africa’s first female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said earlier this year she would keep a law that makes voluntary sodomy illegal.