Homosexual people in Malawi can breathe more easily but there’s precious little good news elsewhere in Africa

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Malawi has come a long way in just two year. In 2010 two men celebrating their engagement were given 14-year prison sentences. After massive international criticism Bingu wa Mutharika who was then president pardoned the unlucky couple on humanitarian grounds. Malawi’s new president Joyce Banda is however determined to relegate discrimination against LGBT people to history, as opposed to most other countries in Africa where to be identified as homosexual can easily be translated from a spell in prison to a death sentence. Gays have to tread warily nearly everywhere in Africa and it is only in South Africa where it is legal to be gay. Homosexuality is illegal and subject to criminal sanctions in 37 countries in Africa.

Despite it being legal to be gay in South Africa, it is however no utopia for gay people:

“corrective rape involves men raping lesbian women to “cure” their homosexuality – and it’s now “the most widespread hate crime against gay women in townships across South Africa.” One Cape Town-based support group has been receiving on average 10 new cases of corrective rape each week.”

When Malawi’s Banda was vice-president she spoke out in favour of including LGBT communities in HIV programs but it remains to be seen whether Banda as Malwi’s president will be sidelined in the African Union summit in Malawi or whether a new era of liberality towards LGBT people is in the offing. A continent wide change in state sanctioned oppression against gay people is however too much to hope for. Entrenched attitudes and bigotry against homosexuality is deeply ingrained in many societies and the religious aspect of this in muslim countries of Africa must not be ignored.

Human Rights First has reported that African homosexuals fled persecution in their own countries only to be persecuted in Kenya and Uganda. Refugee women in Uganda were abducted and raped for assisting LGBT refugees, and there have been cases of “corrective rape” of lesbians and homosexuals and transgender refugees in Uganda. Uganda has recently adopted MP David Bahati’s so-called “Kill the Gays Bill” as law whereby a death sentence may be passed for homosexulity.

Malawi’s new president Joyce Banda is a welcome breath of fresh air amongst a tide of bigotry. It however remains to be seen whether she will have any lasting effect on attitudes and behavior towards LGBT people in Africa.

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