By Bright Mhango
The news excited the international community; it will no longer be a criminal offense to be gay in Malawi. The issue has not gone well with some Malawians and the past week has seen the cyberspace awash with debate with some saying that decriminalising homosexuality is not welcome because homosexuality is “unMalawian.” So what is Malawian?
Malawi is a god fearing country and God forbids homosexuality, this is the core argument of the anti-gay crowd, they go on to say that gay culture clashes with Malawian culture and again the question springs up, what is Malawian Culture?
“The concept of “Malawian” is a mental construct that exists in the minds of people. It is similar to the construct of political party affiliation,” said College of Medicine Psychologist Chiwoza Bandawe
Undule Mwakasungula of Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) joined in on the debate: “If you are a Malawian that makes you Malawian, whether born in Malawian or not but as long as you there for the good of Malawi progress you are Malawian.”
Both Mwakasungula and Bandawe said there is nothing that can set Malawian Culture as a single entity
“It is a misnomer to suggest that there is one uniform “Malawian”. Malawians are made up of people of different faiths or lack thereof: Christian, Muslim, Secular humanists etc. Malawians are made up of different economic standings as well as different backgrounds and ways of thinking. Malawi cannot have just one dominant culture,” said Bandawe
Mwakasungula said as a nation Malawians have not agreed what can constitute of Malawian culture, it’s just something they say but it is nothing clear cut.
So if the much touted Malawian culture cannot be pointed at, can what is “unMalawian” be singled out?
No, says Mwakasungula, he argued that Malawians have sung the song of being Malawians for too long so that they feel that they ought to protect cultural values which also happen to be undefined.
Bandawe echoed Mwakasungula’s argument and gave an example of laptops; cell phones and use of Facebook which he said are popular among Malawians and wondered if they are Malawian – Malawians, he concluded, come in all shapes and sizes.
The dominant feeling among the people that are advancing the anti-gay agenda argue that decriminalising homosexuality will bring the wrath of God on Malawi will corrupt morals of children’s morals and that it is just unnatural.
To be gay is like to be a black man, non of it is a crime
Recently several clergymen warned Joyce Banda against repealing the law against homosexuality and asked if she is trying to be above God, another pastor even called for a referendum on the matter. Mwakasungula however charged that many Malawians are using culture and religion to oppress minorities.
“We should not hide behind culture of religion to persecute minority groups. Culture is dynamic and we have seen so many things we believed in years back being modified. We can’t be rigid because you don’t like something or the way others are behaving,” said
Another academician and blogger, Jimmy Kainja also agrees with Mwakasungula and says he sees nothing wrong with adults being gay.
“Tolerance is very important. It’s hard for me to believe that someone is out there to oppress minorities just for the sake of it. I believe a lot of people are deluded by their own beliefs and they try to impose this on others.
“This is where the question of national identity comes in – what is it? Why do you we accept some foreign values and refuse others? It’s all subjective and ignorance, this leads to lack of tolerance,” said Kainja
There also seems to be a strong feeling among Malawians that homosexuality is being forced upon Malawians by Western powers, already some people are jokingly calling Malawi a “donor-fearing nation.” Western cultural influence is an unstoppable force with Hollywood influencing people even in China and Russia. Has Malawi been influenced by the West culturally?
Can Malawi resist Western culture?
Mwakasungula pointed out that Malawians use Western education, dress like Westerners, eat Western dishes and that most of the religions in Malawi are Western.
Malawians use western style of government, the family sizes are shrinking, MTV is visible in the streets even the accents of many a girl are trying too hard to echo the English and American,
Arguing on the same in a group on Facebook, Cynthia Mahata said: “The thing about Western culture is you have to get it all or reject it all, it comes as a package”
Adds Kainja: “Patrice Lumumba said ‘Africa will write its own history, from south to the north of Sahara.’ He was right, Africa will write its own history but it will be a negotiated one; influenced by global trends and culture.”
Are Malawians therefore being hypocritical in adopting capitalism and yet denying sexual minorities a place? Or is it unMalawian to raise such questions?