Gay crusade divides parties


President Joyce Banda’s lack of a clear stance on homosexuality has sparked a fierce national debate with major political parties showing a sharp split in opinion over the matter.

Banda, who pledged to repeal anti-gay laws soon after she became president, has of late shown indecisiveness on the matter, saying through her press secretary that her government will be guided by the popular opinion on the issue.

This was after she had already said on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September that her government was unlikely to soften up the gay laws in Malawi.

Lack of policies

However, a random check conducted by The Daily Times shows that most political parties in the country do not have clear policies of their own on a number of issues including homosexuality.

Ruling People’s Party (PP) Publicity Secretary Hophmally Makande said in an interview that the PP will come up with its stand “soon”.

“Our policy blueprint has just been finalized and soon the public and Malawians will know which direction we have regarding this issue,” Makande said.

Speaking on behalf of opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the party’s spokesperson on finance in Parliament Joseph Njobvuyalema said in interview that the party’s executive committee and its supporters regard homosexuality as a “very alien practice”.

“MCP is driven by the culture and tradition of our supporters most of whom are in the Central Region and they don’t subscribe to gay issues. It is immoral and we don’t discuss it with our supporters,” Njobvuyalema explained.

On his part, Publicity Secretary of opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), Ken Ndanga, said homosexuality is one of the issues under minority rights and emerging issues to be discussed at the party’s forthcoming policy convention early next year.

However, opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) boasts that it is the only party that has a clear policy and a strong stand on the matter.

“We have spoken against this all along and we are urging the current administration and the president to declare their position as well.

“We want the President to know that we have the capacity and mandate to mobilise our supporters to protest against this,” DPP regional governor for the South Noel Masangwi said at a rally in Blantyre a couple of weeks ago.

However, DPP acting president Peter Mutharika who was guest of honour avoided the issue in his speech.

Kamuzu Chibambo of opposition People’s Transformation Party (Petra) said in an interview that although the party has no policy specifically on homosexuality, it has publicly taken a position against it. Chibambo accused the West of forcing the practice onto Malawians.

“We were the first party to speak against the legalisation of same sex marriages. Petra stands for traditional family and here I mean marriage between a man and woman. I know that money is coming into play on this matter but for Petra, money or no money that is our stand, we will defend it.

“I want to be honest with you on this one, the West does not inspire me,” Chibambo said.

Since the debate ensued, PP officials including the president and members of parliament have been contradicting each other on the issue.

During her State of the Nation address in May, President Banda said she would repeal the anti-homosexuality laws.

But a few months later, she told the Western press that Malawi was not ready to repeal anti-homosexuality laws.

Later she said her government would leave to Malawians to debate the matter.

Early this month, Justice Minister and Attorney General Ralph Kasambara announced a moratorium on anti-gay laws at a public debate held in Lilongwe, saying the move was temporary, aimed at allowing free debate on the issue.

But he backtracked a day later when he spoke with The Daily Times, denying that he had not announced the suspension of the law on the matter.

Just last week, the president said through her Press Secretary Steve Nhlane that the president will allow Malawians to decide for themselves on whether the country should decriminalise the laws on homosexuality or not.

“The government’s position on this matter remains unchanged. It is for the people to debate and discuss Malawi’s laws on homosexuality, and then for Parliament to decide the way forward,” Nhlane said on behalf of the president.

One of President Banda’s cabinet ministers Anita Kalinde has said it more than once that she does not subscribe to the matter and she recently said the same position when President Banda addressed a rally in her constituency in Thyolo two weeks ago.

However, a Chancellor College political scientist Ernest Thindwa argued that President Banda’s argument that her government will be guided by popular opinion on homosexuality is an indication of leadership challenges facing the nation.

He said as a leader, Banda is expected to have convictions, values and principles that inform policy choices and is also expected to engage citizens in a constructive debate with passion where her convictions conflict with popular opinion.

He urged all political parties in the country to have a clear policy on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and many others, saying these are issues that are emerging in the Malawian society for which the electorate would seek the direction each party would take if voted into power.

“You are a leader because you have a cause you would want to pursue and that cause can only be pursued with passion if it is motivated by deep rooted convictions.

“Short of that, it gives the impression that leadership is sought for its own sake to secure power, wealth and prestige other than a particular cause for the collective good,” Thindwa said.

The debate of homosexuality in the country gained momentum during the late president Bingu wa Mutharika administration when Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza became the first gay couple in Malawi to hold a public engagement in Blantyre in December 2009.

They were jailed by the courts, but the late Mutharika pardoned them in 2010 following pressure from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other western governments and human rights activists.

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