With all the hullabaloo over the flotilla attack, the news that the Malawian government pardoned the gay couple it had sentenced to 14 years of jail and hard labour was somewhat overshadowed. This is great news, of course. Two men guilty of nothing more than being in love are free, and rightfully so. In fact, they have now even been offered asylum in Britain so that they can escape the persecution they were facing at home. Wonderful – Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga deserve it, as does every other homosexual couple in Africa and the world.
That said, there are some aspects of the story that are a little troubling. While President Bingu wa Mutharika no doubt made the right decision in pardoning the pair, his reasons for doing so are not completely innocent or helpful in the bigger picture. Mr Mutharika has previously pronounced homosexuality to be ‘alien’ and in pardoning Monjeza and Chimbalanga, he stated, “in all aspects of reasoning, in all aspects of human understanding, these two gay boys were wrong – totally wrong”, thus doing absolutely nothing to move the country forward in tolerance.
International condemnation and pressure from aid donors are said to the the principal reasons for the pardon. This is where it gets a little complicated. I’m all for international condemnation by governments of the horrific law and it is clear that these definitely played a role in the pardon. However, it is much more likely that the threat of aid being reduced or removed from the country is what did it. Threats like this are a tricky tightrope to walk – on the one hand, international support of such blatant discrimination is unacceptable, but on the other – imposing Western values so forcefully onto non-Western societies through nothing more than simple blackmail smacks a little of imperialism. Limiting aid would affect only those at the bottom of the food chain who need it most, and forcing the government to overturn its decisions on this ground weakens its position and makes communities with strong beliefs resentful. Surely it would make much more sense for the international donors to spend their money on education and awareness campaigns about homosexuality instead?
And then of course there’s the fact that Madonna has claimed credit for the change in decision because she added her name to a petition!