In Malawi, the glass is half full (experimental version)

Compassionate, progressive thinking is bubbling up even in the world’s  conservative, homophobic societies. One example: Malawi in southern Africa, as evidenced in this experimental version of the article “Malawi: Judge seeks renewed gay arrests; gay man attacked.”

The most prominent news in the original article is negative. The following version emphasizes positive aspects of what’s going on there, without deleting the negatives:

Signs of progress, but new challenges, in Malawi

Randy Berry, the U.S. state department's special envoy for LGBT rights. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State)
Randy Berry, the U.S. state department’s special envoy for LGBT rights. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State)

“In all of these countries, there are seeds of hope,” the U.S. state department’s LGBTI rights envoy said at the conclusion of his recent 10-day trip to Malawi, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

Randy Berry was not in Malawi to convince the government to accept homosexuality, he said, but to seek an end to discrimination against LGBTI Malawians.

He isn’t alone in that quest.

When Ken Msonda, Peoples Party spokesperson, posted violently anti-gay comments on Facebook, the Malawi Law Society took offense at those statements and filed charges against Msonda in court, while also asking police and the Malawi Human Rights Commission to investigate Msonda’s statements as hate speech, a criminal offense.

The case against Msonda was  pushed by the law society, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and LGBT rights advocates at the Centre for Peoples Development (CEDEP). Several other civil society organizations expressed interest in joining the case, including Youth and Children Rights Shield (YOCRIS), the Forum for National Development (FND), and the Counseling for the Adolescent Youth Organization (CAYO).

But the case against Msonda was taken over and then discontinued by Mary Kachale, Malawi’s director of public prosecution, who intervened on Jan. 21.

Malawi President Peter Mutharika (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)
Malawi President Peter Mutharika (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

Another sign of progress toward recognition of the human rights of LGBTI Malwaians:

On Jan. 6, President Peter Mutharika took the position that he “wants gay rights protected.” He also proposed a referendum on the country’s anti-gay law — a move that many human rights activists oppose. Their reason: A minority’s human rights should be guaranteed, without depending on whether the minority can win a majority of votes in a referendum.

This week, supporters of Malawi’s moratorium on enforcement of its anti-gay law face new challenges. A gang in central Malawi and a judge in northern Malawi have raised the stakes in that country’s debates over whether to persecute LGBTI citizens or to recognize their human rights.

Madise demanded responses from police; from Samuel Tembenu, the minister of justice and constitutional affairs; and from Malawi’s top prosecutor, Kachale, the director of public prosecution. He issued an oddly phrased order restraining police and Kachale “from continuing to cease arresting and prosecuting suspects of homosexuals offenses or offenses relating to carnal knowledge against the order of nature.”

Not every religious leader in Malawi is anti-gay, but many are. The court order was requested by the Young Pastors Coalition of Malawi, which last month had called for the re-arrest of two Malawian men who faced homosexuality charges in December but then were released as the moratorium was reaffirmed.

Kelvin Gomani after being attacked in Malawi. (This photo from Facebook was widely distributed by LGBTI rights activists who were outraged by the incident.)
Kelvin Gomani after being attacked in Malawi. (This photo from Facebook was widely distributed by LGBTI rights activists who were outraged by the incident.)

Kelvin Gomani, the target of this week’s attack, was one of the two men who were arrested Dec. 7 for alleged homosexual activity.

According to Malawi24, the attackers were fellow gays who objected to an alleged offer by Gomani to sell his nine-year-old nephew as a prostitute.  According to other accounts, the crowd consisted of heterosexuals who objected to Gomani’s sexual orientation. According to yet another report, the attackers were gay men, motivated by jealousy, who also spread the false story about Gomani and his nephew.

The latest attack came a month after opposition People’s Party spokesperson Msonda posted on Facebook several statements that Malawian gays “are worse than dogs,” that gays and lesbians are “sons and daughters of the devil” and that they should be killed.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed fears that the decision to drop charges against Msonda could have serious consequences. In a statement, U.N. Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville said:

“We are concerned that the failure to prosecute this case sends a dangerous message that inciting others to kill gay people is legitimate and will be tolerated by the authorities—in effect encouraging violent threats and attacks on the gay and lesbian community in Malawi.”

The latest round of Malawian debates about homosexuality began on Dec. 19, when Justice Minister Tembenu reaffirmed the moratorium and announced that charges had been dropped against Gomani and a second defendant.

This article was revised Feb. 12 to incorporate a summary of the account of Gomani’s beating from the Malawi24 article, ” ‘No, he wasn’t beaten for being gay.’ “ It was further revised on Feb. 14 to incorporate the report that Gomani was beaten by jealous gay men.


Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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