Glimmers of hope, despite Malawi pastors’ wrong-headed idea

Caption on Malawi News24 photo states, "Despite vocal opposition in a number of African countries, acceptance [of LGBTI rights] is slowly gaining ground. "
Caption on Malawi News24 photo states, “Despite vocal opposition in a number of African countries, acceptance [of LGBTI rights] is slowly gaining ground. “

A glimmer of good news is visible in a news article about a group of homophobic Christian pastors in Malawi who don’t even understand their own country’s laws.

The glimmer comes from an anonymous journalist’s caption under a photo of a rainbow flag, which illustrates the article. The caption states, “Displaying the rainbow flag of gay rights activists: Despite vocal opposition in a number of African countries, acceptance is slowly gaining ground.”

Perhaps so. Mozambique has repealed its anti-gay law. A moratorium remains in effect on enforcement of the anti-gay law in Malawi, despite pressure. Botswana’s LGBTI rights organization Legabibo has won a court judgement ordering the government to grant it official recognition. The Tunisian LGBTI rights organization Shams won official recognition last year and, despite intense pressure, has hung onto it this year. Seychelles is preparing to repeal its anti-gay law, following in the footsteps of the tiny island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, which did so in 2012.

Meanwhile, in Malawi, a group of pastors urged the government to arrest 4,000 homosexuals in the northern city of Mzuzu. The figure of 4,000 is an estimate of the number of gay men in that city, as calculated by the LGBTI rights group CEDEP (Centre for the Development of the People). That number represents about 2 percent of the population of the city.

But the pastors think there’s an actual list of 4,000 Mzuzu residents who are gay, and that police could use it to track them down. Even if such a ridiculous list existed and if the moratorium on Malawi’s anti-gay law were not in force, the pastors’ proposal would still be fatally flawed. Under Malawian law, only acts of same-sex intimacy (“carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”) are illegal. Simply being gay is not.

This is the text of the News24 article:

Malawi: Pastors want 4 000 gays arrested

Blantyre – A coalition of young pastors in Malawi have threatened to drag the government to court to force it arrest 4 000 homosexuals living in northern Malawi’s city of Mzuzu.

Blantyre is located in southern Malawi (Map courtesy of
Mzuzu is located in northern Malawi (Map courtesy of

The Young Pastors Coalition of Malawi (YPCM) has accused the government of encouraging homosexuality through its failure to arrest gays and lesbians.

The call comes after a local human rights grouping Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep) has released research findings which indicates that northern Malawi’s city of Mzuzu has a population of 4 000 homosexuals.The survey by Cedep was conducted to establish HIV/Aids and socio-behavioural characteristics amongst men who have sex with men.

Despite same sex relations being outlawed, Malawi government has been reluctant to arrest and prosecute homosexuals.

The survey results have irked the pastors who argue that the research was conducted as part of advocacy to promote homosexuality in Malawi.

“We want the group that conducted the survey to present the names of the 4 000 homosexuals to police so that they can be arrested and face prosecution,” argue the pastors in a statement.

The statement signed by the coalition’s director Patrick Banda and general secretary Tusalifye Mbeye adds: “This statement should warn officials like the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Inspector General of Police to take action and treat any homosexual as a criminal, the same way thieves are treated as criminals.”

Samuel Tembenu, Malawi's minster of justice and constitutional affairs. (Photo courtesy of
Samuel Tembenu, Malawi’s minster of justice and constitutional affairs. (Photo courtesy of

Reacting to the call, Malawi’s Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu has advised the pastors to concentrate on their work instead of poking their noses into matters of the state.

“Let our pastors continue doing their good work of saving lost souls. However, they should let experts in human rights, constitutionalism and law enforcement to do what they are supposed to do,” he said.

Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapence has rubbished such calls as retrogressive.

“Such calls are retrogressive considering that government’s moratorium shows government’s commitment to review gay laws. Pastors should remember that we live in a free society. People are free to associate and enjoy human rights,” said Trapence.

Religious leaders have been vehemently opposing the relaxation of homosexual laws in Malawi.

Recently, the clergy spearheaded the quashing of a government’s moratorium on gays which shielded homosexuals from prosecution.

Despite the pastors’ campaign, Malawian government has said it will not arrest or prosecute gay citizens as lawmakers will review existing anti-homosexual laws.

Under Malawi laws, convicted homosexuals are jailed for 14 years. [Editor’s note: That’s not an accurate summary of the relevant law.]

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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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