By Ryan Collett
Malawi, one of the smallest nations in Africa, has announced plans to repeal their anti-gay laws.
Newly instated Malawian president, Joyce Banda, made the announcement shortly after assuming her new position. Formerly the vice president, she took office last month after the previous president, Bingu wa Mutharika, died of a heart attack.
If President Banda is successful in repealing the laws against homosexuality, Malawi will become the first African nation to do so since 1994.
Mutharika’s nine years as Malawi’s third president were praised for his economic innovations and leadership over the African Union, but was marred by his strict domestic policies. In Malawian law, homosexual acts are classified as “unnatural offenses.” In 2010, two Malawian men were sentenced to 14 years in prison for wanting to get married.
Banda announced last week during her first state of the nation address that she will seek to repeal the country’s ban on homosexual activity. Banda’s announcement comes at a time when countries giving foreign aid donations (the United States among them) have vowed to stop assisting African nations that still practice discriminatory laws.
In her speech, Banda said she wants to improve relations with “our traditional development partners who [are]uncomfortable with our bad laws.”
Commentators predict that Banda will be able to rally the majority of parliamentary support and repeal the discriminatory laws. However, the real challenge will be garnering the support of Malawi as a whole.
In 2010, the US Department of State conducted a Human Rights Report that found that 34 percent of Malawian gay men had been blackmailed or denied housing and healthcare rights because of their sexual orientation. Additional cases of police brutality against homosexuals were also reported.
Joyce Banda is the first female president of Malawi, and the second female head of state in Africa.