Opposition parties UDF and DPP have said if voted into power in the next election, they would subject the issue of homosexuality to a referendum to gauge Malawians’ position on the matter. Our reporter Boniface Phiri speaks to executive director for Centre for the Development of People, Gift Trapence, who shares his views on the matter.
Recently Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, assented to a bill that is heavily crafted against homosexuality. This has also sparked debate in Malawi, with some Malawians arguing that the country should follow Uganda’s footsteps. What is your comment?
I don’t think Malawi will go the Uganda way; that would be unacceptable in a democratic era where government is supposed to protect not persecute its own citizens. Such draconian laws have many bad implications not only to the LGBT community but to all citizens.
Major political parties in the country such as UDF and DPP have indicated that they would hold a referendum on this issue if they are voted into power. Do you think a referendum would be a proper way of determining the country’s stand on homosexuality?
You cannot use referendum to determine whether sexual minorities are human beings or not. People should not negotiate to be citizens of this country; it’s just not negotiable. Politicians should not use the majority rule to oppress the minority. Democracy is not an instrument for legitimising inequalities but rather an instrument for open societies where there is equal opportunities and equal treatment. Political leaders should not run way from facing the issue. As leaders, they need to have a position other than running away from their responsibilities. What they should know is that sexual minorities are citizens; they are also voters as such they also need to make informed decisions on issues affecting them. Politicians should stop practicing the chameleon type of politics. They should be consistent and decisive with their positions on matters affecting this nation; that’s what good leaders will always do. As a leader, you are supposed to represent all people equally. You do not show your preferences on the basis of region, religion, tribe or even sexual orientation.
In terms of numbers, how many lesbians, gays or bisexual are there in Malawi? I ask this because some people feel you are advancing an agenda for a handful Malawians?
Human rights are not about the majority. Even if it were one person, such a person is supposed to be protected and has a right to life like anyone else. People use the majority argument as the basis for denying other people their rights. Does it mean that if they find that persons are in majority they are going to change their perceptions and prejudices about gay people? Studies have shown that in every society five to 10 percent are LGBTI. We are doing a similar study and the sites we have finished have also affirmed the already known fact on the percentage.
Some people argue that minority rights are not a priority in the country. How can you convince Malawians to accommodate your views and eventually accept homosexuality?
The issue is not to convince Malawians to accept or not to accept homosexuality but to respect each other rights. The issue is for Malawians to know that as human beings they are equal, born with dignity regardless of their differences. That no one is supposed to be discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and the all rights should be respected equally, that all laws should treat all people equally, that all people should be protected equally. What is more important is the issue of co -existence as long as someone is not in infringing somebody’s rights. Respect other people rights whether you like or dislike them.
What do you think makes Malawians generally shudder at the thought of embracing homosexuality?
People have different reasons for embracing and not embracing LGBT people and Malawians are not exceptional. The reasons are many and ranges from social, cultural, religious and even political in nature. One good reason of these many is patriarchy—a society where control over people bodies such as women has always been celebrated. No wonder issues of sexuality are always controlled using our social structures. But all this hinges on the fear of the unknown.
People say homosexuals are usually a product of dysfunctional families. Do you agree?
That’s not true. The theory of dysfunctional families is wrong and cannot be applied selectively.
This practice has always been dubbed “unnatural” because to many people “natural” is attraction between people of the opposite sex. What’s your take…?
It is very difficult to define what is natural or unnatural or what is moral or immoral. What is moral to someone cannot be moral to another; what is natural to you cannot be natural to others. Others have questioned whether using condoms is natural. People always use these terms when they think them fit.
Do you realise that your views and stand as regards minority rights, especially homosexuality, have always caused uproar among many believers in the country. Do you consider yourself God-fearing?
I am God-fearing person who believes in justice, equality and love. I believe in the personal relationship that people have with their God. Salvation is not communal. It is personal and each person will answer his or her own case. Only God knows what an individual does in privacy.
Does God condone homosexuality in your view?
There are so many Bible interpretations. What people should know is that the Bible was written thousands of years ago in different cultures and time. Most of the time people use the Bible texts selectively to suit themselves. In the past, the Bible was used to justify slave trade and a lot of Africans lost their lives. Do we allow slave trade now? According to the Bible, women are supposed to be silent in the Church, but do we allow that to happen now? We have worshippers will come up with different reasons to justify their positions… Whether the Bible condones homosexuality or not, leave the judgment to God. Otherwise people are just ignoring many sins.
Lit match on dry grass
onourable Folks, the violence that claimed two lives at Goliati, Thyolo, on Sunday is like a lit match on dry grass. If not quickly extinguished, it can grow into wildfire with tragic consequences for Malawi.
PP claims DPP was behind the fracas in Thyolo. DPP denies this. In turn, DPP accuses PP of sponsoring violence in Blantyre where an assistant to its presidential candidate Peter Mutharika was beaten up, ending up in the intensive care unit of a private hospital in the commercial capital. DPP also claims PP was behind the setting ablaze of its vehicle in Mzuzu in the week. Likewise, PP denies all this.
What this unhelpful blame-game does is to instil in the players on both sides a false sense of being victimised which, in turn, may make subsequent acts of violence appear like justified acts of revenge. Violence begets violence, they say.
There’s no denying that the agent of the State with the mandate to protect life and property is the police. We, therefore, shall all look to them to investigate and ensure that those involved in acts of political violence during the week are pursued and brought to book without fear or favour.
But the past is replete with incidents of politically sponsored violence that went unpunished, especially where the perpetrators were associated with the president and the party in government, the so-called ruling party.
It’s on record that rowdy Young Democrats of UDF assaulted opposition leaders with impunity at Parliament Building, Kasungu Police Station and a roadblock near Bunda Turn-off in Lilongwe during the reign of Bakili Muluzi.
More recently, we also witnessed the Youth Cadets of DPP brandishing machetes and threatening civil society with blood-bath while cruising in ba well-branded party vehicle in Blantyre in broad daylight a day before July 20, 2011 when 20 people were shot dead by the police during a demonstration against Mutharika’s style of leadership. None of those thugs was arrested.
It may as well be that some of such youths followed lights like moths and moved from DPP to PP without shedding off the mentality that they are there to defend their party leaders with violence if need be.
All the more reason why the State President should be the first to rise above partisan interest and save our nation from going the same post-election route of violence as did Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cote d’Ivoire recently by educating her PP youths the merit of beating their spears into ploughs.
The President ought to send a very clear message to PP officials and supporters that nobody should indulge in violence in her name or the name of her party. She should also send a clear message to the police to ensure nobody from either side of the political divide indulges in violence and gets away with it.
Peter Mutharika, Lazarus Chakwera, Atupele Muluzi and other contenders in the presidential race this year should also openly support the President by openly condemning violence and telling their supporters to respect the rule of law.
My colleagues in the media should study the role the media played in the inferno that incinerated peace and hope in Rwanda and Kenya and realise that dissemination of hate messages has caused blood-bath elsewhere in Africa and the same can happen here.
Media Council, Misa Malawi and managers of media should work with MEC and Macra to ensure we disseminate information which can enable the public to make informed choice at the ballot and not information that stirs anger or justify lawlessness.
As for the youth who choose to keep themselves dirty with blood of fellow Malawians on behalf of selfish political leaders, you better realise that you are where you are because the same parties—MCP, UDF, DPP and PP—failed to provide you with good education and create job opportunities for you.
Most likely, the bosses you are serving by perpetrating violence have sent their own children to good schools abroad. Malawi is larger than any political party or leader. If we must risk spilling our blood, it better be for the good of our country, not a leader desperate to get the presidency by hook or crook.
We have only this country, Malawi, to call home.