The United Nations resident chief’s office this week summoned chairperson of the NGO board Emily Banda over an ongoing spat with members of the NGO community, particularly those promoting gay and lesbian rights, Nation on Sunday can report.
According to sources in the NGO community, Banda has been castigating some human rights activists who fight for minority rights, including Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence, executive directors for Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of the People (Cedep).
Sources say Banda was asked to explain herself over remarks she allegedly uttered at several forums, attacking Mtambo and Trapence–with the UN fearing the move might tantamount to infringement of rights of the activists.
While confirming being summoned to the UN mission in Lilongwe on Tuesday, Banda refused to comment on the matter in an interview.
“Yes, I was requested to meet them and discuss the issues you have raised, but I would not comment on the details of the discussions,” said Banda.
Mtambo confirmed the existence of the ongoing squabble with the NGO board chairperson, but rejected any assertions that the activists had reported Banda to the UN office.
“Some of the issues have been in the public domain already because she addressed some of the attacks in the media and also we did respond to her attacks in our regular media column. We are dismayed that she has resorted to such tactics,” said Mtambo.
He cited a recent unreported incident in Salima, where Banda allegedly hijacked a meeting of several NGOs based in Salima to lambast the CHRR boss.
“The NGO board has an ongoing mapping exercise where they are going to several districts to meet NGOs. My officers were training several NGOs based in Salima on accountability issues when the NGO board chairperson requested to address the stakeholders on the mapping exercise. When the officers obliged, she went ahead and started insulting me for being a gay rights activist.
“My officers had to ask her to leave the meeting and we believe as rights activists that such actions are now bordering on violation of the Constitution of this country and our basic rights,” said Mtambo.
The NGO board is by law mandated to regulate and register all NGOs in the country and its leadership is selected from civil society.
Homosexuality remains a controversial subject in Malawi, which maintains laws that criminalise the act and where gay marriages remain a taboo. Still heavily dependent on Western economic support, international pressure has been mounting on Malawi in recent years to move towards more gay and lesbian-friendly laws.
But public opinion in the highly conservative society is firmly against any such moves leaving successive governments in a conundrum of economic interests and political legitimacy.