Malawi Justice Minister Denies Suspending Enforcement of Anti-Gay Law
November 8th, 2012
From Malawi’s Daily Times:
Minister of Justice and Attorney General Ralph Kasambara has refuted reports that he issued a statement announcing the country’s suspension of anti-homosexual law to pave way for public debate and parliamentary vote on the legislation. …
“There was no such announcement and there was no discussion about same sex marriages,” Kasambara said. He further expressed ignorance on whether or not Parliament will discuss same-sex laws as it meets this month.
“None has so far talked or debated about same sex marriages. The Penal Code does not regulate same sex marriages or any marriages at all,” he told The Daily Times.
In a later interview, Kasambara insisted “Nobody talked about suspension of any provision of the Penal Code.”
On Monday, Kasambara was quoted by Malawi Today as saying that Malawi would not prosecute anyone under the nation’s colonial-era sodomy law, which provides a penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment at hard labor. “There is a moratorium on all such laws, meaning that police will not arrest or prosecute anyone based on these laws. These laws will not be enforced until the time that Parliament makes a decision,” he said. In a separate interview with Reuters, he said, “If we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government.”
Malawi Suspends Anti-Gay Laws
November 5th, 2012
Malawi Today reports that the African nation has suspended enforcement of its anti-gay laws:
(Minister of Justice Ralph) Kasambara, who is also Attorney General, said government wants to encourage debate and decide on whether laws against same- sex relationships should continue to be criminalized
“There is a moratorium on all such laws, meaning that police will not arrest or prosecute anyone based on these laws. These laws will not be enforced until the time that Parliament makes a decision,” he said.
Malawi’s anti-gay law carries a penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment. Reuters has more:
“If we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government,” he (Kasambara) told Reuters.
“It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail.”
Earlier this year, President Joyce Banda called on Parliament to repeal the colonial-era anti-sodomy law, but was forced to back away when it became clear that the move had very little support. Banda’s call nevertheless was a marked improvement over her predecessor, the increasingly autocratic Bingu wa Mutharika, who appeared to be flowing in the footsteps of Zimbagwe’s Robert Mugabe when Mutharika commanded that reporters stop talking about those “satanic” gays. When Mutharika died in April 2012 of a heart attack, his supporters in the cabinet tried to implement a bloodless coup to prevent then-Vice President Banda, who also headed the opposition, from taking office. But when it became clear that the army would side with Banda and support the constitution, attempted melted and she was sworn in.
In 2010, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who identifies as a woman, were given the maximum sentence of fourteen years at hard labor last week on charges of “gross indecency” and “unnatural acts,” following a traditional engagement ceremony the couple held the previous December. After international outcry and United Nations pressure, Mutharika pardoned the couple.
Malawi’s New President Calls On Parliament to Repeal Anti-Gay Law
May 18th, 2012
In her first state of the nation address to parliament, (President Joyce) Banda said: “Some laws which were duly passed by the august house… will be repealed as a matter of urgency… these include the provisions regarding indecent practices and unnatural acts.”
The BBC’s Raphael Tenthani in the main city, Blantyre, says the president has the support of a majority of MPs and so should be able to get parliament to overturn the law. However, he says it will be an unpopular move with many church leaders, as well as the wider population in this conservative country.
Banda’s call was part of a much larger sweeping announcment that many unpopular and controversial laws implemented by her predecessor would be revisited.
Banda became President after her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, died of a heart attack. Mutharika pardoned a couple in 2010 after they were found guilty of participating in a same-sex engagement ceremony and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. Mutharika then imperiously commanded that everyone stop talking about those “satanic” gays. As Mutharika’s rule became increasingly autocratic, a rift developed between him and vice President Banda. Meanwhile Britain suspended aid to Malawi over Mutharika’s autocratic rule, which included his police breaking up opposition protests with live ammunition.
When Mutharika died last month, his supporters tried to implement a bloodless coup to prevent Banda from taking office. But when it became clear that the army would side with Banda and support the constitution, opposition melted and she was sworn in. She is now reversing many of Mutharika’s policies in order to get donor funding restored.
Report: Malawi Only “Reviewing,” Not Repealing, Anti-Gay Law
December 13th, 2011
Malawi’s Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga is now backing away from last week’s report that Malawi was reviewing a number of laws infringing on basic human rights, including that nation’s colonial-holdover law criminalizing homosexuality. According to Voice of America:
“I wouldn’t say backing away is the right word. There are a number of other laws that have also received public comments, and what the government is doing is, we are taking the opportunity to look at all those laws, and we are referring those laws and provisions to the Malawi Law Commission. We are hoping that, as a way forward, we can have specific recommendations,” he said.
Other laws include one which prevents citizens from obtaining injunctions against the government, another one which allows President Bingu we Mutharikato call snap elections for local governments, and another which allows the government to shut down newspapers. Mutharika’s increasingly autocratic tendencies have earned the attention of foreign donor nations. Earlier this year, a Wikileaks cable revealed that the British ambassador warned his London superiors that Malawi’s President was becoming increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism. Mutharika responded by proving the ambassador’s point and expelled him. Britain then began cutting aid to Malawi as a result in July 2011.
Meanwhile, Malawi’s Daily Times reports that President Mutharika has condemned what he calls “cultural impositions” at a forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations in Doha, Qatar:
Said Mutharika: “There should not be any nation on this earth that looks down or marginalises the cultures of other countries including their traditions.
“No culture should be called primitive because primitiveness is the state of mind. Civilizations serve a people for a particular time and they cannot be primitive as long as they are useful to those people.”
Laws criminalizing gay people are typically defended with appeals to African traditions and arguments that homosexuality is a Western import.
Malawi To Review “Bad” Laws
December 9th, 2011
Malawi’s Nyassa Times has this as the lede:
President Bingu wa Mutharika has bowed down to pressure by ordering that Malawi Law Commission to review some of the repressive laws including a ban on homosexual acts, Justice Minister Ephraim Chiume has said.
Chiume said provisions of the penal code concerning “indecent practices and unnatural acts” would be reviewed.
“In view of the sentiments from the general public and in response to public opinion regarding certain laws, the government wishes to announce to the Malawi nation that it is submitting the relevant laws and provisions of laws to the Law Commission for review,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine that “sentiments from the general public” are responsible for the government’s announcement. Malawi society, like much of Africa, is both very religious and deeply conservative when it comes to sexual matters, and it is also deeply homophobic as a result. This may explain why it’s the anti-gay law which is the focus of Nyassa Times’s coverage which includes a provocative (for Africa) photo of two men kissing. Buried deeper in the article is this:
The President has ordered the law commission to review some of the laws that were enacted recently including Section 46 of the penal code and Local Courts Act in view of concerns from the general public…” reads the statement in part the release.
However, the press release did not indicate time frame for the review and when it will commence.
Other laws that have ignited a public outcry are the Local Courts Act, which empowered traditional leaders to administer justice beyond their jurisdiction; the Injunctions Bill which restrains Malawians from getting temporary reprieve from courts against government; and the Local Government Act, which empowers the President to call for Local Government Elections “in consultation with the Malawi Electoral Commission”.
That doesn’t tell the whole story either. What Nyassa Times doesn’t fully describe is another law, which was reported this way by Kenya’s Daily Nation (which is owned by the same media company that publishes Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor):
The country’s Justice minister Ephraim Mganda Chiume said that some of the laws set for review include Section 46 of the penal code that empowers the Information minister to ban newspapers.
So here’s the broader context. Up to now, Mutharika had begun to emulate the tactics of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe through strict police crackdowns on demonstrations and opposition groups as well as measures to muzzle the press. Mutharika has even parroted Mugabe’s rhetoric describing gay people as “worse than dogs.” Earlier this year, a Wikileaks cable revealed that the British ambassador warned his London superiors that Malawi’s President was becoming increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism. Mutharika responded by proving the ambassador’s point and expelled him. Britain then began cutting aid to Malawi as a result in July 2011.
Which puts Malawi in a particularly precarious position now that the U.S. has announced that the protection of human rights for LGBT people would now become a foreign policy priority. It’s unclear whether Mutharika’s latest move was a direct response to the U.S. announcement or whether it has been coming anyway in an effort to restore British aid. Discussions over the suspension of British foreign aid have been building for several months. And with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement that treatment of LGBT people would affect how Britain directs its foreign aid, the discussions over Malawi’s statutes criminalizing homosexuality were likely already on the table. Now that Malawi is scrambling to get back into the good graces of one major foreign donor, the impoverished nation can ill afford to alienate another.
Press Coverage of Obama’s LGBT Human Rights Policy Was Muted
December 7th, 2011
ThinkProgress found that yesterday’s announcements by the Obama Administration that American international agencies would use their resources to promote human rights for LGBT people worldwide was barely mentioned on American television. It’s getting a bit more play in the newspapers, but since fewer people are getting their news from newspapers, I wonder whether this is something that has, so far, slipped right past most Americans as they go about their days.
In Africa as well, yesterday’s announcement has been met mostly with silence so far, although it generally takes a day or two before stories like this percolate through the press. Neither Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor nor the pro-government New Vision mentioned the story, although Daily Monitor does cover a talk by U.S. Ambassador Jerry Lanier urging Uganda to stand on its own economically, citing hard economic times in the U.S. which may result in lower levels of aid. Kenya’s Daily Nation, which is owned by the same media company as Uganda’s Daily Monitor, also didn’t cover the story. Neither did The Standard.
In Nigeria, where the country’s Senate recently passed a bill which would impose prison sentences for gay relationships and LGBT advocacy, a quick look at the Nigerian Tribune, Daily Sun, Vanguard, and Guardian revealed no mention of the story. The Nation carried a brief mention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech in Geneva. That story was pretty straightforward and was limited to quotes from Clinton’s speech. Punch, which I suspect may be a tabloid, although it’s articles are much more “newsy” than a typical tabloid, carried more thorough coverage of the Obama Administration’s policy, which Punch said “signposted the likelihood of a diplomatic showdown between Nigeria and the US, against the backdrop of last week’s passage of an anti-LGBT bill by the Senate.” Punch asked Bola Akinterinwa of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs how the new initiative might affect diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Nigeria. Here’s Punch’s description of that exchange:
He described the bill as part of the country’s ‘municipal law’ which he said was different from international law.
According him, the municipal laws of a country are meant to be obeyed by all agencies and persons residing in the country where such laws are in operation. He said anybody, including foreign envoys, who contravenes the municipal laws can be convicted.
He said, “There is no problem there at all. First of all America has laws, Nigeria has laws. Those laws constitute what they call municipal laws. Municipal laws are quite different from international laws. International laws are also referred to as law of nations. The International law is the one governing all the nations of the world, whereas the municiapal laws govern the affairs of each country.
“If Obama is asking US agencies to promote gay rights or lesbian rights, they can do so. There is no problem as long as they will not infringe on the municipal law of their host countries. If they do, they will be tried based on the municipal law and they will be guilty.”
Senate leader Victor Ndoma-Egba also declared, “Nigeria is an independent nation; we are a sovereign state. We have our own values. We are not going to tie our indigenous values with the values to other nations.” He added, “How many states in the US have legalised same sex marriage? Why can’t they start from inside their own country before going out to other countries?”
In Malawi, which gained international attention when they convicted and later pardoned a same-sex couple for undergoing a traditional engagement ceremony, The Nyasa Times covered the story with a provocative photo of a “lesbian kiss.” Malawi has already suffered a cut in British aid last summer over a diplomatic row when the British ambassador criticized Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika for his increasingly autocratic actions. The Nyasa Times said that the Malawi President “defends Malawi laws for the criminalisation of sexual orientation when he adopted Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s lingo, describing gays as worse than dogs.”
The Times in Johannesburg carried a very comprehensive story in its paper this morning, including quotes from Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen and other U.S. LGBT advocates.
UK To Cut Aid To Countries Which Persecute Gay People
October 10th, 2011
British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that countries which persecute gay people will find their foreign aid budget cut. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell also told the Daily Mail that Britain has already cut aid to Malawi over it abuse of human right violation, citing the country’s conviction of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a same-sex couple who entered into a traditional engagement ceremony in violation of that nation’s anti-sodomy laws.
Mitchell’s comments however don’t quite line up with the chain of events in Malawi. The couple were pardoned by Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika in May, 2010. Earlier this year, a Wikileaks cable revealed that the British ambassador warned that Malawi’s President was becoming increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism. Mutharika responded by expelling the ambassador while violently cracking down on dissent in the impoverished nation, thereby proving the ambassador’s point. Britain began cutting aid to Malawi in July 2011.
Malawi received about £200 million from Britain over the past three years, before Britain announced cuts of £19 million.
Mitchell also cited Uganda (which is due to received £70 million this year) and Ghana (which received £36 million each year) as possible targets for future cuts if they enact further criminal legislation against gay people. No mention was made of Zimbabwe, which received £69 million last year.
Malawi Religious Leaders Spurn HIV/AIDS Outreach to LGBT Community
March 15th, 2011
From Malawi’s Nyasa Times, we get this report about statements made by that nation’s Anglican Catholic and Muslim leaders concerning HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and other outreach programs for the local LGBT community. Fr. George Buleya, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference (Roman Catholic) of Malawi said:
“I believe that there are no homosexuals who are born as such in Malawi but if at all there are some who claim to be, they are moved to do so because of poverty. By the way, why are you forcing us to accommodate homosexuals when there are many thieves, adulterers and a lot of people who do evil?
“Christianity does not work on sociology but morality. To us, we cannot punish those caught in the act but God will,” he said.
Questioned that this might as well retard their fight against the Hiv/Aid pandemic because they will not be able to reach out to the minority groups, Buleya said: “Our effort is to reach out to the faithful and if they are not within our jurisdiction, then, we will not work with them.”
Interesting. For Buleya, the LGBT community isn’t even an opportunity for missionary work.
Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) Secretary General Sheikh Imran Sharif Mohammed’s position is even worse:
“Homosexuality is sin and is punishable by beheading. The Holy Koran clearly states that any community which indulges in these acts is calling for calamities like those that happened to Sodom and Gomorrah,” said Mohammed, a lecture at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College.
“Nobody can change our laws which are both in the Koran, as a primary source and Hadith as our secondary source. These people are enemies and there is no way we can condone them in our communities,” he added.
Tiwonge Chimbalanga May Immigrate To Canada
October 1st, 2010
The Maravi Post of Malawi is reporting that Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who had been arrested, convicted, sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment and later pardoned of the crime of “gross indecency” following a same-sex marriage engagement to Steven Monjeza, may be preparing to move to Canada:
“Yes, Tiwonge will be going to Canada to settle,” Maxwell Manda, a cousin of Tiwonge Chimbalanga’s, told Maravipost.com in an exclusive interview Thursday. “He is just finalising travel documents.”
Manda said Chimbalanga, or Aunt Tiwo, who currently ekes out a living by doing odd jobs, will find a career in his adopted country.
“Some people will host him for some three years then after that he will find what to do,” he said. “We have advised him not to mess this opportunity.”
According to Gift Tapence of the Centre for the Development of People, Tiwonge’s passport is ready. A visa from Canada is expected next week.
Tiwonge and Steven broke up following their release from prison. Sadly, Monjeza’s life has spiraled downhill since then. Last week, Monjeza was given a one year suspended sentence for stealing a mobile phone.
Malawi VP: Addressing Gays Crucial In Fight Against HIV/AIDS
September 29th, 2010
Malawi’s Vice President Joyce Banda urged a gathering of religious leaders in the commercial capital of Blantyre to address the needs of LGBT people in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Banda’s remarks were delivered to a meeting of the Malawi Interfaith Association, which is meeting to discuss the increasing HIV infection rate among the clergy:
Banda said same-sex liaisons are a reality in Malawi saying there were Men Having Sex with fellow Men (MSMs) and that there were also lesbians, – Women Having Sex With Women.
“I am of the opinion that MIA is strategically positioned to bring faith leaders together to debate on how faith response to HIV and AIDS should reposition itself to tackle the issue of homosexuality without necessarily compromising moral integrity of faith institutions,” Banda a devout Christian said.
She said gays and lesbians are vulnerable groups and that they need to be paid attention by the clergy in the national response to fight HIV/Aids.
Is unclear how clergy might “pay attention” to LGBT people, given the fact that homosexuality is illegal in Malawi (punishable with up to fourteen years’ imprisonment) and widely condemned in society. Malawi gained worldwide attention with the arrest and conviction of Stephen Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga following a traditional marriage ceremony earlier this year. The couple were finally pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika. He later described their attempted wedding as “satanic.” LGBT advocates and ordinary citizens have experienced official repression and witch hunts, according to local news media.
Malawian Man Claims To Have Grown A Vagina
August 18th, 2010
The Nyasa Times has an article that somehow managed to catch my attention:
Jali Mateyu, 25, said he developed “strange flesh” two years ago but that it disappeared after he showed his first wife. …The man, who lives in the Chikhwawa district in southern Malawi, said the flesh reappeared in June this year and that his penis had “shrunk and later disappeared”.
He said he had been to herbalists who applied ointments and that now his male genitalia had reappeared alongside the female genitals. Mateyu, who is currently married to his third wife, said he believed his first wife’s mother bewitched him because he left her daughter for his second wife.
This is the same country that arrested, convicted and ultimately pardoned Stephen Mpnjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga following a traditional marriage ceremony. Chimbalanga identifies as a woman. She endured especially abusive treatment during the ordeal. Mateyu, on the other hand, has become something of a celebrity. Go figure.
On Sacrifices, Intentional and Otherwise
June 14th, 2010
Once we learned that Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were pardoned by Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika following their sentencing for fourteen years at hard labor for breaking that country’s anti-sodomy laws, I think we all understood that this would mark the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. In our naïveté, I think many of us assumed that this new chapter would somehow be a more peaceful one. But that was not to be. They’ve split now. Steven announced that he’s taking a wife — a womanly wife. And now it appears that Steven’s betrothed may be the village prostitute. The Malawi press, naturally, are having a field day with all of this.
Meanwhile, Tiwonge appears to be taking this all in stride:
But reacting to the news, Aunt Tiwo said he was not informed by Monjeza about the split.
“I have just learnt the new from newspaper. I am sad that he has communicated to the press without talking to me,” said Chimbalanga from Lilongwe.
“I respect his decision to marry a woman. He has a right to make that decision but I am also free to marry,” he said.
“I will be married for sure,” said Aunt Tiwo.
The entire world seemed to have placed a lot of hopes in this couple — that they would stay together, settle down, perhaps leave Malawi to seek asylum elsewhere, and just generally live happily ever after. Just like in all of our most beloved movies and fairy tales. But if one were to turn to fictional romance for inspiration, Romeo and Juliet might be a more instructive example: two lovers whose relationship is condemned by all of society, doomed to spend a few rare and furtive moments together before taking their lives. Steven and Tiwonge haven’t ended their lives fortunately, but they have apparently killed off their relationship.
Romeo and Juliet have become fictional heroes for star-crossed lovers everywhere. Steven and Tiwonge probably aren’t destined to be regarded as heroes by a lot of people, and that is unfortunate. National cemeteries are filled with the dead of war, and we decorate the headstones with flags and flowers in memory of their sacrifices. But those wars, too, have produced what we might call the walking wounded: those who struggle with physical wounds and emotional scars. Some of them, most visibly, we see homeless on the streets. “Why can’t they just shower, shave and get a job?” we ask ourselves, completely failing to understand the world from their point of view.
And so many of us make the same mistake with Steven and Tiwonge. “Why don’t they just leave and seek asylum elsewhere?” some ask. That’s much easier said than done. The U.S and Great Britain both have a terrible record of turning away LGBT asylum seekers. Too often, judges and magistrates rule that if they would only stay hidden and behave themselves, they would have no fear of imprisonment or the gallows. Asylum is not an easy option, particularly with the rising anti-immigrant nationalism that has been raising its head in both countries.
Besides, let’s say Steven and Tiwonge are awarded asylum — then what? They’re separated from friends and family, and the only culture they have ever known. They are poorly educated and unable to speak English beyond a few simple phrases. While it’s easy to suspect that Tiwonge may thrive in such a challenging situation — she seems to be the one who has overcome the most hurdles in all of this with her self-assurance intact — it’s no guarantee that either of them would be able to make it, let alone make it together.
In trying to please two very different worlds — the deeply homophobic world that is Malawi society, and the world of the gay community which sees each struggle through the lens of human rights advocacy and heroic struggle — Steven and Tiwonge has satisfied neither very well. It turns out that they just weren’t cut out to be heroes. They were just two crazy lovebirds caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lot like a lot of other walking wounded among us.
In fact, heroes rarely triumph personally. For every Rosa Parks, there were countless others lynched, jailed, or otherwise broken. For every war hero, there are homeless veterans. And yet, didn’t they also sacrifice something very dear to them and their families for our freedom?
I suspect that Tiwonge may somehow make us proud, but it looks like Steven will probably disappoint us. He has a drinking problem (can anyone blame him?), he says he was never gay, he’s now marrying a woman, she appears to be a prostitute — did he or someone else pay her to marry him? I don’t know, but one thing I can predict is that whatever twists and turns his life takes from now on, each development will be gleefully detailed in the national press where even the most respectable outlets have failed to hide their contempt and derision.
All of this is a reminder that it’s not always great heroic characters who are called upon to make sacrifices for a besieged community. Sometimes it’s just ordinary people who have neither the constitution nor the wherewithal to be heroes in the classical sense. And yet, they sacrifice anyway, in ways that they may not completely understand or intend. And in that vein, Steven’s and Tiwonge’s sacrifices continue.
Malawi Gay Man Risks Re-Arrest for Perjury
June 8th, 2010
Sometimes a guy just can’t get a break. We reported this morning that Steven Monjeza, one of two Malawians whose arrest, conviction, and subsequent pardon for allegedly breaking that country’s sodomy laws, has succumbed to the unimaginably intense pressure from the country’s deeply homophobic society by distancing himself from Tiwonge Chimbalanga and vowing to marry a twenty-four year old woman.
And in a further bid to try to shield himself Malawi’s malevolently homophobic society and avoid re-arrest, he propagated a common myth about homosexuality being a foreign plot, saying that this plot in his case goes all the way back to his arrest:
Monjeza, 26, confessed to a daily published on Tuesday that he was being forced “by other people” to go along with the gay story.
“Although, I claimed that I still love Tiwonge, I did not mean it,” he was quoted in the Nation newspaper as saying: “I have never had sex with him.”
According to the daily, Monjeza claimed that he was tricked to travel to the capital, Lilongwe, to profess his continued love to Tiwonge by unknown people who found him at home drunk and treated him to “a drinking orgy” along the
It’s that last statement, that he never loved nor had sex with Tiwonge — a statement that he made to try to avoid being re-arrested for homosexuality — that has, believe it or not, backfired, with at least one judiciary spokesman now calling for his arrest for perjury:
However, judiciary spokesman James Chigona told PANA Tuesday lying in court constitutes perjury.
“I don’t want to comment on whether Mr. Monjeza perjured himself or not because as a court spokesman, if I say so, I would be passing judgment on him,” he said.
“But if there are witnesses that can testify that he lied under oath in court, it can constitute an offence of perjury.”
Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga agreed with Chigona but was cautious not to refer to the Monjeza case.
…However, a justice ministry source said the ministry was liaising with the police to see how to react to Monjeza’s confession.
There’s just no appeasing some people.
Reports: Malawi Couple Break Up
June 8th, 2010
Update: I’ve found the original article from The Nation, and have revised this report accordingly.
In a dramatic twist to the tale of Malawi’s convicted but pardoned gay lovebirds, the man, Steven Monjeza, has dumped his homosexual ‘wife’ Tiwonge Chimbalanga to marry a Blantyre-based woman. Twenty-four-year old Dorothy Gulo on Monday confessed her love for Monjeza whom she described as “a real man capable of doing to women what other men ably do in bed.” She was explicit about the issue and said she had nothing to hide.
Malawi’s government was under tremendous international criticism over the pair’s conviction of “gross indecency” following their December engagement ceremony, including pressure from donor nations which make up 40% of the nation’s gross domestic income. Undoubtedly, the couple themselves have also been subjected to unbearable pressure in turn from the virulently anti-gay government. When Steven and Tiwonge were pardoned of their sentence of fourteen years at hard labor, senior government officials warned that they would be re-arrested if they remained together. President Bingu wa Mutharika used particularly venomous language in denouncing the two following his return on June 2 from a two-day Franco-African summit:
Said Mutharika: “Chimbalanga and Monjeza were being used. I was not about to let this country be led astray or suffer because of two misguided and confused men. That is why I forgave them. To err is human, to forgive is divine.
“It, nonetheless, does not mean I condone their actions. Their actions were disgusting, demeaning and a disregard of our culture, religion and laws. Ndawatchera tsopano madona kuti ndione kuti anenano chani [I am now waiting to hear what else donors will demand from me].”
The President could not hide his disgust for Chimbalanga, dubbed Aunt Tiwo, when he described his movement, body language and exaggerated facial expressions as “stupid, demonic and useless”.
Monjeza acknowledged the pressure to The Nation:
Said Monjeza: “We were pardoned but I know the law can bounce back on us if we are not careful. Although I claimed that I still love Tiwo, I did not mean it. I have never had sex with him as was revealed in court. That is why the medical examination failed to establish any anal penetration. I was coerced into the whole thing.”
According to The Nation, Monjeza now claims that he was never gay, and that his recent press conference came about because he was kidnapped by three unidentified men and forced to attend a “drinking orgy.”
Malawi Couples’ TV Interview May Have Occured Under Duress While In Custody
June 4th, 2010
We received another email via LGBT Asylum News saying that the TV interview with Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga was actually recorded last December following their arrest. If so, then that suggests that the interview by government-owned Malawi TV may have been under duress. The interview was removed from Malawi TV’s YouTube channel, but is still available at the Malawi Voice web site.
LGBT Asylum News’ synopsis mostly agrees with the one we received from an American expatriate living in Malawi, but adds a few more details:
I got a twitter messages requesting more information on a TV interview between Television Malawi and Tiwonge and Steven. Sorry I can not provide a full transcript. I am very busy, but I’ll give you a brief summary of the conversation. Here it is:
The reporter is trying to get the couple to denounce what they had done (the alleged wedding) and somewhat apologise to Malawian whom the reporter said the couple had offended. The reporter is using leading questions and authoritative language. Tiwonge, one wrapped in a piece of cloth, did very well in answers. He stood for his beliefs – telling the reporter that “he was within his right to chose his sexual orientation”. Steven got a bit more intimidated and didn’t express himself well.
You need to have in mind that this “interview” was taking place last December – just after the arrest. So the two were still in custody (this – in my opinion – means the interview should not have taken place because it could influence the ruling).
You also need to have in mind that most Malawians – including “leading reports” bought into what I consider stupid consipiracy theory that the couple had been payed by international LGBT campaigners to stage the “wedding” in order to see how Malawi authorities would react. I don’t know the origins of the theory but Malawi is very conservative and religious country so the theory could have its basis on the grounds that religious folks are trying to say Malawians cannot have same sex couples, which is ridiculous because they know it happens undergrounds.
It also think it is a fair assessment that the reporter was (is) ignorant about LGBT issues and he didn’t do his homework for the interview. In the end he felt safer to intimidate them – which was more than possible because the were in custody – rather than have a rational conversation, which the couple could have easily won.
It is also a possibility that the reporter acted on instructions from his bosses because otherwise the interview should not have been aired as it had the potential to pervert a course of justice.
More Details on the Malawi Couple’s TV Interview
June 4th, 2010
Yesterday, I posted a video from TV Malawi showing Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza speaking to a reporter. That video, which had been posted by the government-owned broadcaster has since been removed by Malawi TV. But not before an American expatriate living in Malawi emailed me to explain what was being said:
I speak Chichewa at an intermediate level, and while I had trouble picking up a lot of the dialogue in that video, I got the general gist. The whole thing looks like it was set up as a public humiliation for the two. They were made to recant their story and to apologize to all Malawians.
It starts with the presenter asking Tiwo why she, “as a man,” was taken as a wife to another man. The presenter asks why Tiwo chose to do such a thing. Tiwo says that AIDS is too rampant among Malawian women, so the presenter asks, to confirm, whether Tiwo has entered a same-sex relationship to escape AIDS, which Tiwo confirms.
Tiwo says Steven is the one who initiated the relationship (they met at church), and calls Steven her “da,” i.e. “darling.” The presenter clearly finds this amusing as he asks Steven to come over and stand next to his darling.
I’m having trouble following the next exchange, about the beginning of their relationship, but Steven does say that he had a wife prior to his engagement with Tiwo. The presenter asks if this was a “real” wife (mkazi weni-weni), to which Steven says yes. The presenter says “what about this one here?” and Steven says that his relationship with “this one” (Tiwo) must end. The presenter then asks Steven if his multiple relationships make him a polygamist; Steven says no, he’s ending his relationship with Tiwo.
Now, the presenter says, “What will happen with your real wife?” Steven says he’ll go to her and beg forgiveness.
Steven says he did the whole thing out of drunkenness, he was not of sound mind, and that he was tricked by “akunja” – foreigners – into marrying Tiwo, who he was told was a woman. He says that “today,” he will end the whole thing, and his message to all Malawians is that what he has done is a bad thing, an evil thing. He said he just followed what he was told to do. (the “foreigners made them do it” theory was widely circulated in the Malawi media).
The presenter asks Steven if he was after fame, or if he just wanted to mess around with the people of Malawi? He asks why Steven is ‘kukotakota’ (“flip-flopping,” in American parlance), one day saying he loves Tiwo, the next saying he did it out of drunkenness. Finally Steven “admits” that he just wanted to be famous, prompting the presenter to turn to the camera and say, “he admits it himself – he only did these things because he wanted to be famous.”
Now the presenter asks Tiwo what she thinks, and Tiwo says that they were just confused, and that it’s fine, no problem, they can end their relationship. He repeatedly asks Tiwo if she’s a man or a woman, prompting laughter from behind the camera. Tiwo says, “okay, I’m a man.” Under further questioning, Tiwo starts saying that she always identified as a girl since birth, but the presenter says, “look, a man can work in the kitchen, that’s called a ‘chef,’ that doesn’t make him a woman. Do you have the power to give birth?’ ” Tiwo says, no, she cannot give birth, and starts to try and explain further – but finally just says, “fine, I’m a man.”
The video is unfortunately cut off just as the presenter (I won’t say “reporter” – it’s widely known, anyhow, that TVM is nothing but a mouthpiece for government) asks Tiwo if she knows that she has done a wicked thing.
The reader requests anonymity, fearing swift deportation if his identity is revealed. He also suggests independent verification of his accounts, but with the video now removed, that won’t be possible.
Two things of note. First, it’s apparent that Steven and Tiwonge both are acutely aware of the dangers they still face for being re-arrested, particularly when Steven says that their relationship is “over” and Tiwonge acquiesces. Of course, saying anything else would subject them to new charges, trial and re-imprisonment. Perhaps this is intended to counter a possibly self-incriminating statement by Steven to the Malawi Voice shortly after their release. “Prison love cemented our love and whatever happened then remains the same now, ” Steven said. “I don’t regret falling in love with Chimbalanga. I love him and I will continue doing that.” As our Malawi reader suggests, this does appear to be set up to publicly humiliate the two and force them to recant.
The second thing to note is that if this reader got the conversation correctly, it appears extremely probable that Tiwonge is, in fact, transgender. In this exchange, the interviewer challenges her identity by pointing out that gender roles are immaterial, a point that she appears to reject but recognizes that any attempt to explain further will only result in further ridicule. As I discussed earlier, this element of her identification is key. When she says, “Okay, I’m a man,” or “Fine, I’m a man,” she’s clearly decided that this interview was going nowhere, so she just ends that part of it and hopes the subject will change.
It should be noted however that Tiwonge (and Steven) may not be aware of transgender as a concept, or if she is, it’s not something she’s all that concerned about right now. Steven still refers to Tiwonge using masculine pronouns. I doubt he would do that if she objected, but the fact is, staying out of prison and trying to figure out how to make a living are clearly far more important to them right now. Sorting out the proper etiquette of labels is undoubtedly far, far more important to us than it is to them. Steven and Tiwonge have far more pressing issues to worry about.
Pardoned Malawi Couple Appear on TV
June 3rd, 2010
In the following video taken from TV Malawi and posted on YouTube, you will first see Tiwonge Chimbalanga talking to a reporter. After about a minute, Tiwonge is joined by Steven Monjeza. They are speaking in Chichewa, so if anyone can translate what’s being said that would be extremely helpful.
Steven and Tiwonge appeared at a brief news conference in which they thanked President Bingu wa Mutharika for pardoning them last week after they were convicted and sentenced to fourteen years at hard labor for “gross indecency and unnatural acts” following a traditional engagement ceremony last December. The news conference took place yesterday in the administrative capital of Lilongwe. AFP reports:
A Malawian gay couple who received a presidential pardon on a 14-year sentence for sodomy on Thursday called President Bingu wa Mutharika a “caring father” and a “tolerant president.”
“The president has demonstrated that he is a caring father, a considerate and tolerant president. We wish him good health in his everyday endeavours as he continues leading the country to respecting human rights and to economic prosperity,” the couple said in a statement.
… The couple asked the media and the general public to respect their privacy. “So much has been said and written about us, both positive and negative. We think this is the time for us to be given an opportunity to enjoy our freedom,” they said. They called their ordeal “the most stressful period in our lives.”
Chimbalanga told AFP in a phone interview that he was in Lilongwe to “have a breather”, while his partner had returned to his village.
The Malawi Voice had earlier quoted Steven Monjeza as defiant, despite having been rejected by relatives following the couple’s release:
Prison love cemented our love and whatever happened then remains the same now. I don’t regret falling in love with Chimbalanga. I love him and I will continue doing that,” he said.
Also yesterday, President Mutharika called on reporters and everyone else to stop talking about the “satanic” gays. The story ends there,” he said. “I don’t want to hear anyone commenting on them. Nobody is authorized to comment on the gays. You will spoil things.”
Mutharika also acknowledged to the Malawi Voice that while there was tremendous pressure from foreign donor nations to release Steven and Tiwonge:
“Let me admit that there was pressure from the international community, who threatened to withdraw aid, so we have Zimbabwe to borrow a leaf from. Malawi needs their monies more than her morals to survive.
But despite that recognition, he painted his pardon as a humanitarian act:
“I’ve brought them back for the society to correct them and re-teach them our moral, if God, who we attach all these morals forgive, who are we to condemn them,” said Mutharika.
…“However on humanity, I believe these people have suffered enough emotional pain and the four walls of a jail will only inflict physical pain which is much laser than the emotional. So with the constitution powers vested in me as a president of the republic of Malawi, I therefore pardon them and order for their immediate release.” Said Mutharika.
Malawi President Wants Everyone to Just Shut Up About Those “Satanic” Gays
June 2nd, 2010
Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika, who pardoned Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza after they were sentenced to fourteen years at hard labor for gross indecency and unnatural acts,” has made it clear that he and everyone else should stop talking about those “satanic” gays:
“The story ends there… I don’t want to hear anyone commenting on them. Nobody is authorised to comment on the gays. You will spoil things,” Mutharika told reporters on arrival from the France-Africa summit.
He said the gay couple’s wedding was “satanic because they committed a crime against our culture, against our religion and against our laws.”
“I am looking at donors now… what will they say about the pardon?” Mutharika said.
…”Is it possible to stop aid to Malawi because of two people who are insane?” he asked.
Mutharika freed the couple following a meeting with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon on Saturday. Malawi had endured months of intense international criticism of couple’s prosecution. Foreign donors make up over half of Malawi’s development budget.
But that just telling you what I hear. After all, I’m authorized to comment on the gays…
Malawi LGBT Advocates Plan More Gay Weddings
June 2nd, 2010
Malawi’s fledgling LGBT advocacy movement is happy that President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Seven Mojeza last week, after they were convicted and sentenced to fourteen years at hard labor for “gross indecency and unnatural acts” following a traditional engagement ceremony last December. While the couple have been freed, government officials warn that they are subject to re-arrest if they are caught together. Representatives from the Malawi Gay Rights Movement plan on testing the government’s willingness to endure renewed international condemnation:
The Malawi Gay Rights Movement (Magrim) has hailed President Bingu wa Mutharika for pardoning convicted gays, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, but says it will organise two gay weddings in the country this year to ‘see if the President is committed to promoting human rights’.
Magrim spokesperson, Wongani James Phiri, said Mutharika has show a good example to other African leaders, but added that what was remaining was to see whether he was committed to the promotion of human rights.
“Malawi has many gays; but these people are suppressed. We plan to hold two weddings this year to see if these people’s (gays and lesbians) rights will be respected. We are all Malawians,” said Phiri.
Malawi Couple Released from Prison, Warned Against “Recommitting the Offense”
May 30th, 2010
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, whose 14-year jail terms for “gross indecency and unnatural acts” were overturned by a pardon from Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika, have been released from prison and were sent separately to their respective homes, the BBC reports. But a government minister warned that they could be re-arrested if they continued their relationship.
Patricia Kaliati, Malawi’s Minister of Gender and Children, said Monjeza and Chimbalanga’s release did not mean they could continue their relationship. “It doesn’t mean that now they are free people, they can keep doing whatever you keep doing,” she said.
Ms Kaliati said they could be rearrested if they “continue doing that”.
The couple’s lawyer, Mauya Msuks confirmed the threat:
“The pardon only applies to the offence under which they were convicted. If, for example, they go back and the state is of the view that they have recommited the offence, the pardon will not apply,” said Mauya Msuku.
President Mutharika pardoned the couple following a meeting with U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, who was in Malawi to speak before Parliament members in their brand new Chinese-built Parliament building. During his address to Parliament, Ban commended Mutharika’s actions as “courageous” and called on Parliament to rescind the country’s anti-homosexuality laws:
“It is unfortunate that laws that criminalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation exist in some countries. They should be reformed,” he underlined.
He expressed the hope that Parliament “will take appropriate steps to update laws discriminating based on sexual orientation in line with international standards.”
The couple’s release was hailed by international human rights advocates and by the goverments of the United States and Britain. But reaction inside Malawi was decidedly more mixed. A Nyasa Times editorial today said that in the end, Steven and Tiwonge still be judged harshly. Citing President Mutharika’s statement that “I have done this on humanitarian grounds but this does not mean that I support this,” the editors write:
We at the Nyasa Times are happy because his statement resonates very well with respected thinker Friedrich Nietzsche who once observed that “If there is something to pardon in everything, there is also something to condemn.” In essence what the president has said is that he has forgiven the gay couple but he will not forget their legal wrongs.
…With the moneyed people in this globe we live in, they have their way; and we have our way, but somehow somewhere money talks. Sadly, as for the right way, the correct way and the only way, it does not exist. Pressure or not under pressure, the President has done the right thing to pardon the gay couple.
After all, if Malawi is a God-fearing nation, then it subscribes to the teachings of the Bible which contends that the two will have to give their account to their Creator on why they behaved they way they have on the Day of Reckoning. It is not for us to Judge.
“It is not for us to judge” was, in a nutshell, Pontius Pilate’s lame excuse. And so it has been true ever since: whenever you hear someone say “it is not for us to judge,” you can count on their already having judged and condemned, and are now just trying to wash their hands of it.