I guess the first thing I'd say is that I am proud to be Malawian. I have never asked anyone to be ashamed of where they're from, and I hope I never will. In this past week someone did just that, and said I should be ashamed to come from a country that throws people in jail for the simple fact of being in love. This is most definitely a gross violation of human rights, but I am not ashamed of being from the Warm Heart of Africa. I will leave all the shaming or being ashamed for those who have nothing better to do, and simply say that people should speak out against this unjust verdict. People should not be jailed for supporting gay rights in Malawi. I stand up for Malawi by renouncing the verdict in the case of the two gay men. I stand up for Malawi in believing that we are ripe for change, and highly capable of it. We've demonstrated this before by gaining independence from British rule, and latterly by becoming a democratic nation, after decades of autocratic rule.
I am not proud of the recent judgment in the Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga case, the two Malawian men who have now been sentenced to 14 years in jail with hard labour for "unnatural acts and gross indecency." This has caused a maelstrom of questions, accusations, political posturing and recriminations, defensiveness, and ordinary people to engage in debate. At first I couldn't believe that a topic that is rarely discussed in my homeland is now the topic on everybody's lips, and is the subject of much-deserved international condemnation. But it's finally sunk in that Malawians are not doing themselves a favour by clinging to outdated laws, and infringing these men's human rights. Malawians need to be more tolerant, and the time has come to throw out laws that would throw us into the same league as the worst among human rights abusers. That is not who we are!
I guess it had to happen. An idea whose time has come? Perhaps the time has come not for the people, not just yet, by the looks of things, but certainly for the Malawian legal system. We might be able to pretend away what people do in the privacy of their own homes, but we cannot pretend away an entire legal system based on out-dated and unjust principles. This is justice being raped when we do nothing and allow the bigoted sentiments of a society to prevail. We are better than this, I strongly believe that. Malawians need to prove this to no-one but themselves.
How can we claim to be the Warm Heart, when there is nothing warm-hearted about throwing two men who profess to love one another in jail? How is love between to consenting adults wrong? As many of my countrymen and women are conservative and deeply religious, they might attack this stance by citing Bible verses. I expect that, but I also expect some decency and constructive dialogue, and some of that warm heart for which we are famed, to shine through. I expect some outrage against those who support the LGBT community in Malawi. But this is something people who believe in natural law (lex naturalis) must be immune to. I am immune to the laws of a God that does not favour love.
Moreover, in a democratic society, the legal system is supposed to be an instrument of the people, where everyone, including minorities, is offered equal protection under the law. If the legal system is being used to corrupt or pervert that stance, then it is no longer an instrument of the people, or it is now an instrument of the people that needs to be seriously re-examined, if not completely overhauled. These heinous laws must be repealed, and Malawian legal minds must usher in a new dawn of respect for everyone's human rights. In Malawi our currency is called kwacha, which means dawn. So there you have it my learned friends - usher in the new dawn or new kwacha. To paraphrase a great American legal mind, sunlight really is the best disinfectant in most cases.