Jayne and Sam in Malawi!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Money Talks!

Last time I was telling you about the extraordinary case of the two men who had been sentenced to fourteen years hard labour for the ‘crime’ of homosexuality. This case has caused the most enormous stir – both here in Malawi and internationally as well. A few days ago, the President of Malawi – Dr Bingu wa Mutharika – personally intervened in this situation and issued a presidential pardon to the men; they were immediately released. The outrage generated by this pardon – as I’m sure you can imagine – has been enormous and it has been absolutely fascinating to watch. The reason this situation is so interesting, is that it strikes at the very heart of this country; it pits core Malawi culture and values against the relationship the country has with its foreign donors. Recently, the two have most certainly been in conflict. The problem of course, is that Malawi’s stance on homosexuality is completely at odds with many of the countries that give aid to it. Countries like the UK and the USA have been particularly vocal in their objections/protests at the way in which these two men have been treated; both have threatened to withdraw aid as a result.

Significantly, the pardon was announced after a meeting between the President and the Secretary of the United Nations; officially, it was granted for humanitarian reasons. However, it is clear that few ordinary Malawians believe this explanation and from an onlooker’s perspective, it would seem to be a classic case of the administration not wishing to bite the hand that feeds! The bottom line of course, is that Malawi is a chronically poor country and is absolutely dependent upon the foreign aid it receives each year. Could the President really risk putting this aid in jeopardy? Unfortunately for him, there doesn’t seem to be much sympathy for this argument and for the dilemma he has faced; many have argued in the press that Malawi is first and foremost a Christian, God fearing country and that what this decision has done, is show to the world that it is actually a donor fearing country!

Once again, it is very easy to sit and be judgmental and I actually feel very sorry for the President and for the position that he has found himself in – this was always going to be a lose/lose situation for him. If he stood firm with the Judiciary, he risked the wrath of foreign donors and the loss of vital aid. On the other hand, by granting the pardon and by appeasing the international community, he has infuriated and lost the respect of many people. His own position may well be undermined as a result of this perceived ‘sell out’.

If nothing else, the President’s pardon has brought the issue of money and the lengths to which people are prepared to go to, to secure it, into sharp focus. How many people – when faced with potentially dire financial consequences – would genuinely be prepared to hold firm to their beliefs and principles? It’s a hugely challenging question.

Finally of course, this pardon raises some awkward questions about how the issue of homosexuality in Malawi will be dealt with in the future. What happens when the next gay man/woman /couple comes to the attention of the authorities? Not an easy situation – for anyone.

Love, best wishes and thanks to you all - Jayne and Sam

PS - We are still looking for a house - more on that next time!