Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda, has said that she will push for the repeal of her country’s anti-homosexuality laws. Of course this depends on her ability to secure popular support in parliament. Even if these laws are repealed, will public animosity towards gays and lesbians change? Will protective laws be created in their place? Will life be any different for Malawi’s sexual minorities?

In October of 2011, David Cameron proposed cutting aid to countries that discriminate against gays and lesbians. Just a couple months later, Hillary Clinton made a statement on “gay rights as human rights” in anticipation of International Human Rights Day. She explained that US foreign policy would take each country’s treatment of LGBT persons into consideration. Ban Ki-Moon also threw his weight behind gay rights. Most recently, Barack Obama has declared that he backs same-sex marriage in the United States. None of these statements were well received on the African continent, and even African LGBT activists said that such grandstanding could lead to a backlash against Africa’s sexual minorities. However, Ms. Banda’s decision shows that the Cameron-Clinton approach might hold weight.

Ms. Banda has been clear about her desire to appeal to Western donors in order to improve Malawi’s economy. Some of Africa’s more economically powerful countries (Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Senegal to name a few) might reject Western pressure, but is it still possible for the aid card to work in smaller or poorer countries? Will other countries follow Malawi’s lead, or is Joyce Banda simply an exception to the norm?

* Travis Ferland’s earlier contributions can be found here.