Joyce Banda and Gay Rights

Is Banda serious about repealing Malawi's anti-gay laws? Is she just cynical so as to secure donor cash? And, what about Malawian public opinion?

Erik Törner via Flickr CC.

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 for her reforms in parliament. But then, even if the laws are repealed, will public animosity towards gays and lesbians change?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?

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.