Local papers in Malawi are reporting that Former President of Botswana Festus Mogae and Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda have denounced the criminalization of same sex relationships in Malawi and the rest of southern Africa. The remarks were made in a visit both made on behalf of the Champions of HIV free Generation to Malawi. Mogae argued that criminalizing same-sex relationships only serves to further exacerbate the HIV epidemic by driving a key population underground. He further noted that men go into prisons in Botswana without HIV and come out HIV positive, implying that men have unprotected sex with men while in prison. Given that, he called on countries to provide condoms in prison to help stem the HIV epidemic. Kaunda made the point that most countries in Africa already face overcrowded prison populations where individuals are detained and convicted for much more serious crimes, that criminalizing private sexual behavior is a waste of resources.
This speaking out by two African leaders in Malawi is specifically noteworthy given that Malawi rose to international notoriety last year when a Magistrate Court sentenced Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga to a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison with hard labour for holding an engagement ceremony. The pair were pardoned by Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika in the face of international pressure.
Let’s hope this is the beginning of more African leaders speaking out against the criminalization of private sexual behavior. As Mogae and Kaunda pointed out, it doesn’t matter what your personal views are on homosexuality, it is clear that criminalizing it only serves to waste precious government resources and hinder the HIV efforts in the region.