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C himunthu Banda, Hetherwick Ntaba, Vuwa Kaunda - government's spokesmen muddying human rights with the gay issue

Sunday, April 24, 2011

LGBT CAMPAIGN SUFFERS SETBACK DUE TO GOVERNMENT’S GROWING UNPOPULARITY

LGBT CAMPAIGN SUFFERS SETBACK DUE TO GOVERNMENT’S GROWING UNPOPULARITY
By Harold Williams, Vice Chairman, ASH
ASH runs on the fumes from the oxidation of worthless copper coins. That is to say that we have no funds but do what we can with what little we have. We have made an approach to a foreign embassy for funding so that we can run seminars based on the showing of the 60 minute BBC film “The making of me” – documenting gay actor John Barryman’s journey to find out why he is gay. Our approach has yet to be formalised – but we live in hope.
Over the years, both prior to my joining the humanist movement and since, a number of my op-ed articles on the issues have been published in the local press. The arguments that we have to make do not change but neither do the arguments made against decriminalising homosexual acts viz. religion, culture, unnatural act, pro-creation. To break down such prejudicial responses may take almost forever!
I am convinced that most of my fellow Malawians when presented with the facts in an understandable manner and in an environment conducive to reflective thought who may have never knowingly met a gay person would be responsive to a film where such a personable character as John Barryman visually and candidly presents a balanced picture of the situation that LGBT people find themselves in. The film, with about nine identifiable segments, lends itself to natural breaks for discussion on the preceding section. We will target media, legislators, police, clergy and civil society in the hope that we may recruit sympathy to our cause of some of these influential opinion formers.
Malawi relies to a very large extent on aid inflows mainly from Western nations. The main donor nations understand that for a country such as Malawi to develop it is necessary that the basic concepts of good governance and respect for human rights, in accordance with Malawi’s rights-based Constitution, should be strengthened. Concerns from within Malawi on the deteriorating situation have been expressed by civil society organisations, the very strong churches, the Malawi Law Society, media bodies, academia, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (a constitutional independent body) and most callers to current affairs programmes on radio. In the face of government and presidential intransigency, threats of state instigated violence, abuse of police powers, vituperative personal attacks on state controlled radio and TV (there are no private TV stations) and statements made by Government spokespersons, dissatisfaction is growing.
Into this universal mix comes the LGBT issue. Led by the Royal Norwegian Government which has cut back aid, widespread criticism by the donor nations has been made of Malawi’s stance on the continuing criminalisation of homosexual acts including the recent criminalisation (in the name of gender equality!) of the addition of Lesbian sex. As far as ASH is concerned this intercession, whilst well motivated, sets back the fight for ‘gay’ rights in Malawi.
The LGBT issue is only a minor part of the overall governance/rights problem yet it is an issue where the majority of the population sympathises with the Government’s stance. And Government is using this is their main and, perhaps, only effective weapon in their arsenal to obscure the general issue.
A recent news item under the heading “Govt accuses activists of milking donors” reports that three very senior Government officials have publicly accused human rights activists of ‘gold digging’ to obtain funding to promote ‘un-Malawian practices like same-sex relationships.’  Hetherwick Ntaba, the official Government spokesperson, even went as far as to liken ‘ the sourcing of funds from the Norwegian Embassy for gay rights fights to getting money from Al Qaeda terrorist movement.’ The usual ‘stop-debate’ favourites of ‘.. the country’s culture and religious beliefs’ were brought into play. He went on to say that it is wrong to solicit funding from any government for purposes of promoting human rights adding that ‘.. gay rights should not be tolerated.’ NO DEBATE!
And now the Speaker of the National Assembly, Henry Chimunthu Banda, has criticised donor aid conditions to poor countries saying that conditions often negatively affect development. As a general statement it could be the basis for reasonable debate. However, the donors are, in the main, reflecting the sentiments of the Malawi public. He cited the tendency of the donors to single out ‘ .. one isolated incident as the determining factor for the whole aid package.’ Yet it is the Speaker who singled out the example of the reaction of the donor community to Malawi’s homosexuality law. This is dishonest of the Speaker. He is playing to the gallery, fishing for public sympathy, yet the representatives in Malawi of the main donor nations signed a joint communiqué which we posted to an earlier blog clearly spelling out the multiple causes for concern.
The biggest opponents of ‘gay’ rights remain the churches. By putting their reactions on a clearly dogmatic basis rather than on the secular principles of our Constitution, they are unwittingly weakening their general position on the other human rights issues on which they have been very critical of Government and the President.
The Malawi Council of Churches has just taken out a full page advertisement in the local press headed “Stand on Homosexuality” in which all of the usual Christian arguments are stated. The statement is far too long for us to reproduce here. Nevertheless, we note a recent argument that African government’s and churches are now using to bolster their stand viz. that the United Nations Declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity was rejected because only a few countries supported it. This is an invalid proof from numbers. What the churches fail to reveal is the identity of the opposing nations – nations which in the main have histories of repression of human rights and with whom we would generally not wish to be identified.
We at ASH will continue in our efforts to bring sanity to the debate. We are not concerned at Government’s attempts to vilify those who uphold ‘gay’ or any other rights. Should we fail to obtain funding from donor agencies in Malawi, we hope that our colleagues in the Humanist movement will be able to assist us in identifying a source of funds for a campaign that does not meet with much public sympathy in Malawi. We will keep you informed.



18 comments:

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    Please feel free to contact me at demoslocke87@me.com

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  18. Trekking in Nepal…Family Adventure style
    The towering Himalayas are, to many travellers’ minds, the chief reason for visiting

    Nepal. The country tumbles steeply down from the 800km stretch of the Himalayan

    battlements that forms its northern border, and can claim no fewer than eight of the

    world’s ten highest peaks – including, of course, Everest, the highest of them all. The

    mountains are more than just physically astonishing, however. The cultures of highland-

    dwelling Nepalese peoples are rich and fascinating, and the relaxed, companionable spirit

    of trekking life is an attraction in itself. The Himalayas have long exerted a powerful

    spiritual pull, too. In Hindu mythology, the mountains are where gods go to contemplate,

    while the Sherpas and other mountain peoples hold certain peaks to be the very embodiment

    of deities.
    Most visitors to mountain areas stick to a few well-established trekking routes. They have

    good reasons for doing so: the classic trails of the Everest region with its famous trails

    like Everest Base

    camp trek
    and the 3 high passes are both mind blowing ventures and highly popular in

    the world. And Annapurna regions are so popular because they offer close-up views of the

    very highest peaks; this includes Annapurna 1 & 2, fishtail peak and Ganesh Himal trek.

    Famous treks like the Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek, Annapurna Base

    camp trek
    & the Annapurna Circuit trek are some of the most famous on earth. Dramatic

    scenery and fascinating local cultures are most known in this area. Lodges on the main

    trails – some as sophisticated as ski chalets, these days – make it possible to go without

    carrying a lot of gear or learning Nepali, and without spending too much money, either.

    While trekking, you’ll likely eat and sleep for $20–30 a day. For those who put a high

    priority on getting away from it all, there are plenty of less-developed routes, of

    course, and simply going out of season or taking a side-route off the main trail makes a

    huge difference.
    The Helambu and Langtang regions are less striking but conveniently close to Kathmandu,

    attracting a little fewer than ten percent of trekkers. The Langtang valley

    trek
    & the Ganja-La pass are known trails in this area. This leaves vast areas of

    eastern and far western Nepal relatively untrodden by visitors. To hike in these areas

    you’ll need either to get set for camping and carry your own supplies, and live like a

    local, or pay to join an organized trek with tents and accept the compromises that go

    along with that.
    With a good operator, you can anywhere in the wild. A Great Himalayan Trail now runs the

    length of highland Nepal – though it will be for some time, if ever, before such a route

    will be serviced by lodges.
    Treks in remote far eastern and far western Nepal are mostly restricted to two kinds of

    globe trotters, both adventurous in their own way. The majority come on organized camping

    treks with agencies – in fact, this is obligatory for those areas that require a permit.

    The minority are independent trekkers prepared either to carry tents and food or negotiate

    with porters, or to seek food and lodging in local homes and basic lodges. Some great

    camping outdoors include the Manaslu circuit Trek, Upper Mustang trek

    the Dhaulagiri circuit, Rara lake trek and the great Kangchenjunga trek, both north and

    south.

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