Blantyre, Malawi, May 31 (Newstime Africa) – British Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell, currently on a three-day visit to Malawi, has denied suggestions that his government will tie UK aid to minority rights, including gay rights, but said London was “unapologetic” about emphasising on the promotion of all human rights. “The British Government is proud of the way we have stood up for human rights all around the world and in all circumstances and I make no apology for the British Government decision to do that,” he told a joint press he held in Malawi commercial capital, Blantyre, Thursday alongside President Joyce Banda. “On the subject of minority rights for all…for all minorities…we make no apologies for standing up for this.”
Mitchell, however, said the emphasis has been exaggerated in the media, saying “all of us are on a journey on the issue of rights for all minorities”. He said it took hundreds of years for Britain “to make that journey”. He therefore acknowledged President Banda’s recent statement in Parliament to have Malawi’s homophobic laws repealed.
“But our aid is not tied to specific progress in these areas, I think that you’re on a journey just as we are on a journey and that is a journey that needs time to take place…but I emphasise that British support this time is not predicated on that basis,” he said.
Mitchell said apart from “respect from human rights” and respect for minority rights British aid is geared at achieving results.
The issue of gay rights is a touchy-feely one in the largely conservative impoverished southern African country. Malawian laws still criminalise homosexuality under “unnatural acts and buggery”. President Banda, in her first address to Parliament, stirred the hornets nest when she asked Parliament to repeal all laws that criminalise homosexuality.
This stand irked some sections of the Malawi society with church leaders and traditionalists going to town on her, saying Malawi was a “God-fearing country” that believes that marriage is between a man and a woman for procreation purposes and that “this is not our culture”.
But Western donor aid, crucial for recovery of Malawi’s ailing economy, is tied to universal human rights that embrace the rights of minorities, principle among them being homosexuals.
Malawi gained notoriety two years ago when the first Malawian gay couple of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were arrested and sentenced to 14 years in jail after they performed a public engagement ceremony. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had to fly in to secure presidential pardon for the couple. The late President Bingu wa Mutharika reluctantly freed them “on humanitarian grounds”.
Mitchell also announced Britain would immediately provide some £33m (over $50m) of currency support in the health, agriculture and education programmes to beef up the value of the Malawi currency, the kwacha, that recently underwent a massive 50 per cent devaluation.
“The President has made the brave but essential decision to devalue the kwacha, there was no alternative if Malawi is to address directly its economic difficulties,” he said. “That is why in support of this brave decision we have committed our tax-payers’ money to help in this way.”
Mitchell’s visit is a sign of a thaw in the sour relations between Malawi and its colonial masters, Great Britain, that hit the lowest ebb after President Mutharika expelled a top British envoy. High Commissioner Fergus Cochraine-Dyet was declared persona non grata after a leaked diplomatic cable to Foreign Secretary William Hague described Mutharika as increasingly becoming “autocratic and intolerant of criticism”.
President Banda acknowledged this, saying Lilongwe and London are about to re-establish normal diplomatic relations.
“I am pleased to say the name of (the in-coming envoy) was already submitted and I have already approved, so we have made that progress, I think he will be in the country soon, and I would also wish to announce that our High Commissioner-designed Bernard Sande was also approved in Parliament when his name was submitted, so we are just about to exchange the envoys,” she said.
Mutharika abrasive style of government ran most Western donors out of town. The worsening human rights situation hit the lowest when police massacred 20 unarmed protestors during the unprecedented July 20 anti-government demonstrations.(rt)
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