BY DANIELA COSTA – The president of Malawi, Joyce Banda, has said her country is not ready to decriminalize homosexuality, despite her pledge to do so upon taking office in May.
Banda, speaking in New York City after addressing the United Nations General Assembly, told the Associated Press that Malawians are not ready for such a change.
"Anyone who has listened to the debate in Malawi realizes that Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now,” Banda said. “I as a leader have no right to influence how people feel."
After assuming the presidency of Malawi following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, Banda said she hoped parliament would support the repeal of the country’s indecency and unnatural acts laws.
"Where Malawi is and most African countries are, is maybe where America or the UK were about 100 years ago," Banda said. "The best thing the world can do is to allow each country to take its course, to allow each country to have that debate freely without the pressure of being pushed."
Banda cautioned that the price of pressing too fast for reform could be violence.
"We have seen countries where homosexuals have been killed,” Banda said. “Why? Because, in my view, the country — the nation— wasn't ready."
Banda will serve out Mutharika's term until 2014.
In Malawi, sex between men can be punished with up to 14 years of imprisonment.
Malawi’s stance on homosexuality came to international attention in 2010 after the conviction and 14-year prison sentences given to two men arrested for holding a symbolic engagement ceremony. The courts later pardoned the men.