Friday, May 21, 2010

An Open Letter to Andrew Mitchell About Malawi

To: Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, Secretary of State for International Development


Dear Andrew,

Welcome to your new job. As you know, it's a very important one and a job in which a Secretary of State constantly has to make decisions about priorities and funding. British aid is hugely important to many developing countries and it is right that we should be at the forefront of helping these nations to become more democratic and more prosperous. But we should not be afraid of using the fact that we give aid to persuade certain countries to improve their records on human rights. I would not go so far as to suggest you adopt what Robin Cook would have called an "ethical foreign policy" because you would be riding for a fall. We live in a world of 'realpolitik' where we have to deal with people we would rather not. We don't live in an ideal world. But that also means that we don't have to give money to regimes which have intolerable moral outlooks, and use these to punish their own people.

Just as we reward nations who are making obvious progress to a more democratic way of conducting their government, shouldn't we also punish countries who repress their own people for their moral outlook?

As an example, Britain gives more than £100 million a year to Malawi. And yet today we see that a gay couple has been sentenced to 14 years hard labour just for being gay and being in a gay relationship. Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20 were arrested in December 2009 after holding an engagement ceremony. Malawi is a deeply unprogressive state where religious leaders equate same-sex liaisons with Satanism. The harsh sentence given to these two gay men is more than given to some murderers and rapists and is clearly designed as a deterrent.

I am not naive enough to think that because of this one case, you would stop all aid to Malawi. That would affect perfectly innocent people in an adverse way. But I do think that representations to the Malwai government should be made, and they should be warned that unless they change their ways on these issues, future aid would be jeopardised.

Yours Ever,

32 comments:

Andrew Davies said...

Iain, I agree with you completely that this case is abhorrent. But are we not in danger here of a) social engineering and b) a bit of colonial supremacy? ('Our attitudes to such matters are far more advanced than yours, little African people'). How can we make serious representations in this sort of case without sounding as if we think we know better than the Malawians?

David T said...

I agree.

I have been very impressed by the Government's response. However, I agree that more is required and is possible.

Edward said...

Perhaps you should also write to Mrs May and suggest that she should stop deportations of gay people to countries where they will be subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment - including execution - for their sexuality.

http://bit.ly/bfomfr

RJF said...

Well said Iain.

Mark Valladares said...

Iain,

The harsh sentence given to these two gay men is less than given to some murderers and rapists and is clearly designed as a deterrent.

"less" = "more"?

Heaven only knows how often I've done that... :)

lee said...

Hear Hear!

labrat said...

"Just as we reward nations who are making obvious progress to a more democratic way of conducting their government, shouldn't we also punish countries who repress their own people for their moral outlook?"


What if the democratic will of the people is that Homosexuality is a punishable sin?

Should the high minded liberal ideals of the foreign onlooker repress the democratic wishes of the people (who's beliefs and religion might lead to adifferent moral outlook)

Roger Thornhill said...

Ring-fencing international aid does not pass the sniff test.

Rotten to the core is my immediate reaction.

But, putting that noisome corruption to one side, the best way, surely, to base an "ethical" stance is to first and foremost stop stealing from people to get the funds to hand over.

In other words, make it voluntary, with the donor being able to checkbox what they do or do not wish to support.

There. Democracy.

Cogito Dexter said...

Hear hear

monkey for sale said...

Corrupt and backwards looking countries , like Malawi, with backwards looking attitudes to both women and gays cannot expect foreign tax-paying women and gays to fund their failed states unquestioningly.

Using organised religion , tradition or cultural practices to excuse hate-filled discrimination just won't do.

Victor, NW Kent said...

Iain

We are in no position to dictate what laws other countries have. Malawi is a poor country with few natural resources - the Lake, some tea and coffee production and tourism.

It was quite strictly governed for many years after independence by Dr. Hastings Banda who enforced a strict moral code and had a zero tolerance of petty offences. It escaped the worst that were suffered by such as Tanzania - famine and enforced relocations, Zambia - civil unrest and unemployment, Zimbabwe - everything, Mocambique - civil war.

The British donations go to poor people there. They cannot be held out as a threat to force the Malawian government to adopt what they see as an alien set of sexual mores.

Nor should you, with all respect, view the world solely as a gay person. There are many more vital issues than sexual orientation.

Iain Dale said...

Victor, thank you for telling me what to think. With respect, I will make up my own mind!

Peter O said...

I think it's fair to point out that technically they were *not* sentenced for "being gay" but rather only for "being in a gay relationship" (and specifically for display signs of affection - "unnatural acts and gross indecency" is the charge). It is categorically not a crime in Malawi simply to be gay.

None of the above in any way implies that I endorse or condone the prison sentence - far from it indeed.

Jimmy said...

"Malawi is a deeply unprogressive state where religious leaders equate same-sex liaisons with Satanism."

That's nothing. In some countries even the politicians think it's caused by demons. Imagine that.

Twig said...

China would probably be only too happy to take over our patronage of Malawi. They're far less sensitive to this kind of thing, and they have a lot of mouths to feed.

Mick Turatian said...

Why not adopt them?

Joe Public said...

A lot of people think this near-bankrupt country of ours can't afford £100m, and should stop sending aid immediately, irrespective of a countries' sex-laws.

Libertarian said...

Iain

Your reply to Victor is rank hypocrisy in light of the letter you sent telling a whole country "what to think"

Those of you pontificating about aid to Malawi should also bare in mind that there are more Malawian born and trained Doctors, Mid Wives and Nurses working in Manchester than in the whole of Malawi so I would suggest that threatening to cut off aid might actually benefit Malawi if they reciprocated and stopped the west stealing their educated workers.

Just to be clear I do NOT condone the action of the Malawi government but surely it was to address this kind of thing that the UN was set up for rather than running carbon trading scams etc

Richard Baron said...

A theme in a few of the above comments is that we should not impose our values on other societies that may have chosen differently, and may have done so democratically. I oppose this line of thought. A society in which people are individually free to pursue their chosen lifestyles, in matters of sex, career, religion or anything else, is morally superior to a society in which that is not the case. And I claim that this view is correct full stop, not just correct from the standpoint of western culture. This law in Malawi is not appropriate to any society. The point at issue is not democracy, but freedom. Democracy is probably necessary as an underpinning for freedom, but it does not guarantee freedom.

Ben said...

I too support Victor's comment. The relief of the desperate poverty of people in Malawi should not be hindered by a desire to make oppressive impositions on their government of (decadent) Western moral ideology.

Ben said...

You describe this sentence as having been passed on them 'just for being gay'.

Reports tell us that they were sentenced for gross indecency (and for breaking the law in Malawi). Not the same thing as 'just ... being gay'.

Tachybaptus said...

'Malawi is a deeply unprogressive state where religious leaders equate same-sex liaisons with Satanism.'
Closer to home than even Jimmy suggests, Jeremy Davies, the official exorcist of the Catholic archidiocese of Westminster (yes, there really is one), has written, 'Among the causes of homosexuality is a contagious demonic factor.' This is mentioned here.

Jimmy said...

"Today, Mrs Stroud issued a statement saying: "I make no apology for being a committed Christian. However it is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that the Observer has suggested otherwise."

When PinkNews.co.uk pointed out to her spokesman that the Observer's prime claim was not that she believed homosexuality to be an illness, rather that she appeared to believe it could be overcome through prayer and removing "demons", he said: "We will not be adding to or subtracting to the statement."

So on what basis precisely are we sneering at Malawi?

Ian said...

Wasn't it agreed that former First Minister Jack McConnell was going to be the British High Commissioner to Malawi? And that he was going to reisgn his Motherwell seat from the Scottish Parliament. So far that has never happened !!

Secondly the Scottish Parliament since its inception has carefully tried to cultivate and develop its relationship with Malawi primarily because Nyasaland's christianity was mainly Presbyterian.a.k.a. Church of Scotland.

It might be reasonable to address a similar letter to Alex Salmond and to the new Moderator of the Church of Scotland on this very disturbing matter.

PreetsV said...

It was colonial supremacy that gave Malawi this law in the 1st place. I can't believe how many comments are not outright condemning the actions of the Malawi legal system. Hiding behind the laws of the country is nothing short of cowardice - all nations have historical crazy laws but it doesn't mean they are implemented. Malawi, like most African countries is so vastly corrupt that the majority of the £80mn aid goes to fund the lavish lifestyles of the politicians etc. and the poor don't get a whiff of the money.

Being gay is a fundamental human right [despite what any religion says - and for the record I'm not], and at least the UN has been stronger in its condemnation than the UK: "I am shocked and dismayed by the sentence," said Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Pillay said the conviction should be repealed and penal codes that criminalise homosexuality reformed.

"Laws that criminalise people on the basis of their sexual orientation are by their nature discriminatory, and as such are in apparent violation of a number of key international treaties and instruments," said Pillay.

"It is a question of fundamental rights, not one of geography, history or disparate cultures," Pillay added.

Kevin said...

calm down everyone !

Jabba the Cat said...

Charity starts and should stop at home.

Thorpe said...

Iain,

in every sense, I agree with you about encouraging democratic and liberal (not Liberal) values of freedom and democracy as an integral part of our foreign policy, but I've got a real problem on several levels with what you suggest.

As a principle, I believe what you seem to suggest ("...we should not be afraid of using the fact that we give aid to persuade certain countries to improve their records on human rights...") sounds like blackmail. Oh, OK, Realpolitik, if you like.

Secondly, the democratic element. It's a fact that homosexuality would be widely decried and abominated by Africans if put to a popular vote. I know, I've lived in Africa for years.

Thirdly, I've got an issue with DFID's existence. What DFID does should be a small adjunct of the Foreign Office. What DFID spends money on should be rigorously audited. DFID gives hundreds of millions a year to India and China: these are countries that can stand up for themselves.

Finally, we've got an enormous deficit here at home. Why the hell are we giving money away at all? I'd much rather the money was saved, not spent, and if it has to be spent, then spend it on UK programmes.

Victor, NW Kent said...

"Blogger Iain Dale said...

Victor, thank you for telling me what to think. With respect, I will make up my own mind!"

And I expect that Andrew Mitchell can make up his mind without your input.

For your information, under Hastings Banda women were forbidden to wear trousers or shorts. That included foreign visitors, tourists and glam rock stars. That was not misogyny but related to local sexual mores - prostitutes used to parade in hot pants. I don't know whether that is still the case as I have not been there for some years. That was also none of our business.

We give foreign aid to a great many countries who legislate against homosexuality. We do that also for many countries who see women as chattels, for countries who practice execution of criminals [China and Russia for example], for countries which are non-democratic,even at least one absolute monarchy.

The price of getting aid from Britain cannot be that the recipient country conforms to our societal norms. Few do.

James said...

I do dislike the idea of attaching strings to aid that we have to like the recipient country's laws and morality. Supposing the positions were reversed, Iain, and a rich Malawi were using their aid to the UK as leverage to make our society *less* tolerant of homosexuality: still a fan of one country pushing its beliefs on others?

More importantly, though, we simply don't have the £100m in the first place - every penny of that is being borrowed from other countries in the first place - some of them not supportive of gay rights either. Absurdly, some of it is actually being borrowed from the very countries we give it to!

As others have said here already, DFID should be returned to its proper place as a part of the FCO, with a drastically reduced budget in recognition of the fact we simply don't have money to give away. Ringfenced? It should have been zeroed out!

Twig said...

@Thorpe
"DFID gives hundreds of millions a year to India and China: these are countries that can stand up for themselves"

In our present circumstances, it might be more appropriate for them send aid to us.

waddell said...

Quite. International Development should be a tool of foreign policy, not simply charity. If it were simply charity, then I'd prefer to keep that tax for myself and make those charitable decisions myself. I agree with you on the Malawi case, but I wonder how I would feel about other cases where I disagree with the British Govt's stance?