Susan Dalgety: Criticise but don't condemn Malawi over gay rights

It is a big day for the Scottish Parliament tomorrow. The President of Malawi, His Excellency Professor Peter Mutharika, will address MSPs in a rare speech by a head of state.

Tuesday, 24th April 2018, 07:00 am
Scotland has had links with Malawi since missionary David Livingstone visited in the 19th century (Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

We may love our parliament, but it is not Westminster, and visits by international statesmen and women are rare. With one exception – Malawi. President Mutharika will be the fourth Malawi head of state to visit Scotland since 1999. President Bakili Muluzi was the first to make an official visit in 2000, followed by the current President’s brother, His Excellency Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, in 2005, when he and First Minister Jack McConnell signed a Co-operation Agreement between our two countries.

In March 2013, President Dr Joyce Banda made an official visit to mark the 200th anniversary of David Livingstone’s birth. The bond between Scotland and Malawi began when the Blantyre-born explorer and missionary arrived in Malawi in 1859 and has endured through the generataions.

Today thousands of Scots have a practical, and emotional, link with this beautiful, but poor, African country. Malawi’s challenges are so great they can seem insurmountable. Nearly all of its 16 million people live in rural areas, surviving on what food they can grow.

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Life is tough. It is even tougher if you are gay. In Malawi, like many other countries in Africa, homosexuality is illegal. Campaigners are demanding the Scottish Government tells President Mutharika to end his country’s anti-gay laws. They are right, but Malawi is not Scotland, where homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1980, 13 years after the law changed in England and Wales. Malawi’s current legislation is based on the laws that were in force when the former British Protectorate won its independence in 1964. Change will come to Malawi, slowly, as it did in Scotland.

What we should be offering is thoughtful, critical friendship, not headline-grabbing condemnation.

READ MORE: Scottish charity helps Malawi farmers acheive water security