Malawians oppose McConnell over gay rights

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell has been openly challenged by senior Malawian politicians over his support for gay rights before he moves there as High Commissioner.

The head of the main opposition party in Malawi – the United Democratic Front – said Mr McConnell’s support for the repeal of Section 28 and civil unions meant he was an unsuitable person to act on behalf of the country.

“To have a man who supports gay rights to come to Malawi is dangerous for us,” Friday Jumbe said.

“He can easily use his influence as high commissioner to force legislation and that’s my biggest fear.

“I don’t want him and I know I am speaking for my party and many legislators that we cannot allow such a person in Malawi.”

A spokesman for Mr McConnell responded: “”Jack McConnell is not going there to tell the people or their politicians what to do. He is going with the aim of helping to improve the education that young people receive.

“His intentions and commitments are clear and have been widely welcomed in Malawi.”

He was also offered support by gay-rights group Stonewall.

A spokesman said: “Mr McConnell should say to them that this is a real barrier to progress and development.”

Whatever his trouble with the opposition, Mr McConnell enjoys a close working relationship with the President, Bingu wa Mutharika.

The two got on well when they met in Malawi in 2005 and quickly organised a reciprocal visit by Mr Mutharika to Scotland.

They eventually signed a joint cooperation agreement to cement links between the two administrations.

But the statement by the opposition constitutes a further obstacle to Mr McConnell’s attempts to move away from Scottish politics following historic gains by the Scottish National party (SNP) at the last elections.

His appointment as British High Commissioner to Malawi angered civil servant unions who complained to Gordon Brown that the post should have been decided in an open competition.

Meanwhile, Wendy Alexander, sister of International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, is running for Mr McConnell’s post as leader of the Scottish Labour party unopposed.

Malawi has severe penalties against homosexual acts, commonly punishing gay sex with up to 14 years in prison.

Attempts earlier this year by human rights lawyers to repeal the code were flatly rejected by the government’s legal affairs committee.