President Joyce Banda

Malawi’s new president has reversed an earlier promise to end the country’s ban on homosexual acts, claiming that the nation is not ready for it.

In May, Joyce Banda said that she supported overturning the country’s ban on homosexuality during her first state of the nation address.

On Friday, however, she told The Associated Press that her views are not backed by the majority of Malawians.

“Anyone who has listened to the debate in Malawi realises that Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now. I as a leader have no right to influence how people feel,” she said.

“Where Malawi is and most African countries are, is maybe where America or the U.K. where about 100 years ago. 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 said.

She further justified her decision by claiming that moving too fast on the issue could lead to violence. “We have seen countries where homosexuals have been killed. Why? Because, in my view, the country — the nation— wasn’t ready,” she explained.

The news is a blow to efforts to normalise homosexuality in Africa. If Malawi had gone ahead with Banda’s reform, it would have become the first African country to decriminalise homosexuality since 1994.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Malawi with penalties including corporal punishment and up to 14 years’ imprisonment. In February 2011, the late President Bingu wa Mutharika, Banda’s predecessor, signed a bill into law that specifically criminalises lesbianism.

Malawi’s anti-gay laws and poor human rights record have led to international donors suspending aid to the country.

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