in exile

The Malawian Woman Acquitted of Molesting 2 Girls, But Still Banished for Her Alleged Lesbianism

Patricia Kaliati (pictured) is a Malawian lawmaker and President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Minister of Women and Child Development. She has a reputation for having no filter, running her mouth when others are wise enough to keep quiet. Her latest bout of ineptitude? Banishing 42-year-old businesswoman Nellie Somanje from her home — because she’s supposedly lesbian.

“Yes, Somanje is persona non grata here,” Kaliati tells a reporter. “She must leave the area in order to protect vulnerable girls here.” Enter a bizarre set of circumstances.

Somanje’s suspected lesbianism came to light when she was arrested in November last year after two girls in her employ – aged 14 and 15 – complained that their boss was forcefully having sex with them.

She was charged with gross indecency, a felony that can attract up to 14 years in jail. She was immediately released on bail.

However, during trial, Somanje denied the charges, telling presiding Mulanje Second Grade Magistrate Lameck Mkwapatira that the two girls voluntarily asked her to be applying caster oil – locally known as nsatsi – on their private parts which traditionalists believe improves a woman’s sexual vitality and prowess.

“I used to apply on them the caster oil twice daily at their request,” she told the court.

Mkwapatira agreed with her that the act was indeed consensual and acquitted the businesswoman, citing the lack of evidence from the state to prove that Somanje was a lesbian or was indeed forcefully having carnal knowledge of the two girls.

“In the absence of a medical report to prove the sexual acts, this court is compelled to acquit the accused,” read court records reported widely in Malawi’s press Thursday.

But the ruling did not go down well with Kaliati who proceeded to order the expulsion of Somanje from her area.

In the U.S., an adult woman who is not a doctor applying oil to the private parts of two minor women would be a criminal offense. But in Malawi, the more serious charge is Somanje’s alleged homosexuality. And Kaliati remains furious with the court ruling, which she says sends the wrong signal to the current prosecution of the engaged gay couple.