Human rights campaigner at Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has blasted President Peter Mutharika for attempting to gag University of Malawi (Unima) lecturers from engaging the independent media with comments on issues of public concerns, saying such a move would be tantamount to “censorship”.
Speaking at the Unima golden jubilee fundraising dinner on Friday, Mutharika who is also Chancellor of the university visibly appeared bitter with lecturers who comment on issues of public concern in the media.
Malawi media normally solicit independent views from scholars on their field of expertise.
But Mutharika in his speech made an indirect reference to UNIMA dons who provide analysis or comments to matters of public policy or concern, discouraging them from commenting.
“As University lecturers lets avoid commenting on trivial public issues, leave this to others who are fit to comment on such but not you,” said Mutharika, a former university law professor.
He gave the example of the rift of councillors and MPs as “trivial issue” which the academics were not supposed to speak on.
But human rights campaigner at CHRR, Makhumbo Munthali, observed that the President’s “unpleasant” statement would to a greater extent be viewed that the esteemed lecturers should only concentrate on their teaching or research rather than commenting on public or political issues as they normally do.
“This may send a wrong precedence if not corrected at this infant stage as the statement may be viewed as government’s attempts to limit civil and political space for its citizens in this case lecturers,” Munthali told Nyasa Times.
“Everywhere in the world academicians play a crucial role, depending on their areas of expertise, in positively influencing public policy as is the case in the country towards strengthening democratic governance using similar public channels like media interviews, columns,” CHRR officer observed.
“The President himself, with a rich experience teaching in the academia, should be in a better position to understand these simple basics,” Munthali added.
He said President Mutharika’s definition of “trivia” leaves a lot to be desired.
Munthali said Mutharika’s comments were unfortunate coming from the Head of State who should promote freedom of expression, academic freedom, scholarly vibrancy and debate.
President Mutharika, when he was Minister of Education under his late brother’s administration Bingu wa Mutharika, presided over an ‘academic freedom’ impasse with university staff for months.
It was political science lecturer at Chancellor College, Blessings Chinsinga’s interrogation by former Police Inspector General Peter Mukhito – now State House chief of staff – that started the academic freedom saga.
The then Mutharika government fired four lecturers, including Prof Garton Kamchedzera, Dr Jessie Kabwila-(now MP), Franz Amin and Chinsinga. They were reinstated after court battle.
Vice Chancellor at that time Dr Emmanuel Fabiano is now serving as Minister of Education.
The late Mutharika appointed a commission of inquiry to, among other things, redefine academic freedom.
Professor of law Garton Kamchedzera argued that only the Constitutional Court, and not a commission of inquiry, could interpret and redefine academic freedom. The commission was stopped from proceeding with its mandate.
In his remarks, Unima vice-chancellor Professor John Kalenga Saka said that, among others, Unima aims at enhancing research and widening access to quality and relevant education.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :