“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” ~ Noam Chomsky
Most people have returned to work from festive holidays, it always a welcome break if not a necessary distraction. Yet, the realities we left behind remain: industrial actions across Malawi are still holding and National Aids Commission’s (NAC) MK5 million saga shows no sign of abating. The NAC issue is still here mainly because pride, arrogance and political patronage stand in the way of honesty and transparency. I have not seen any convincing and honest argument or reason why Beatify Malawi benefited from NAC’s money.
It was clear from the outset that whoever was going to form a post 20th May 2014 elections would have a monumental task of delivering on their promises (if they meant it) and steadying the national economy while donors were still withholding their up to 40% of annual budget support. Yet, no one could have thought that the first public demonstrations would be against a first lady’s trust (meant to “beautify” Malawi) benefiting from money it should not have.
That money happened to be for such an important cause of fighting diseases such as HIV/Aids epidemic. One would think that organisation of NAC’s importance would have its funding procedures clearly laid out for the public to see – clearly spelled out how one qualify for the funding. It should be this straightforward. But because the issue involves the country’s first lady and her flagship national initiative, it has become unnecessarily a clouded one and polarising one.
There are people defending indefensible. These are people who only see ‘reality’ through political party colours, people who are happy to trade greater national interests for meagre personal gains. Sadly, this is how Malawi rolls! Educationist and blogger, Steve Sharra recently reasoned:
“We have people who have inside information about murders, massive theft and plunder, and other heinous crimes against the nation. But they choose to keep quiet. They hold their personal interests and narcissistic considerations above the national interest. They have no sense of national conscience. They selfishly hold themselves bigger than Malawi. They do not wish the country well… They are content to see the country continue haemorrhaging economically, yet they have the knowledge of who stole what and how they did it. And that plunder still goes on today.”
As in the words of George Orwell, in time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Every honest person familiar with Malawi would resonate with Sharra’s sentiments. These sentiments are definitely heavy on those who prefer avoiding reality than accept the hard truth. And so it appears that Malawians who are unhappy with the (mis)handling of NAC money and have decided to take to the streets demanding that the First Lady’s trust return the money, are having to justify themselves. This is because there are forces trying to frustrate and thwart their noble duty of demanding transparency and accountability.
I respect everyone’s views on the issue and pretty much everything. Everyone is entitled to their views and opinion. Our constitution allows and some would say encourages it. Freethinking is a pinnacle of democracy and freedom of person. Freethinking, however flourish when people also have the right to publicly express themselves publicly. This includes the right to hold peaceful demonstrations. Demonstrations for right causes and against injustice are in fact an act of patriotism, not to the contrary, as some Malawians would want us to believe. American essayist, Edward Abbey rightly observes that “a patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”
In Malawi we have developed an unfortunate perception that demonstrations means chaos, destruction, theft and loss of lives. This is not true. The truth is that it is our reluctance to truly uphold and protect people’s democratic rights that have given public demonstrations a bad name. There are always Malawians, peddling as “good citizens” trying to stop fellow Malawians exercising their right to demonstrate. This is what creates room for violence and looting. The problem is not demonstrations but our attitude towards it. Fear mongering compromise security, this is what must be criminalised, not demonstrations, as it were.
As Rivera Sun observed, “a freedom given up is not so easily regained.” Demonstrations have to be defended, at all cost, whether we agree with demonstrators or not. It is self-defeating to think we can pick and choose which types of freedom we want to defend and promote. We must defend all of it or be against all of it. We must not let petty partisan politics and greed come in the way of our hard-earned democratic rights.
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