A note on politics of discrimination in Malawi

My motivation for writing this item are discriminatory statements coming from both politicians and citizens to the effect that “Malawi is not ready for a female president”, or “No more voting for octogenarians (old people)” and indeed “Peter Mutharika and Atupele Muluzi should not take presidency as chieftaincy”.

The ideas I want to defend in this item are two-fold: firstly, politics of discrimination will not help Malawi, as a country, to achieve her aspirations; and secondly, when making political choices, citizens must focus on performance of individual politicians and political beliefs which they hold.

Discrimination is treating or proposing to treat someone unfavorably or bullying them because of a personal characteristic protected by law.

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Under the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are, under any law, guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination.

The Malawi Constitution lists race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability and property as some of the grounds under which no person or persons should be discriminated against.

Since independence in 1964, both the Malawi voter and the voted have perpetrated various forms of discrimination in one way or the other.  I will use sex, ethnic or social origin, age, lawful sexual activity, marital status, and family affiliation to advance my argument.

Sex discrimination in politics, among others, can occur if voters hold assumptions about what sort of office women and men are capable, or not capable, of holding. This easily brings to mind assertions by ruling Democratic Progressive Party regional governor (South) that Malawi is not ready for a female president. Many Malawians understood the statement as aimed to discriminate against female Vice President Joyce Banda who has shown interest to contest in the 2014 Presidential Election.

The Malawi Constitution also makes it against the law to vilify a person or group of people on the grounds of their ethnic or social origin. On this one, I have in mind a scenario where UDF women on their way from a meeting at the party’s offices in Limbe severely ridiculed and repulsed Dr. Aleke Banda, when he showed interest to contest for presidency under the UDF ticket, on the basis that he was a northerner.

There is a rumor that Speaker of Parliament Mr. Chimunthu Banda is also being vilified and repulsed by the Bingu wa Mutharika family and some section of the DPP for being a Tonga by tribe and northerner for that matter. We need not forget also that northerners vehemently vilified and repulsed former president Bakili Muluzi on the basis that he did not possess a degree (education status) and that he was a Yao and a Moslem.

Evidence that some aspirant has been discriminated against on the basis of lawful sexual activity or marital status has not been robust. However, attacks were made by one sitting member of parliament on a fellow contestant in Phalombe District during the 2009 Parliamentary Elections to the effect that voters were not to vote for the other person because he was allegedly gay.

This leads us to two other forms of discrimination currently characterizing the Malawi political scene: age and family affiliation.

Stereotypes and assumptions about young people and elderly politicians can have a big influence on who to vote for. Asking John Tembo not to contest in the 2014 elections on the basis of age is not only against the law but it also gives false picture to our children that the elderly are stupid, and the young president can deliver, which is not true.

Similarly, vilifying Atupele Muluzi and Peter Mutharika on the basis of family affiliation is not only wrong, but it is also against the Republican Constitution which ensures that all persons are equal and protected against any forms of discrimination.

All these discriminatory grounds do not tell us how Atupele Muluzi is performing in his constituency or how Peter Mutharika is faring in his constituency as well as in his other offices.

My call to all those who will be alive in 2014 and eligible to vote is sliced into two: firstly, base your political decisions on each aspirant’s current performance as well as ideology behind everything they claim they will offer once voted into office.

Secondly, reject petty stereotypes and assumptions based on sex, ethnic or social origin, age, lawful sexual activity, marital status, family affiliation, breastfeeding, career status, disability/impairment, pregnancy, religious belief, or anything of the sort.

*Winfred Mkochi, Phd Candidate (Phonology), Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway 

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