Academicians Thandika, Msiska: Free Kasambara!

Malawi’s London-based top scholars  have commented on the ‘detention without trial’ of prominent human rights lawyer Ralph Kasambara and calling for his release.

Nyasa Times produces what the two academicians -Dr Mpalive Msiska and Thandika Mkandawire wrote.

Dr Mpalive-Hangson Msiska, Birkbeck, University of London wrote Nyasa Times:

It is another sad day for the state of democracy in Malawi. It is extremely worrying that the authorities continue to hold Ralph Kasambara in custody despite two court rulings granting him bail.  This is obvously of great concern to his family and we wish them strength at this difficult time.

It will also worry most Malawians who lived under dictatorship who will be wonderning if the ideals they had fought for to effect a transition to democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights still guide the current government’s attitude to its citizens.

As a number of organisations have said, government must release Kasambara immediately, and if they have a case against him, let them take him to court.  Continuing to hold him against the advice of the courts diminishes the standing of government among its own people as well as abroad, which cannot be a good thing for a country that needs to focus on getting the economy working again.

Campaigners of 'free Ralph Kasambara' pose with the hospitalised detained lawyer

Dr Thandika Mkandawire,   London School of Economics African Development Professor, wrote on Nyasanet:

Dr. [Kamuzu] Banda bequeathed Malawi three institutions that gave us a good start towards democratic consolidation: (a) a relatively independent judiciary, since the political cases were handled by the « Traditional Courts »; (b) a depoliticised military since the political side was handled by paramilitary Young Pioneers and (c) and a fairly competent civil service.

It is these institutions that ensured us a peaceful referendum. Dr. Banda further gave legitimacy and credibility to these institutions by accepting both the results of the referendum and the first democratic elections. Muluzi in his own way strengthened the legitimacy of these institutions by accepting, albeit reluctantly, their ruling on Dr. Banda and the Tembos.  He accepted the parliement’s rejection of his Third Term bid.

To appreciate the full value of the legacy one has to consider the cases of many African countries where these institutions were severely compromised during one-party rule. Such countries have had huge political problems with their democratisation since they have no credible institutions to adjudicate even the simplest of squabbles. In Malawi all political actors have respected the courts and sought to redress their grievances through the court system. Malawi had more litigations going on than the entire SADC region.

One can point to some of the abusive aspects of these litigations but all in all they are partly evidence
of the faith in our court system.

When Bingu came to power he promised to reverse the creeping trend towards the politicisation of these institutions. He specifically promised to strengthen the meritocratic basis of the civil service.

What we are witnessing now is the shredding of the legitimacy of these institutions by politicising them and by implying that their daily management of their affairs depend on “orders from above”.  The institutions are now being pitted one against the other . The anti-corruption bureaus publicly suggest the judiciary is corrupt and,
presumably on the same understanding, the police and prison disobey court rulings.

The loss of faith in public institutions has been demonstrated by the rejection of doctors sent by the government as “independent doctors” to check the health of Kasambara.

Good institutions eventually saved Dr Banda from politicised trials and they have protected Muluzi from vindictive attempts to deny him his rights. Those in power now should remember their own future will also dependent on how independent and how well these institutions are.

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