Chanco vigil a sign of disintegration of Malawi university system

By Benedict Kondowe

Listening from different people and having closely followed the stalemate for the last six months, as an institution, we support the vigil at Chancellor College (Chanco) and call upon the university council leadership to see the wisdom in the demands by the students to expeditiously resolve the matter.

As education/ rights campaigners, we strongly believe that the protracted stalemate is as a result of lack of commitment on the part of the university council and the Chancellor’s office to appreciate the implications of the sustained stalemate. Ordinarily, we hold that the leadership has acted irresponsibly and given us the impression they are not open to alternative views. These trends of double standards and unlistening are a threat to the realization of quality tertiary education and indeed, the inability of government to revamp the education sector.

From a governance point of view, it is disheartening to learn that the university management has failed to resolve the underlining issues up to date and that there appears to be no promise of hope. It is also worrying that the university management has been uncompromising on its demands, and we cannot afford to let our university disintegrate at the expense of the students and the national interest.

Police state at University of Malawi

Both the university council and the Chancellor  -President Bingu wa Mutharika –  have been contradictory in their resolves, clearly giving us the impression that there are not responding sincerely to the national wishes to expeditiously bring new lease of life at Chancellor College. This, in my view, suggests loss of legitimacy to govern the university, and their total failure to ably manage the university affairs.

The current unfolding and sustained stalemate further questions the capacity of the university council to deal with such issues in future. We are aware that standoff is still continuing because the university council is reluctant to reinstate the four lecturers whom it claims to have dismissed. We reiterate our earlier stance that if the lecturers were dismissed on the grounds of fight for academic freedom and that it has been lifted as confirmed in the President’s national address of June 2011, it goes without saying that the dismissals are invalid and have to be discharged forthwith unless this was just a mere political statement.

Unfortunately, the Minister of Education has also chosen to address the issue from a distance while at the same time claiming that he is monitoring the situation when the developments do not warrant monitoring rather, making steps to resolving them.

Notwithstanding the preceding, we categorically condemn the Malawi Police for blocking the students’ planned peaceful demonstrations. We therefore urge the police to desist from being regulators of such a constitutional right and operate themselves within the confines of the law. To this effect, the police should provide concrete date for the planned vigil lest their failure be construed as infringement on people’s rights and a threat to the promotion of democratic values.

As a way forward, and in the absence of solid commitment and energy to transact this crucial mandate, the university council should resign to pave way for others who would be committed to resolve the issues. This call is based on the understanding that while students from poor backgrounds are suffering, sons, daughters, nephews and nieces of those behind this mess might be peacefully enjoying their education in private universities or outside the country.

Let me also stress that there is no general principle that the university chancellor should be the Head of State. And with the latest development, it appears to me that the Chancellor has no meaningful time to manage the university. His handling of the impasse as a national figure leaves a lot to be desired and smacks suspicion of his commitment to improving tertiary education in Malawi.

In this context, I urge Malawians of good will to hold the Chancellor and the entire university council to account, and demand no less than an immediate closure of the standoff. We also call upon the Chancellor to immediately come up with a concrete position on the matter failing which we will mobilize all education stakeholders, parents and Malawians of good will to protest for the undue confusion in the university or indeed to join the planned vigil.

*Benedicto Kondowe, Human Rights Activist/Executive Director, Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education

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