Unequivocally, Malawi remains unstable following the disputed presidential elections in May this year and it will, unfortunately, stay on this path for the foreseeable future as human rights groups continue to push for the resignation from office of Malawi Electoral Commission boss Judge Jane Ansah for bungling the elections.
Before discussing the ongoing unrest, two issues – one directly connected to the main issue –need to be dispensed with quickly; the issue of homosexuality which has again reared its head in Malawi, a socially conservative nation of about 17 million people in southern Africa; and that of rape.
On social media, people have been sharing images of an engagement ceremony between two women in the Malawi capital, Lilongwe. The last time this was a big issue was about a decade ago – how time slips away – when the country’s first openly gay couple, Stephen Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were sentenced to the maximum 14 years in jail after holding a symbolic engagement ceremony. For violating a sodomy law, the two, before they were dispatched to prison, had been charged with committing unnatural acts and gross indecency.
But the jailing of the gay couple was an affront to the sensibilities of Western nations and international human rights groups. Their outrage saw Malawi’s then president Bingu wa Mutharika, elder brother to the incumbent Peter Mutharika, pardoning Monjeza and Chimbalanga on humanitarian grounds after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew to Malawi to discuss the issue with Bingu.
Gay marriage is still illegal in Malawi and there is support for the status quo. Besides, like 10 years ago, the question some are asking is whether somebody put the duo up for their move. This time around, some would like to know whether the move by the two women will force the government to act or just turn a blind eye and move on to address other pressing economic issues which the majority of ordinary people grapple with everyday?
Still on human rights, concerned citizens are fighting for justice for a rape victim who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a police officer while on her sickbed in her own home! A video circulating on social media shows the victim, who’d undergone surgery after a miscarriage, giving harrowing details of her ordeal and the subsequent reaction of her husband who is apparently conflicted – the stigma of living with a partner who’d sex with another person. Was it rape? What will people say? — on staying married to his wife after the rape. There are two victims here, both wife and husband.
This crime is a direct result of the civil unrest in Malawi. A police officer was killed during clashes between pro and anti-government protesters earlier this month as President Mutharika tried to hold a rally. People who were protesting against Mutharika holding a public meeting on October 8 are among those who want Ansah to go after declaring Mutharika winner of the May elections. The alleged rape incident took place while demonstrations against the death of the police officer were taking place.
Reacting to anti-Ansah demonstrations, the Malawi Law Society (MLS), which is on record supporting the protests and asking Ansah to resign, this week released a statement, urging protest organizers to stop making their demands in the streets on matters that are in court.
Counterjab believes these demonstrations serves many a purpose but we will dwell on just some here. Counterjab will, for a minute; assume that Malawi is a normal country. After mishandling the elections and denying any wrongdoing, Justice Ansah refused to resign. Her appointing authority, President Mutharika, has, as far we know, done the following: Refused to ask for her resignation or in the absence of any offer from her to pack and go, sack her.
What is “normal” by the way? Normal presupposes respect for the rule of law, not just by the governed but also by those given the authority to govern. Checks and balances work in a normal country. There is accountability thus people are held responsible for their actions in a normal country.
While the litigation of this case moves at a snail’s pace in court, people are getting killed, raped and property is being destroyedyet the main target of the protests Ansah stays put in office. In addition, just in case some MLS members cut class and missed a civics lesson, here is one for free: There are three branches of government viz the legislature made up of members of parliament; the executive (the president) and the judiciary (the courts belong here). I said three branches, right? Disregard. There are four. The fourth is the people and you can throw the press in the mix for good measure. The people reserve the right to rail against other branches when, for whatever reason, the branches forget that the government exists for one and one purpose only which is to serve the people!
The circumstances that have seen thousands pour into the streets of this former British colony indicate, at the very least, that the country is not normal and that’s why activists are keeping vigilance, so the court does the right thing. Of the three branches that I mentioned above, the judiciary is the only one not elected directly by the people. For that reason alone, it is prudent for the judges, before they decide on this election case presented before the court to remember that it’s not the person or office of the person that appointed them that matters most but that their real boss – Ansah is refusing to quit after her ineptitude and innocent people are suffering as a result – is the people.
- The author is a journalist-turned clinician. He lives in the Diaspora.