Demand justice for others, you will eventually protect your own

First they came for the Socialists – and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.

“Then they came for the Trade Unionist – and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.

“Then they came for the Jews – and I did not speak out, because I was not Jew.

“Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.” ~ Martin Niemöller’s (1892-1984)

 In 1999, Sam Mpasu, then a cabinet minister in BakiliMuluzi’s administration and also a senior member of a governing party at the time, United Democratic Front (UDF) told[1]a freedom of expression advocacy group (Article 19), that UDF administration had a policy of denying advertisement tomedia organisations that were deemed hostile to the administration. The Article 19 team was in Malawi to monitor the 1999 general elections campaign, which Muluzi won.

“It is a ban, but not a permanent one,” admitted Mpasu. Adding:“We will be able to give advertisement if the papers [newspapers] change. It is happening all over the world: papers have been banned … in fact, your colleagues are languishing all over because of insulting the government.”

Shot dead by police. Victim of anti-DPP government protests on July 20, 2011
Shot dead by police. Victim of anti-DPP government protests on July 20, 2011

Advertising revenue is the mainstay of news media organisations. It is the most popular modal of media funding throughout the world. Malawi government and its various subsidiaries are the main advertising in the local media. This technically gives the government bargaining advantage over the local media. From Mpasu’s point, UDF clearly used this advantage as a weapon to muzzle the free press.

UDF had few senior members with media background including Brown Mpinganjira, Ken Lipenga and the late Aleke Banda. The latter was a proprietor of Nation Publications Limited (NPL), publishers of The Nation newspapers and its sister titles. I am not sure at what length was the strategy to muzzle the press discussed within the UDF administration but as a senior National Executive Committee member and a cabinet minister you can be sure Aleke was aware of it.

Aleke, a much loved son of Malawi and stalwart of local politics for his entire adult life, decided to look on and do nothing about it. Perhaps his hands were tied, or because the policy did not affect his publications – we will never know for sure. But the point is that he did nothing to stop what was clearly unjust policy.Aleke’s silence when his voice mattered came to haunt him a decade later.

In 2010 Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration borrowed the same policy. It pulled advertising from NPL publications on the grounds that NPL publications were hostile to his administration.

Perhaps this could have been avoided had Aleke stopped this policy in its tracks while a senior member in UDF administration? Again, we will never know for sure but it shows the importance of standing up against bad acts whoever it affects because there is no telling who is next. As they say, history does not repeat itself, it rhymes; it may be you in its next guise.

This came to mind when I read of United Nations’ (UN) demands that Malawi government ensures justice for the late Robert Chasowa, a Polytechnic who was killed on campus in September 2011 and the July 20 protestors who were killed by the police across the country, also in 2011.

It is despicable that it has taken the UN to force our government to ensure that justice is done for the victims. The demand sounded like the UN are re-inventing a wheel because the local feeling is that the country has moved on since. This is the sort of a nation we are. We are happy to burry everything under the carpet and move on, pretending all is well.

This is why we, as a nation, always find ourselves in the same position, trying to deal with problems that we encountered before. Instead of moving on with other development projects, now a certain section of the civil service must sit down and try to address issues that could have been sorted out long ago. What happened to inquiries that the Joyce Banda administration set to look into these issues?

For some people, Malawi has a lot of problems for UN to be prioritising this. Yet, there are families out there who want justice done for their beloved ones. To them this matters, and it matters for Malawi if we are to avoid its repetition. Despite, Malawi is a signatory to various UNstatutes, which the country must honour. These extra-judicial killings are a crime and someone must be accountable.

Ignoring injustice is not just neglecting one’s moral duty but we also be jeopardise our own safety, and that of our loved ones. If Chasowa, an innocent young student, can be killed in cold blood so could any of us; so could any of our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.

The fact that no one has been accountable for the death of Chasowa and those innocent protestors is something to worry about. And more so that it has taken the UN to demand justice while most us Malawians have opted to moved on.Our inaction legitimatises impunity.What would stop another July 20?I do not have answers and I cannot solve all of these problems but I know that continuing with the status quo is not an option.

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