On 16 May 1994 Malawi’s Parliament passed the first democratic constitution which was drafted in 1993/94. This interim constitution was promulgated in May 1995. The adoption of this liberal constitution had many Malawians thinking that at last the sun was rising for them. Thus, Malawians were happy to depart from the one party era which people were treated as subjects and not citizens. The 1966 Republican Constitution gave the late Dr. Kamuzu Banda power to rule the country as a private estate- as he himself used to put it.
The MCP had an efficient structure down to the grassroots level and was therefore present even in the remotest villages as a quasi-state institution. A well-organized special branch system supported by the paramilitary movement, Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP) – trained by the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, and the police force – kept tight control on all parts of society. Even the slightest critical comment about the MCP, the government or the life president carried serious consequences for the critics if they were discovered.
There was nothing like freedom of expression or assembly. Malawians were all subjects to the directives of the government. It is due to this background of repression that the birth of democracy in 1994 which followed the adoption of a liberal constitution in 1995 made Malawians think that at last their sense of citizenship would be felt. However, this was just on paper but on the ground, 20 years of democracy but we are still living like subjects and not citizens in our own country.
A citizen is an official member of a country. A citizen is an individual upon whom government forces are allowed to act, and who are allowed to react upon governmental forces. Anyone born in Malawi is a citizen of Malawi. Also immigrants can become citizens through naturalization. A citizen has rights and responsibilities. Such rights as enshrined in chapter IV of the constitution and include: the right to life, right to education, right to development etc. The rights are protected by the supreme law of the land and international law. A citizen also has responsibilities which include: supporting and defending the constitution, staying informed on the issues affecting the community, respecting the rights, beliefs and opinions of others, paying taxes etc. The maturity of democracy depends on how its citizens are able to exercise their rights and duties.
On the other hand a subject is there to obey the government. With a subject, government forces are allowed to act, but the people are not allowed to react upon the government forces. A subject goes by the orders that are coming from the government. This is how Malawians were living during the 30 year dictatorial rule. Detentions without trials and poor prison conditions were the order of the day just to mention a few. This is why the birth of a liberal constitution in 1995 had many Malawians excited. However, the laws set out in the supreme law of the land are not actualized due to the pseudo-democratic nature of Malawian governments which continually oppress individuals. One wonders whether 20 years down the line, we have made much progress. How many people are aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens of Malawi? These are some of the questions we must ask ourselves.
It is sad to learn that majority of Malawians are not aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens. Many do not know what their own constitution stipulates about their rights and responsibilities. No wonder corruption is rampant, insecurity is high, ethnic minorities are treated unfairly but the people cannot react to such ill-treatments since they are not aware of their rights and responsibilities.
The constitution in Chapter IV provides for the right to life. However, this has been compromised as poor health facilities have rocked Malawi. It is very saddening to see that our medical facilities lack adequate space to accommodate patients or guardians, medication and medical personnel It is extremely heartbreaking to see fellow human beings recuperating on the hospital floors and their guardians crowded in the corridors where they are prone to contract diseases.
The root cause for the aforementioned lies in the greed of the elite as they champion their personal needs overlooking the needs of the general populous. The scams of greedy and corrupt technocrats, politicians and businessmen contributes to the dehumanizing and degrading of the masses’ right to life. The shortage of drugs in the government hospitals compels people to purchase their prescription in private pharmacies where the prices are exorbitant. At the end of the day the burden is on the poor majority who cannot speak since they are not even aware of their rights hence it seems they are doomed to remain subjects.
It is the responsibility of citizens to defend their rights as stipulated in the Constitution. However, 20 years down the line since the inception thereof, the case in Malawi has been pathetic. It is actually our lawmakers that are in the forefront of violating the Constitution. For instance, section 65 which talks of crossing the floor continues to be tampered with by the self-interested politicians. Every political party in government aims at having the majority in the National Assembly hence governments come and go but this section continues to be raped in broad day light as Members of Parliament continuously and shamelessly cross the floor discrediting the voter who voted them into power. The voters are continually treated as a stepping stone to enter into the National Assembly and maneuver Section 65 with injunctions in order to join the governing party and plunder state resources. The sad part is that the voter in the village complains but their voices cannot get to the parliament as their Member of Parliament is swimming in millions of Kwachas while the poor voter in the village dies in poverty.
Furthermore, the constitution provides for right to development. It is also a responsibility of citizens to take part in community development. Every budget as well as donors may allocate money for local area development. However, money is usually diverted into politicians’ bank accounts while the designated beneficiaries continue to have bad roads, poor sanitation, poor schools and health centers. The will is there by the community to develop their area, but they cannot do it without resources. In the end they continue to suffer in silence because their voices cannot be heard neither do they have an avenue to voice out their concerns.
Finally, it is the responsibility of citizens to pay taxes and when it comes to this area, the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) is always active. Such taxes are meant to be used for instance in fire departments, road and public works, financing state education and buying drugs. However, as Malawians continue to be burdened with high taxation the situation on the ground is just bad. Our roads continue to have potholes, drugs in public hospitals are so insufficient, civil servants are poorly paid. What really happens to the taxes we pay? I thought our taxes were meant to be used for such projects to improve the living standards of Malawians? Thus, despite paying heavy taxes the so-called ‘citizens’ continue to suffer because of a few greedy masters who wastefully consume states resources with no remorse. Even if Malawians complain but the complaints seem to fall on deaf ears as there is no change at all hence the gap between the poor and the rich continues to widen.
It has been observed in many instances that the Malawian voters have no avenue whatsoever to hold their leaders accountable. For instance, the re-call provision was repealed in order for the politicians to enjoy a full term of self-enrichment without being questioned. This mentality by the political leadership is myopic and oppressive hence the common Malawian has no say and is left in abject poverty. It is only when the masses are aware of their oppressed rights that can genuine change take place but at the moment we do not stand a chance against the oppressors (political leadership). Malawians are generally reactive but we must move away from being a reactionary bunch and take matters into our own hands before they get worse hence we must be proactive. We should demand the actualization of our rights and freedoms at all costs as stipulated in the supreme law of the land hence no politician or technocrat should benefit from our votes and taxes. All in all, enough of this subject treatment!
The Constitution clearly states that as citizens we must enjoy our rights and responsibilities. For 20 years now, our ‘citizenship’ has just been on paper but in reality we are still subjects. Its high time Malawians enjoyed their rights to development, education, good health etc. There is a saying in free societies: “you get the government you deserve.” For our democracy to succeed, as citizens we must be active, not passive. We must be involved because the success or failure of the government is our responsibility and no one else’s. Corruption, inequality should have no place in democratic Malawi. Graduate us from subjects to citizens.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :