The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been accusing its critics of being anti-regime activists, one such is executive director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) Timothy Mtambo. Nyasa Times interviewed him on this. Excerpts:
Nyasa Times: Some section of the society have often accused your institution and Cedep as always coming out strong against Mutharika’s government. Don’t you think the public will think you have a pathological dislike of this government?
Mtambo: [Laughs] This is not the first time to hear this. Some quarters have often used this to divert our attention from real issues. I don’t think that’s true. Malawians of sober-mind can agree with us that there have been several occasions CHRR, in partnership with Cedep, have applauded Mutharika’s government based on its adherence to some human rights and governance tenets especially in the first 100 days of his rule. You just have to go and read our joint“100 days assessment of Peter Mutharika” to appreciate what I am saying.
However, it’s a fact that the gaffes of Mutharika’sregime during the first 8 months of his reign outweighed the merits, as such it would have been “hypocritical” on our part to start singing praises of Mutharika under the guise of being seen as “politically neutral”. That would be suicidal and betrayal to the national cause which we are called, as human rights defenders, to jealously guard.
However, we are pleased that some recent developments especially to those pertaining to reforms are providing some hope for a better Malawi, and it’s our since hope that such politics shall be translated into concrete action.
So back to your question, CHRR, let alone our collegues at Cedep, have no pathological hatred against Peter Mutharika let alone DPP. If anything, we have a pathological hatred against any ideology or practices that trample on human rights, good governance and rule of law. It’s all about ideologies and principles, not personalities.
Nyasa Times: What are some of the issues you feel Mutharika has done well in the few months he has been in power?
Mtambo: Honestly speaking, it’s pleasing to note that the President has lived true to his pledge of a Cabinet of not more than 20 ministers, the public Service reforms, Malawi’s maiden appearance at the UN Human Rights Committee 111th session in Geneva, and several other positive strides ably spelt out in CHRR, Cedep joint 100 days assessment of Mutharika are some of Mutharika’s achievements. It’s a fact that as compared with Joyce Banda’s regime the President has reduced internal and external travels which is a positive step in as far as saving culture of the public funds is concerned.
The progress on cashgate cases which we noted especially in the first days until the judiciary strikes are all positive steps his government has taken. Of course, there have been allegations of political witch-hunting and selective arrests. However, our position as CHRR has always been that the institutions entrusted to investigate and prosecute cashgate cases should be allowed to do their job as guided by the law, and if any member belonging to the previous regime is proven beyond reasonable doubt that he took part in the cashgate the law should not spare him or her just for fear of being labelled as ‘political witch-hunt’. Cashgaters should not hide behind political witch-hunt claims.
Nyasa Times: Some quarters have accused you of being selective in your activism, that is, you have been seen to be too harsh on DPP regimes as compared to other regimes, hence justifying your pathological hatred for DPP. What’s your take on this?
Mtambo: Let’s not politicise these matters. It is a fact that Bingu Wa Mutharika’s regime human rights and governance record during his second term was very bad, and as human rights institution we had the human rights obligation to call a spade by its name. There was nothing personal about that, and we have no regrets to have participated in that democratic process. In the same breath, you may wish to recall that during late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s first term of office, CHRR, alongside other key players including faith groups and CSOs, played a crucial role in defending the minority-led DPP government in the face of a ruthless opposition in parliament who were all hell-bent at frustrating Mutharika’s development agenda based on petty politics to the extent of organising vigils at Parliament.
Furthermore, memories are still afresh of how CHRR, faith groups, fellow CSOs, academia, media and other relevant stakeholders mounted a successful advocacy campaign to resist the-then President Bakili Muluzi’s third-term bid. When cash-gate was first reported during the Peoples Party administration, we took lead in advocating for justice on the matter through various perennial advocacy strategies including issuing our usual evidence-based governance and human rights press statements.
Besides, CHRR was part and parcel of CONGOMA’s facilitated Grand Coalition advocacy on cashgate. All these facts can be verified. If this is not enough CHRR, partnering with PACENET and Cedep, were the first CSOs during Joyce Banda’s administration to criticise the regime during our joint “100 days assessment of Joyce Banda”, the statement which did not go well with some PP’s sympathisers and other stakeholders including some CSO leaders who dubbed us as being opposition sponsored agents bent at frustrating Joyce Banda’s administration.
Just in January 2014[4 months before the Tripartite elections] CHRR issued a “20 months assessment of Joyce Banda: a missed opportunity to reclaim public trust” which was also greeted with similar criticisms of being sponsored by DPP, UDF and MCP. So, on what basis are these accusations premised on? If anything, these accusations only show that we are and have been doing a good job. In short, Malawians of sober-mind are the best judges of our advocacy work since our inception in 1995.
Nyasa Times: On 13th January 2015 you led a national demonstration and presented a petition over NACGATE and other pressing governance concerns, and in your petition you gave a 100 days ultimatum to government to address all concerns. If government does not take action on the issues raised. What will you do after the 100 days?
Mtambo: All the given ultimatums stand.I think it’s premature at this level to start divulging what action we will take if government fails to take action on the issues raised lest we be seen as adopting a pessimistic approach to government’s response to the issues raised in the petition. At this level, all we can say is that we are optimistic that government will address the issues raised in as part of its human rights and constitutional obligation. After 100 days, we will convene as a group to objectively assess and evaluate government’s response to the issues raised in the petition, and the way forward shall be decided then.
Nyasa Times: We saw some NGOs and CONGOMA distancing itself from the demonstration and there is a perception that there are divisions among NGOs and you are not speaking in one voice. Why is this so? There is credibility in speaking in one voice. Do you think your petition holds the same integrity?
Mtambo:Our success in human rights activism should not be assessed based on whether there are divisions or not but rather whether we are adhering to our calling or not. What if the entire CSOs agree to speak in one voice in defence of an action which has no human rights backing or basis? Its high time Malawians started assessing CSOs based on the “issues” being advanced rather than concentrating on their unison and personalities involved. Otherwise, we may find ourselves creating a very bad precedence which may be difficult to correct in the future. It’s all about issues not necessarily numbers.
Nyasa Times: People were arguing that you went ahead with the demonstration when the country was in a disaster. Some people say you could have postponed the demonstrations. What is your reaction?
Mtambo: We respect diversity in opinion over matters of national interest. We also acknowledge that we are in a crisis (caused by floods) that requires urgent and robust solutions by all stakeholders. We applaud President Mutharika for taking lead in government’s response to the emergency. While appreciating government’s dedication, attention and remarkable efforts bent at addressing the current flood disaster which has negatively affected the country, we also realize that government has the constitutional and human rights obligations to protect and promote the fundamental rights of its citizens including the issues raised in the petition which are equally pressing.
The fact that government is currently engrossed in addressing the current flood disaster does not necessary mean it (and all stakeholders have) has to suspend all, other, operations or governments’ business. That’s the reason why there are ministries, departments created to address various specific issues of national importance just to ensure progressive development. Let’s avoid setting bad precedence of withdrawing any social accountability movement on government under the guise that government is addressing a particular crisis hence can’t look at other issues.
Disaster should not be a license to pay a blind eye and render a deaf ear to other pressing issues Such an approach may be suicidal as we may find ourselves landing in another [but this one a self-made] disaster just because we completely ignored other areas of governance requiring our urgent response. Let’s not politicize these matters. We just had to be practical and realistic instead of concentrating on scoring a political point which would in the long term backfire on us.
CHRR shall remain a friend to any regime but an enemy to the specific ideologies being advanced by a particular regime which impinges on human rights for all. There is still four more years ahead for the President to work on the areas where he is not doing well, and take the country to greater heights. We wish the President and the public all the best!Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :