Two of Malawi’s leading human rights watchdogs Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) have faulted Malawi’s government’s approach of using chiefs to challenge federalism calls by some quarters, citing that such an approach has only managed to sow seeds of suspicion in the public about the government.
Since some sections of the society started calling for federalism and with some secession, the government of Malawi through President Peter Mutharika’s aide Vuwa Kaunda has zealously been engaging chiefs in the Northern region of Malawi convincing them to reject calls for secession and federalism.
The government has further gone ahead to bar a pro-federalism grouping in Karonga district from holding its planned demonstrations in support for the calls of federism.
“We at CHRR and Cedep are further concerned with and surprised by government’s perennial tactic of mobilising traditional leaders to suppress any calls for federalism – as observed recently. While it is government’s obligation to foster unity in the country, the recent government meetings with chiefs have only managed to sow seeds of suspicion in the public about their government.”
In a joint statement signed by CHRR and Cedep executive directors Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence respectively, the two human rights organisations wonder why government is rushing into “manipulating” chiefs instead of allowing the public to soberly debate on the matter.
“Why is government rushing into manipulating chiefs to oppose the pro-federalism movement? Why is it that government is not willing to allow the public to soberly debate over the matter towards an informed decision on the matter – and instead has opted for the demonizatio of the system [through chiefs] as one way of silencing the proponents of the system” reads part of the statement made available to Nyasa Times.
Mtambo and Trapence argue that the Malawi government has the human rights obligation to provide a conducive environment for public debate of any matter of national interest.
“We at CHRR and Cedep strongly believe that the Malawi government, just like any democratic government, has the obligation to provide a conducive environment for its citizens to freely, soberly and rationally engage with each other on various matters or issues of national concern, and the current debate on federalism is no exception. “
The rights campaigners called on government to ensure that both the proponents and opponents of federalism enjoy the freedom of expression on the matter, and where they find it necessary, depending on need, they should be allowed to demonstrate freely and peacefully.
“ Government should refrain from taking steps which would be viewed as targeting one group or the other.”
The right groups contend that It is only through the provision of a conducive platform for constructive public engagement on the matter that the public can be well-informed about the merits and demerits of federalism, and in turn explore as to whether federal system provides a better alternative to the current system or not .
“Government should strive to ensure that its citizens’ overall position on the matter should be informed by facts about the proposed system rather than speculation, distortion of facts deliberately aimed at manipulating the minds of the populace. The debate on federalism should be put in its right framework where it leans more on the administrative aspects than on the tribal or regionalist concerns [ as is the case in the current debate] with the public examining as to whether such devolving of powers can best facilitate effective management of public resources or not” argue Mtambo and Trapence.
They also condemned the move to ban pro-federalism demonstrations, saying the move was aggressive as the right to protest is a cornerstone of democracy.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :