Malawians now freer than ever before – Norwegian Ambassador

The Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi AsbjØrn Eidhammer says Malawians have more freedom today than at any time before telling from the strides the country has made in the areas of democracy and human rights in the past months.

Eidhammer made the observation on Friday in Lilongwe during the signing of two agreements among the Norwegian Government, the Irish Republic and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for the consolidation of democracy and human rights support in the country.

Said the Ambassador: “As we are meeting today, we are at a time when Malawian people probably have more freedom than at any time before in the country’s history.

“May be this is the situation as it were in 1994 but perhaps during that time Malawians did not know how to take advantage of that freedom; but today they know.”

UNDP Country Representative Richad Dictus, left and Asbjorn Eidhammer Norwergian Ambassador to Malawi signs the agreeemnt

He said Malawi had come a long way since 1994 saying in order to maintain and further increase that freedom it was vital that independent government institutions such as the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), The Ombudsman, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the Law Commission work freely.

The Norwegian ambassador said when he came back to Malawi he was not amused by the status of democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights in the country.

“I must say when I came back here last time I was a bit disappointed to find that most of these institutions as well as some of the civil society institutions were in a state that was less desirable, to put it mildly,” he said, adding that this was partly due to government’s negligence but also because some donors had looked the other way.

Eidhammer further observed that it was interesting to note that the powerful watchdog institutions were suppressed in the 2000s when at some point the public had, through the local media, voted the ombudsman as the country’s man of the year.

He therefore appealed for vigilance in a bid to promote democracy and to uphold human rights in the country.

“We shall remind ourselves now that freedom, rule of law and advance of human rights are not gained once and for all,” said the Norwegian ambassador, “I therefore appeal to universal institutions whether they are inside or outside government to continue to be vigilant and not to repeat the errors of the past.

“Do not relax in your efforts to further consolidate democracy and human rights in Malawi.”

The two agreements that the Norwegian government signed with UNDP and the Irish Republic are to the tune of US$4.5m (about MK1.4bn) and the ceremony was presided over by the visiting UNDP administrator, Helen Clark.

The UN administrator, who had earlier in the day toured a democracy consolidating program in Ntchisi, expressed her satisfaction over the progress the country is making with the donor community’s support.

Said Clark, “I was extremely impressed with what the people from the village said and their ability to demand for proper health services; demand for proper HIV treatment.

“…When you hear members of the community who have been empowered to do this, it is a very powerful thing because we budget to see children going to school; we want to see people getting better health services. We don’t budget to see the money in somebody’s pocket.”

Representing the Irish government at the signing ceremony was the ambassador of the Irish Republic to Malawi, Liz Higins who again said her government was moved by the progress Malawi had made in the areas in question.

Higins pledged her government’s support towards the consolidation of democracy and human rights support to Malawi saying her government believes that “investing in democracy is investing in human rights” and that “it is only when the citizens are empowered to demand their rights and accountability that all other programs work better.

Deputy Principal Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) Hawa Ndilowe represented Malawi government and she thanked the three donor partners for their support to Malawi.

Ndilowe assured the donor community that Malawi government would use every penny of the funds for its intended purpose.

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