Weep for Malawi’s democracy

By Wanangwa Kalua

A wave of despondency has once more swept across ordinarily serene Malawi. Countable years back, there was an artist who released a song. It was a song about broken promises, about greed, about top level selfishness. It was a song about Galatians who had broken a covenant.

This song was banned on our only MBC; a song by one Billy Kaunda. As I write this piece the lyrics of that super-art resonate monotonously in my mind. Maybe the song was sung for such a time as this, just maybe. I replay the lyrics amidst mixed sentiments of sorrow, fury, frustration and despair.

This is a piece aimed at expressing a few reasons why I am weeping for Malawi, reasons why I am so perturbed each night I lay in my bed looking to the roof, reasons I surely believe many Malawians have to shed a tear or two. These are reasons that have led to many a citizen in this country to start to wonder if at all democracy is achievable somewhere in a landlocked nation sandwiched between Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. Singled out, each one of these reasons seems so over-exaggerated but together they reveal a plot aimed at sucking the life out of our very stunted democracy, a plot aimed at concentrating the power where it is already in excess, and in all fairness, a plot towards autocracy.

Mutharika brothers: Blood in their hands?

It doesn’t require one to be a scholar of Political Science to appreciate the fact that Democracy, as almost all would say, is a government of the people for the people and by the people. This is the kind of government which Malawians wholeheartedly and collectively opted for in 1993 and 1994 against the one-party dictatorship. As a way of monitoring and safeguarding this newly embraced form of government, the current ‘constitution of the Republic of Malawi’ was adopted in 1995. It is therefore against such a background that the issue of sustenance and consolidation of democracy should be of paramount concern to every patriotic Malawian. Most importantly, sustenance and consolidation of this had-earned democracy depends on a wide range of factors, the principal of which being adherence to the Rule of Law.

Rule of Law:

The phrase Rule of Law is not a strange one. It can be easily summed up in two of the many sections of the Republican Constitution of the country viz sections 12 (v) and 12 (vi) which summarily stipulate that all persons have equal status before the law and that all institutions and persons shall observe and uphold the Constitution. There is no exception to such principles. It therefore rings an alarm whenever the Rule of Law principle is subjected to a series of unfair ridicule to an extent that laws are broken with impunity [or willy-nilly] by the Executive. It is no secret that the second term of Mutharika has been marred by his several unjustified steps or attempts against the principle. Such unfriendly executive endevours to the principle have in the long run posed a serious threat to the foundations and respect of the Rule of Law principle. Below are some of the major instances in our recent political history which speak volumes of how the rule of law principle has suffered or rendered a casualty at the hands of the DPP’s led-government.

The first one has to do with issues surrounding Local Government Elections. The law concerning these elections was amended by a predominantly DPP legislature to give powers to the President to decide when we should hold such elections. However, the danger with this amended law is that it has the potential of creating a state of suspense in Malawians on the question of whether the local government elections may be held or not. This is the case because the President may wake up one day and decide, within his jurisdiction, whether to have such elections or not. The recent postponement of the Local government elections by the President augurs well with these justified fears or uncertainties. If the President has the powers to postpone the elections willy-nilly [just like the recent one], what guarantee is there that local government elections will be held at the said date. In fact, with the backing of such a law, the President may even decide in future to altogether cancel such elections for good.

It is indisputable that Local Government Elections remain the backbone of representative democracy. There can never be Local Government Authorities without the aforementioned elections. Besides, for the process of decentralization to be a success we need such elections so that interests and needs of Malawians at the grassroots level can be effectively addressed via their respective Ward Counsillors. Failure to hold or non commitment to such elections by the executive is tantamount to denying us representation at the most local and effective level possible. In other words, it is like telling us that we are of no value in this country, yet this is our country. It is like taking our citizenship for granted. This alone is stretching us too far.

Again, our republican constitution [section 146] stipulates that there shall be local government authorities in this country. The Constitution may not have specifically stated when these Elections may be held but it states that at all times there ought to be local authorities. Contrary to such demands of the constitution, we have not had local government authorities in this country for the past 6 or 7 years. This state of affairs, small as it may appear on the surface, is a blatant violation of the constitution. Whatever reason one may give, it still remains a fact that the Constitution is being breached and our democracy being choked and strangled by the incumbent president and his political toadies. Not even daily rebuttals by the two “you-know-who” will convince me to think the contrary.

Then on the scene comes the infamous Injunction Bill and its many dreamlike comedies. This Law ensures that no one gets an Injunction against the government within three days of need arising even when one has a just and a reasonable cause. We all know an injunction is a temporary remedy. By enacting this Law, the essence of an injunction being a temporary remedy is diluted. Imagine this scenario; Lilongwe City Assembly wants to demolish your House tomorrow. You go to court to get an injunction and they tell you to institute inter-partes proceedings to be heard after three days. After these three days the house would have already been demolished. This is a clear stab of justice in the back. This is a law aimed at squeezing the ordinary Malawian to their weakest point of survival. Where the Government is like a strong Big Brother and a common citizen just like a mere housemate, the Injunction was the only tool the citizen had for protection. Imagine, as a way of justifying it the government have coated fireworks in golden lining and started using the usual chiefs “who speak on behalf of their people” to support this Bill. They say it will help limit the useless injunctions against Chieftaincies during their wrangles.

If this is not enough, the Minister of Information Vuwa Kaunda, while trying to do his usual job of refutations, had the audacity of defending the Bill saying that it would help in reducing money spent on compensations. Such sentiments aroused more questions than answers in me. What is the relationship between compensations for wrongful dismissals, arrests, and broken contracts on one hand and Injunctions on the other? I became perturbed at that. I was perturbed not necessarily because the man was struggling to fight his own conscience but rather because he was insulting the intelligence of my kindred at Mwazisi in Rumphi and Champhira in Mzimba. I was of course annoyed by the way the Bill was passed but even more upset at how they went flat out defending it.

Earlier on another Bill had been passed and assented to and became Law. It was an amendment to section 46 of the Penal Code. The amendment provided for Minister of Information to have the powers to ban a publication. For a minister to have the powers to ban a local publication is not only outrageous but also unbelievable. If anyone has any qualms with any publication they have a better avenue of addressing the same through our noble courts. To shift this role of the courts to a minister is an act of first degree arrogance. What good does this law serve to the commoner at Golomoti or the farmer at Mdeka anyway? This law will only end up serving the selfish interests of the powers that be as they try to suppress any dissent voices of reason and opposition in this country; another absolute disregard for the principles of Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law. Any publication that, in the course of pursuing their quest for truth, becomes critical of government puts itself at the risk of being banned.

The above may just be a few of the many reasons I weep as we head for another lost decade in just 20 years. Weep for Malawi’s democracy fellow citizen, weep.

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