‘Divide and rule politics should be deplored’

Last week, the Centre for Governance and Diplomatic Studies at Catholic University held a panel discussion under the theme ‘One Malawi One People’ as part of the commemoration of the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination which falls on 21 March. Ephraim Nyondo caught up with Nandini Patel, associate professor of Political Science at Catholic University, who is also head of the Centre for Governance and Diplomatic Studies.

Q: Why did Catholic University come up with the Centre for Governance and Diplomatic Studies?

A: The objective of the centre is to provide training in diplomacy for aspiring as well as in -service diplomats.  The focus of such training will be on diplomatic norms and procedures as well as to underlying issues in international politics and international organisations.

The need for this is quite obvious as we are living in an increasingly interdependent world.  We feel it is imperative for a university to provide such services and currently there is not much that is being offered in this area. Suggestions came forward to say such a centre should also be a forum for deliberating issues of governance at different levels from time to time. We know this is going to be quite heavy and demanding task but with time there will be sharing of responsibilities with other centres and departments both within and institutions outside the university.

Q: People would argue that in Malawi, racial discrimination is not so much an issue. So why should commemorating International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination be important to them?

A: Commemoration or observance of such days gives us an opportunity for reflection and some guidance for the future. Race is one of the many dimensions of ethnicity. In today’s multinational states, all states are multiethnic made up of different tribal, linguistic, religious and racial groups. Issues of marginalisation, exclusion, discrimination are bound to arise and they have to be addressed by concerted efforts. Race may not be ‘the’ issue but it is an issue.

Certain racial communities are blamed for some of the economic crises of today, just as some regional groups are blamed for plotting to topple government and cause political instability.  Such utterances coming from high offices are a threat to the unity and integrity of the nation and needs to be addressed through forums and events like this.

Q: Coming to the ‘One Malawi One People’ theme. What gaps in Malawi’s politics was the theme trying to address?

A: The theme was trying to say that diverse as we are, we are one nation, one entity.  Baseless castigations against a community leave scars difficult to erase. Divide and rule politics should be deplored.  Events like this help to heal those scars.

As a nation, we are going through difficult times and in times like this it is important to assure ourselves of our unity and determination to overcome the situation as one people and not to allow vested interests to divert our focus from real issues.

Q: Briefly, what are some of the main issues that emerged out of the panel discussion?

A: Several issues emerged, some of these are:

• Hate speech is punishable by law and perpetrators of this should be brought to book. This is used often in political campaigns and people should not accept this.

• Devices like quota system which are supposed to foster equality of opportunity should be thoroughly discussed and properly implemented.

• Difference between citizens and non citizens in relations to rights and access to justice. The presence of refugees and immigrants, legal and illegal, and the rights and protection they have.

• Using the ethnic card for narrow political gains to be condemned and using ethnic sentiments for fuelling hatred against any community should be criminalised.

The discussion also noted some positive features of Malawi’s politics to say since independence power has shifted from persons from different ethnic communities – from Banda of Chewa tribe, to Muluzi of the Yao tribe and to Mutharika of the Lhomwe tribe and it is possible it can go to someone from another community in the next elections. So power is not the monopoly of any one ethnic group in Malawi unlike the case in some other African countries.

It was further noted that Malawi believes in and promotes secular values and does not aspire to be a theocratic State. Banning of any group like the Jehovahs Witness is a thing of the past and cannot and should not be repeated ever.

Q: Any last comments?

A: Unity in diversity is a requirement for a successful democracy and here I would like to quote Émile Durkheim, 19th century French sociologist, ‘if society lacks the unity based upon the commitment of men’s wills to a common objective, then it is no more than a pile of sand that the least jolt or the slightest puff will suffice to scatter’. Let us stand united to our common objective.

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