Malawians don’t need Chisiza

At the height of President Bingu wa Mutharika’s popularity, prior to the 2009 elections, musician Joseph Nkasa did a composition called Mose wa Lero.

In the song, Nkasa likened Mutharika to the biblical Moses for ending so many afflictions such as hunger that affected Malawians through the fertiliser subsidy, among other achievements.

Although the religious among us (they were horrified by the use of a biblical heavyweight’s name in referring to a mere mortal) and those of us who do not believe in excessive hero-worshipping were not happy, we took the lyrics of the song in our stride. We also appreciated that Nkasa, as an artist, was exercising his freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution—No big deal.

Fast-forward all this and today, the President’s popularity is in tatters and a dramatist, Thlupego Chisiza, decides to write a political satire Semo (twisted Mose) in exercise of the same freedom of expression that Nkasa exercised in praise of Bingu and hell breaks loose— The Censorship and Classification Board with the help of armed police, decided to stop Malawians from watching the play in Naperi, Blantyre on Sunday.

Chisiza was arrested and convicted of staging a play without clearance from the Board. The question that Malawians must ponder is: Is this the role that the board should play? To stop artists from holding an opinion and imparting the same to others? Is the board there to censor political opinion? Why did it not censor Nkasa when he was praising Bingu? And why did the board choose to treat an unarmed dramatist like a criminal?

My understanding is that in this democratic dispensation, the Classification Board should not be doing what it did in the Kamuzu era—being a political tool of government to stop people from reading or watching dissenting political views—but to protect children of Malawi from damaging material that could impact badly on their health and general growth.

When all is said and done, the board’s  action on Chisiza should be a poignant reminder to all Malawians that an unpopular government, like the present DPP one, will be very keen to use archaic laws that go against the Constitution just to silence and prevent the populace from being exposed to dissenting views.

But Malawians do not need Chisiza, nor anybody else for that matter, to tell them that the government that they freely elected on May 17 2009 has let them down big time. In fact, I went through the script of the play and there is nothing in it that Malawians do not know or live everyday.

Malawians do not need Chisiza’s play to know that this government has failed to give them quality life and what they have instead are shortages in forex, fuel, electricity and galloping inflation with the cost of basic necessities rising every day.

Malawians do not need Chisiza’s satire on the President to know that the Bingu they had between 2004 and 2009 is not the same Bingu they have today. They know that during the first term, they did not have to threaten the President with protests for him to come out and address their problems. He simply did it as his duty as their employee.

Today, things have changed. The President can only come out to go to Ndirande, Chinsapo and Zolozolo if some sections of our society decide to demonstrate against his government. Today, the President even refuses to answer questions on problems Malawians are going through with the impunity of a man who believes he does not owe the people who elected him an explanation for anything he does or does not do.

He is silent and cocooned at the State House and refuses to address Malawians despite their suffering and threats to jobs because of a rundown economy as a result of his arrogance and intransigence with donors.

But my advice to this DPP government is simple: Stop using archaic laws and overzealous civil servants and police to silence and control what Malawians should hear or not hear.

In this respect, I would want to share a thought from the late great Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenberg who once said, with regard to authoritarianism:” You can cover the whole world with asphalt, but a few blades of grass will still break through.” In other words, Bingu may think he is silencing Chisiza, but there are many more like him who will rise up and speak out, whatever the consequences.

The only way suffering Malawians will stop criticising Bingu and his government is for him to fulfil his part of the social contract he signed with the citizenry when he took the oath of office as President. Otherwise, he will have no choice but to endure the deluge of vitriol and public ire that will be directed at him and his government.

Let me use this opportunity to wish you, my readers, a merry Christmas and hope that you will enjoy the festive season in the company of family and friends, not roasting in the sun on a fuel queue.

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