Activism in Malawi

This week, the arrest of human rights defenders, Gift Trapence and Reverend MacDonald Sembereka has dominated the news. That is why, one of the readers of this column Anderson Msosa* decided to unpack the origin of current activism in Malawi’s political sphere. Here below are his views:

Basis of Activism  is   ‘voice ‘ of   people, the  under privileged,  also  otherwise considered  the  silent  citizens  often  in  majority. Discussing  activism or  agitation  to  others takes us into the  realms  of  the Bill of Human  Rights (based on the Universal  Declaration of  Human  Rights) adopted  in  1948 by 48  countries

Malawi  then  was  non-existent  but  as  land or territory  of  the  Commonwealth  under  United  Kingdom  which  was  an influential  signatory ultimately  is  part.  Any dissenting views are welcome. By extension  though  what  we see as Civil  Society  or  Human Rights  Defender’s Coalition (HRDC)  activities  cannot  be  illegitimate.

Any  act  to  muzzle  freedom  of  expression of matters  of  national  or  public  interests  must  be  deemed  unconstitutional.  Chapter  5 of  the Constitution of Malawi  gives  us  an  insight  of issues on  protection  of rights  all of  which  apply to  any  citizen  of Malawi.

From that  part of  Constitution, human rights  and  freedoms—I add responsibility—shall  be  respected and  upheld by the Executive, Legislature  and  Judiciary  and  organs  of  the  State. 

But why is the ‘Constitution’ written or not, generally?  It is  a  creation  or structure  or  rules (for State the  biggest institution of  the  land)  of  three arms  known as  the  Executive, and  appointees  under  State President,  Judiciary,  under  Chief  Justice,  and  Legislature, headed  by  Speaker of  Parliament.

This form of  organising civilian  governance is  a replica of   basic general  level  system intended  for  protection of  the citizen  against abuse of power by  those entrusted: rule of  law  and  proper system of  checks  and  balances:  separation of powers or  segregation  of  duties . The  main  source  of  creation  of  the components  is  by  Act  of Parliament—the lawmaking body.

State  business is  institutionalised which  is  why parastatals, and  other  bodies  outside of  government ministries such as the reserve bank, revenue authority, electoral  body, police  or  military forces,  public  schools  and  university etc,  cannot  exist  without  Parliament  to promote  autonomy. 

So  under  this  setting  ministers  like  the Head  of  State are  employees of  the  electorate. It  can  be concluded that for  a  minister to  be independent for  purpose  of  discharging state  duties  and  serve the  public—all the  people— and  avoid  serious  conflict   of interests he/she cannot or  should  not belong  to  a  party (others  would  say  no  to  this?). In fact he/ she cannot be a Member of Parliament!  For  simple  reasoning that a minister (an  appointee by  elected  president)  is part of  Cabinet under the  Executive—to execute on  behalf of  electorate good  work  ethics contradicts the  practice  of one  person  serving in  more  than  one  arm simultaneously.

Display  of  corrupt   practice, maladministration, abuse of  power in public office  and  of State   resources, criminal  behaviour,  incompetence  and  cheap  politics  cannot  be  tolerated  by  an  electorate. Be  mindful that  they  are  the  foot soldiers at  grass root  level  and  they  hold  a  mandate which  should  not  be  undermined. This is  why  the  habit of  using podiums  to  intimidate  the  ‘public ‘  should  raise  eyebrows . Politics is  given  space in  a  non-governmental  setting  like  salesmanship  at  lower levels for specific message  to  reach  the  public. But  any  State  with  a  background  of  issues  like  police  brutality, unemployment, partisan  appointments  to  public offices, money  laundering must  re-examine  its  role  in fulfilling  its duties  or  face loss  of  confidence. 

To activists, access to guns is choosing  death. We  know  the  consequences   and  activist  movement is  deep  in  the  hearts of  people.  It  is  in  this  context  I hold   a view  that  civil  society  organisations  in  Malawi  cannot be   disregarded.  n

*Msosa is Msosa is an alumini of Southampton  University – East  Park  Terrace  campus  with  a  background and training  and  a   career in  Finance.

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