Saturday, June 30, 2012

The role of Chiefs in a democracy: Looking ahead to 2014

Chiefs have been dubbed as the most respected office in Malawi by some commentators, yet time and again the office has let down Malawians by partaking in partisan politics and being used by politicians.

Kamuzu Banda used the chiefs to spread his one party ideals Muluzi also used the chiefs to advanced his yellow ideals but the chief’s political prostitution hit hard during the Bingu wa Mutharika era where they were drafted in to defend controversial propositions some beyond the chiefs understanding.

The most recent gaffe the chiefs have dabbled in is when they unanimously echoed Mutharika anti-devaluation stance following the luncheons the men of the robe had with the late president. 

Chiefs are essential in implementing many programs at the grassroots level, with the upcoming 2014 election chiefs will be needed in civic education exercise, voter verification, helping to curb violence, just to mention but a few. 

With the chiefs dabbling in politics will they not negatively impact the process? What should happen to ensure that the chiefs serve their role professionally?  

Chancellor College’s Associate Professor, Mustafa Hussein says it’s difficult to bring democracy to an institution that is assumed undemocratically by way of heredity. He however emphasized the need for such an office to be democratic.

“Traditional Leadership is provided for in Malawi in the name of the Chiefs Act as such I feel chiefs should play a role in enhancing democracy by being accountable, avoiding corruption and avoiding political manipulation.”

Hussein called for a review of the Chiefs Act to include stipulations that Cleary speak about chiefs and their relationship with politicians and ways of enforcing procedures in case chiefs do not abide by the stipulations.
Dr Blessings Chinsinga who used to argue for chiefs has considerably reconsidered his stance and is now a big critic of the chiefs, in one of his writings Chinsinga says chiefs are a confusing office as they are listed as very corrupt and yet most trusted by Malawians.

Chinsinga says chiefs breach people’s trust In search of short term self-aggrandizement. He listed the chief’s support of Bakili Muluzi’s Third Term bid and Chiefs coming out in support of Peter Mutharika during the DPP rule. Chinsinga wonders how all chiefs in the country suddenly have one view on a matter.

He also trashed the defence the chiefs use saying they work with the government of the day saying that is an abuse of the term because everyone is entitles to work with the government of the day but that does not mean forfeiting constructive approaches to issues.

Chinsinga pointed out that the Chiefs Act empowers the Chief Political Officer to do away with chiefs he deems irrelevant a thing that traps the chiefs into self-censorship. 

Human rights activist, Billy Mayaya also called for a review of the Chiefs Act to repeal some things that are not in tandem with Malawi’s democracy and to bring in changes that enhance transparency, accountability, inclusiveness tolerance equity and equality

“Chiefs need to internalise values and principles of democracy in order to be at the forefront of a dynamic- not a static-institution that respects protects and fulfills the rights of all subjects irrespective of gender creed or political orientation,” said Mayaya.
For a chiefly perspective, Weekend Nation spoke to GVH Ngolowera from Kwa Golden, T/A Chikumbu in Mulanje. We asked the chief what should happen for them to avoid political manipulation.
“Yes, Chiefs are like parents, they should be impartial and should oversee everyone regardless of their political party. If chiefs are to be impartial, I think they should not be allowed to comment on political affairs or participate in political campaigns and instead just listen to all views spoken by politicians and subjects,” said Ngolowera.
GVH Ngolowera

Hussein echoed Ngolowera’s sentiments and added that chiefs should realize that their institution is one of the most respected and thus they should represent all interests of all by helping democracy flourish.
As 2014 comes around, chiefs will be the target of politicians looking to use the chief’s traditional popularity for electoral gains, chiefs will be looking to the various politicians, especially the highest bidder for a pay-off in exchange for a hand in selling the politicians to the people, until the Chiefs Act or some law comes in this is how things will be.

Friday, June 29, 2012

So, who is a Malawian again?

The news excited the international community; it will no longer be a criminal offense to be gay in Malawi. The issue has not gone well with some Malawians and the past week has seen the cyberspace awash with debate with some saying that decriminalising homosexuality is not welcome because homosexuality is “unMalawian.” So what is Malawian?

Malawi is a god fearing country and God forbids homosexuality, this is the core argument of the anti-gay crowd, they go on to say that gay culture clashes with Malawian culture and again the question springs up, what is Malawian Culture?

“The concept of "Malawian" is a mental construct that exists in the minds of people. It is similar to the construct of political party affiliation,” said College of Medicine Psychologist Chiwoza Bandawe

Undule Mwakasungula of Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) joined in on the debate: “If you are a Malawian that makes you Malawian, whether born in Malawian or not but as long as you there for the good of Malawi progress you are Malawian.”

Both Mwakasungula and Bandawe said there is nothing that can set Malawian Culture as a single entity

“It is a misnomer to suggest that there is one uniform "Malawian". Malawians are made up of people of different faiths or lack thereof: Christian, Muslim, Secular humanists etc. Malawians are made up of different economic standings as well as different backgrounds and ways of thinking. Malawi cannot have just one dominant culture,” said Bandawe

Mwakasungula said as a nation Malawians have not agreed what can constitute of Malawian culture, it’s just something they say but it is nothing clear cut.

So if the much touted Malawian culture cannot be pointed at, can what is “unMalawian” be singled out?

No, says Mwakasungula, he argued that Malawians have sung the song of being Malawians for too long so that they feel that they ought to protect cultural values which also happen to be undefined.

Bandawe echoed Mwakasungula’s argument and gave an example of laptops; cell phones and use of Facebook which he said are popular among Malawians and wondered if they are Malawian - Malawians, he concluded, come in all shapes and sizes.

The dominant feeling among the people that are advancing the anti-gay agenda argue that decriminalising homosexuality will bring the wrath of God on Malawi will corrupt morals of children’s morals and that it is just unnatural.

To be gay is like to be a black man, non of it is a crime

Recently several clergymen warned Joyce Banda against repealing the law against homosexuality and asked if she is trying to be above God, another pastor even called for a referendum on the matter. Mwakasungula however charged that many Malawians are using culture and religion to oppress minorities.

“We should not hide behind culture of religion to persecute minority groups.  Culture is dynamic and we have seen so many things we believed in years back being modified.  We can't be rigid because you don't like something or the way others are behaving,” said

Another academician and blogger, Jimmy Kainja also agrees with Mwakasungula and says he sees nothing wrong with adults being gay.

“Tolerance is very important. It's hard for me to believe that someone is out there to oppress minorities just for the sake of it. I believe a lot of people are deluded by their own beliefs and they try to impose this on others.

“This is where the question of national identity comes in - what is it? Why do you we accept some foreign values and refuse others? It's all subjective and ignorance, this leads to lack of tolerance,” said Kainja

There also seems to be a strong feeling among Malawians that homosexuality is being forced upon Malawians by Western powers, already some people are jokingly calling Malawi a “donor-fearing nation.” Western cultural influence is an unstoppable force with Hollywood influencing people even in China and Russia. Has Malawi been influenced by the West culturally?  

Can Malawi resist Western culture?

 Mwakasungula pointed out that Malawians use Western education, dress like Westerners, eat Western dishes and that most of the religions in Malawi are Western.

Malawians use western style of government, the family sizes are shrinking, MTV is visible in the streets even the accents of many a girl are trying too hard to echo the English and American,

Arguing on the same in a group on Facebook, Cynthia Mahata said: “The thing about Western culture is you have to get it all or reject it all, it comes as a package”

Adds Kainja: “Patrice Lumumba said ‘Africa will write its own history, from south to the north of Sahara.’ He was right, Africa will write its own history but it will be a negotiated one; influenced by global trends and culture.”

Are Malawians therefore being hypocritical in adopting capitalism and yet denying sexual minorities a place? Or is it unMalawian to raise such questions?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

UDF Worst Casualty of Mutharika’s death?

A political scientist has warned united democratic front (UDF) to get serous with its strategy ahead of 2014 because it is the worst hit in terms of strategy in the aftermath of Bingu wa Mutharika’s death.

The scientist, Joseph Chunga, who is also the President of Political Scientists Association of Malawi, said this in an exclusive interview on Friday.

“In terms of strategy UDF is the worst of the lot. The Muluzi camp was championing the change agenda, now that they are part of the government they cannot talk about change now and when 2014 comes,” said Chunga.

Chunga said UDF should seriously show that it’s a distinct party even though it’s working with the People’s Party government.

UDF (Atupele Muluzi Camp) through its Secretary General  Kennedy Makwangwala, however insists the party is not finished like ‘an old curtain,’ even after mass defection of its members to the ruling People’s Party.

 “We are not disturbed by those defections. Most of those defectors are from the Jumbe camp, they had nowhere to go since their positions here at the main party have been filled with others after they failed to heed my call to return,” said Makwangwala.

UDF Secretary General: Kennedy Makwangwala

Asked if the power sharing deal that saw some UDF heavy weights like Ibrahim Matola and Atupele Muluzi working with Joyce Banda will affect the former ruling party ahead of 20914, Makwangwala was adamant saying UDF is not scratched.

He however said the coming of Joyce Banda has made them rethink their opposition saying UDF has suspended rallies and is observing Banda and giving her a chance, if she commits mistakes, the rallies will be resumed and the parliamentarians in government will be asked to out.

Asked if UDF strategy was dealt a blow with the sudden demise of Bingu wa Mutharika, Makwangwala admitted.

“Yes, we were getting strong based on the mistakes Mutharika was making, it’s why we are quite now because she is new and we want to give her a chance.”

The cool and composed secretary general insists UDF has healed from the infighting and said by 2014 UDF will have a presidential candidate with the convention slated for 14 October. 

Makwangwala charged that the defection to PP is but a passing craze and will stabilize in two months’ time saying already some people are returning to UDF, he gave an example of the central region committee that defected en masse to PP saying it will soon announce its return.

DPP, through its Secretary General, Wakuda Kamanga also admitted that the death of Mutharika dealt them a blow but said the party is still as strong as ever.

“It’s true that the death of Professor Bingu wa Mutharika affected us, its normal but being a party we will proceed and we are actually looking at 2014 as an opportunity to win as an honour to Mutharika,” said Kamanga.

Kamanga said DPP is not afraid of anyone ahead of 2014 and said as far as he knows; DPP is the only party that is in every village, town and region. He also said that there is no infighting in DPP as those that caused division (Hope Alliance) are now in government.

Chunga however observed that DPP will struggle come 2014 because it lost popularity among Malawians and said the only thing they relied on was the incumbency factor which was taken away by PP. 

He said that PP may not use the incumbency because most people in PP do not bring anything new to Malawians as they are the same old politicians. He also spoke lowly of MCP and categorised them along the likes of UDF.

“Malawians therefore have no real alternative come 2014 its why the opposition should not give up hope and go joining the ruling party, anyone who can be serious can stand a chance in 2014”