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.