May 5 2022
George Orwell’s Animal Farm has always been a call of point for socio-political discourse. The book produces how things remain the same although people, especially politicians promise change.
In our current situation, one can refer to how the Tonse Alliance made promises that have changed into lies now that they are in power. Check what they told you about the price of fertiliser, job-creation, reducing presidential powers and a host of other things! We will not talk about not allowing such impunity as having cars by ruling party zealots with neither number plates nor certificates of fitness driven by people who can’t show drivers’ licence simply because they are ‘connected’. To add salt to injury, traffic police officers who do their duty and question such politically-connected supporters are punished.
Turning around the economy remains a pipe dream. Making trips that have little meaning remain part of the status quo.
In such a situation, you find that we Malawians don’t know where we are coming from or where we are going. It’s all confusing!
But then, it is clear that President Lazarus Chakwera is taking his rule further than Animal Farm. His rule is characterised by the narrative in the author’s other masterpiece, 1984.
This is the handbook for the propagandist. It is in this fictitious but heavily creative work that Orwell imagined a certain country, Oceania, where citizens would be monitored in their everyday endeavours with the indoctrination that Big Brother is Watching You.
Needless to say that the book gave birth to such innovations like CCTV cameras but have also of late been an inspiration to some popular culture, like the Big Brother House reality show.
Orwell brings out a state that is against free thought. He brings out a government that is apt to confuse its citizens with empty talk as well as slogans. Imagine, the rallying slogan for the Oceania state was ‘War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength’.
Of particular interest at the moment is the notion of ‘thought police’ in Orwell’s work. This comes at a time Chakwera invited journalists for breakfast as part of the World Press Freedom Day celebrations. He said, again, that his government would uphold the freedom of the press.
That is quite strange, coming from the President, whose government is acting like Big Brother. The theme for the year was apt, as it was a time to reflect on the threat of journalism in the digital age.
The day came not so long after police arrested Platform for Investigative Journalism director Gregory Gondwe over a story published by the institution. The police sugar-coated the arrest as ‘an interview’.
That ‘interview’ brought out how much thought police can work its way up to make journalism dead as Big Brother Chakwera’e rule becomes unquestionable as it were. Gondwe’s gadgets were seized, meaning the authorities got access to the journalist’s very second mind. Electronic gadgets have become our second lives and in the seized gadgets there was all the information about the journalists’ sources and his other private engagements.
Like all forms of thought police, this was deliberately done to scare not only journalists from doing their job, but also scare whistleblowers from confiding in journalists. In the end, it is the Malawian on the street who will end up losing, as the government will continue saying one thing in public and doing exactly the opposite behind the scenes.
We have also seen some being arrested for comments in WhatsApp groups. Much as rights come with responsibility but arresting people who express themselves freely just to intimidate them. Using the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Crimes of 2016 to surpress voices of dissent is a no-no.
There was a case where a Blantyre resident was arrested for coming up with a meme that compared the then First Lady Gertrude Mutharika’s dressing and that of a cartoon, Rango. Bakili Muluzi arrested a teacher for a comment to illustrate as maths lesson. The Bingu administration saw the academic freedom saga resulting from a snitch reporting to authorities comments in a class.
Where are these cases? n