Catholic bishops yesterday renewed their call for a new era and condemned political violence, corruption, tribalism and fraud in the country ahead of the court-ordered fresh presidential election tentatively set for June 23.
In its 26th pastoral letter titled A Further Call for a New Era in Malawi: Leadership at the Service of Citizens, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM)—a grouping of Catholic bishops—has also cast doubt on the prospects of the country holding a credible fresh presidential election in the face of loss of public trust in the current Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).
The letter states that the forthcoming fresh presidential election offers an opportunity to choose a leader who can save the country from collapsing and who can foster unity and order.
Reads the letter in part: “Our country is at a crossroads. We can either choose to save our nation or destroy it. The most urgent task before us is to choose a leader who can rescue it from further deterioration.
“We call upon all duty-bearers to ensure that the forthcoming election is free, fair, credible and peaceful.”
The letter also expresses concern over abuse of freedom of expression on social media by political party supporters who are spreading false stories and continuously castigating each other.
The bishops also condemn rising tribalism and high levels of impunity, citing the killing of people with albinism and killing of elderly persons on allegations of witchcraft.
In the face of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the bishops observe that it has exposed a dysfunctional health system, saying in such a scenario, the biggest losers are the poor and vulnerable citizens.
Reads the letter: “Regarding health, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed how under-resourced our health system is in terms of infrastructure, equipment and personnel.
“This has happened because for a long time, we have not put enough resources into the system and some of the little that has been put into it has been misused. In addition, there is over-reliance on medical facilities outside the country instead of developing systems of our own.”
In addition, the bishops note that similar challenges exist in the education sector where there is limited funding, substandard infrastructure, inadequate learning materials, insufficient and under-motivated personnel plus an unstable curriculum.
The letter further points out that due to less funding to the Malawi Police Service (MPS), which is regarded as partisan and dysfunctional, there is inefficient service delivery and poor welfare of officers.
Political analysts have since said the issues raised cannot be contested by any objective and patriotic Malawian as they are evident in all aspects of the social fabric.
In an interview yesterday, Ernest Thindwa, a political science lecturer at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said the biggest challenge as a country is acute lack of quality leadership.
He said: “Not many would contest the view that problems highlighted are a result of gross leadership failure. If as a country we fix the leadership challenge, this country has a huge potential to register meaningful progress on the socio-economic front for the betterment of all Malawians.”
In a separate telephone interview, politician-cum-commentator Humphrey Mvula said: “The country needs servant leadership; a leader who can look at national development and look at Malawi as one and not as a certain region.
“We have been retrogressing since 1994 because if you look at the companies that existed then and check those that closed, that will give you a clue on how the country lost direction.”
Similarly, political parties, especially in the opposition, yesterday said the issues raised point to failed leadership.
In a telephone interview, UTM Party director of publicity Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the issues raised can best be handled through change of leadership.
He said: “There is need for regime change so that things change for the betterment of our country. We are propagating change, we want to change such.”
In his speech at a Tonse Alliance campaign rally at Kapiri in Mchinji yesterday, presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera—a cleric who served as Malawi Assemblies of God president before joining frontline politics in 2013—thanked the Catholic bishops for the pastoral letter, saying it raises pertinent issues affecting Malawi today.
He said Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and its alliance partners will accommodate views and opinions from church leaders on issues of national importance such as those raised by the bishops.
Said Chakwera: “We look up to you religious leaders to speak out on such issues. We will listen and we will come to you for advice.”
In an earlier interview before Chakwera’s address, MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali said: “The social and economic ills highlighted by the Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter are a clear indication that the country lacks sound leadership.
“Any nation whose leader is void of a clear vision and sound policies is bound to be subjected to untold misery, social disorder and economic decadence.”
However, when contacted, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Nicholas Dausi, declined to comment.
On his part, Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani, who is also the official government spokesperson, also declined to comment as well.
The pastoral letter is signed by The Most Reverend Thomas Msusa (ECM president and archbishop of Blantyre Archdiocese), Right Reverend Martin Mtumbuka (vice-president and bishop of Karonga Diocese), the most Reverend Tarsizio Ziyaye (Archbishop of Lilongwe Archdiocese), Right Reverend Peter Musikuwa (bishop Chikwawa Diocese), Right Reverend Montfort Sitima (bishop of Mangochi Diocese), Right Reverend George Tambala (bishop of Zomba Diocese), Right Reverend John Ryan (bishop of Mzuzu Diocese) and The Very Reverend John Chithonje (diocesan administrator of Dedza Diocese).
Catholic bishops in the country issued their first pastoral letter in 1961 titled How to Build a Happy Nation. However, the March 8 1992 pastoral letter, Living Our Faith, is the most popular and widely acclaimed to have contributed to the wind of change that saw Malawians voting in a national referendum to choose multiparty democracy over one-party system of government.