Last week, we, Sheikh Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD), Mzee Native Authority Mandela, Abiti Joyce Befu, MG 66, AMAI (RTD), and I, the Mohashoi, planned to visit Dowa to enjoy a bit of nyau dance and culture from that corner of Malawi nobody seems to care about and market. On our agenda was a visit to the newly-launched community college at Mponela to judge for ourselves whether what we see on television, read in the newspapers and online or hear on radio is real or not.
You see, we agree with President Peter Mutharika, that after renaming Malawi Correspondence Colleges (MCCs), to Malawi Colleges of Distance Education (MCDEs) and finally to community day secondary schools, community colleges are the next big thing in terms of equipping Malawi’s post-Kamuzu youths with skills for their own, their immediate community’s and Malawi’s development.
We also agree with Mutharika that national development is the result of small contributions and innovations coming from private citizens and large projects undertaken by the federal and local council level governments.
That is why the president is as important as the member of Parliament who is no better than the local ward councillor.
However, we could not stop and stay in Dowa. We had to drive straight to the republic of Balaka and we will be here until our current assignment is completed.
We are here in search a man named Alinafe Paulo, aged 60 years. Why? A competent court of law, a magistrate’s court, in this republic found Paulo guilty of insulting President Peter Mutharika, whose government’s graders raised so much dust that Paulo had to complain or insult or swear at the person he thought had caused the dust.
In his or her wisdom and despite his or her full knowledge that the Constitution is the supreme law of Malawi and that any law that contradicts the Constitution became invalid the day the current Constitution was passed, the magistrate still convicted Paulo and sentenced him to pay K3 000 or spend three months in jail toiling like a Cashgate criminal.
We are not here in Balaka to challenge the court’s sentence. We are only here to find Paulo and congratulate him for saying what the majority have failed to say. Paulo remorsefully told the Balaka Magistrate’s Court that he said what he said because he thought people in Malawi were as free to say whatever they wanted to say as they were during the election period. That is why we want to congratulate Paulo.
For decades now, Misa Malawi has campaigned for unfettered freedom of expression in Malawi and for the removal from Malawi’s statute books of all laws that interfere with free speech. That campaign has to be renewed and the public must join in before the little freedom we still have is completely eroded. In this federal republic, swearing and insulting are part of some cultures and tribes. People of all ages swear without causing any breach of the peace.
If swearing and insulting authority were a real serious issue, the majority of the people in Senaland would have ended up in the chiefs’ courts. We will not mention Mangoni and Ungoni.
“Above all” Abiti said, “don’t presidents have enough respect already? Immediately, one assumes the presidential office, one immediately becomes an Excellency; one’s spouse becomes an Excellency, a MAMA, a First Lady or a First Gentleman; one’s family becomes the First Family or, as was the case during the Kamuzu era, the royal family; one’s children become first children; one’s pets become first pets. One is saluted. One is applauded. One sits in the shade as the rest of us sweat in the baking sun. One does not pay tax and one cannot be sued for defaming one’s detractors although one can sue. Isn’t that enough? How much more respect do our presidents want?”
“Malawians are going through very hard times presently. Swearing at and insulting the president should be considered cathartic and next time similar cases come before the courts, magistrates or judges should remember Sections 5, 20 (1), 33-35 of the Malawi Constitution and forget about ALL insult laws because these are ALL invalid,” Mzee Native Authority Mandela responded.