Malawi is struggling with numerous economic challenges, including the rising cost of living and shrinking incomes. Our Staff Writer JOHN CHIRWA engaged governance and human rights advocate Undule Mwakasungula, who was a fierce critic of Bingu wa Mutharika’s draconian tendencies. Mwakasungula has resurfaced with a gospel of peace, dialogue and tolerance. Excerpts.
Recently, you told journalists in Mzuzu that Malawi needs peace, dialogue and engagement, not ultimatums, to resolve the prevailing challenges. What do you mean?
With all the challenges the country is going through, some concerned citizens have been holding demonstrations and presenting numerous ultimatums to the government. These have not helped at all to address issues. The question we must ask ourselves is: Are these demonstrations and ultimatums solving our problems? For example, Kondwani Nankhumwa, the leader of opposition in Parliament, gave the government a 14-day ultimatum. It has now expired. What has happened? Nothing. Ultimatums cannot work for a democratically elected government. They have no constitutional basis and are a waste of time.
The prevailing challenges will not be solved through demonstrations, ultimatums or threats. Malawi needs a genuine national engagement and dialogue to resolve all our challenges. We must also remember always that the current government was democratically elected. We must respect our democratic benchmarks in the consolidation of our democracy for peace, unity and development.
Has the government done enough to revive the economy?
The country should note a number of efforts being made by the government to save the economy. I see the government’s primary focus in the short-term is tackling the socio-economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and now the war in Ukraine.
We have seen the President [Lazarus Chakwera] and Vice-President [Saulos Chilima] meeting to chart a way forward how the economy could be revived. That must be applauded. Though some Malawians might not appreciate such actions, this shows the commitment of our leadership to alleviate the suffering of Malawians.
The government is also re-engaging the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a priority to help bring the economy back on track. This is showing confidence by the international community and institutions in our leadership and government. But also, last December, the President launched the Socioeconomic Recovery Plan for 2022-23. The plan was designed to pull the economy out of the effects induced by Covid-19. All these are some of the indicators on efforts being made to deal with the economy.
But we have seen the leadership activating the campaign mood instead of focusing on developing the nation and economic recovery.
Indeed, this is not time for politics. It’s time to rid our country from these problems. Let’s focus on development. Let’s start the campaigns in 2024 or so. We will get people more confused if we start campaigning now. Let’s leave politics for 2025 and not now.
What’s the role of civil society in all this?
The role of civil society cannot be overemphasised. Civil society in Malawi continues to have space and play a critical role in providing checks and balances for leadership and government accountability. However, they must refrain from being partisan in their approach. By taking sides, they will make themselves compromised and irrelevant.
Currently, their space has been polluted by many of what I can call mercenary activists. They are being hired to conduct demonstrations in the name of concerned citizens. The emergence of the partisan concerned citizens’ groups is a result of civil society compromise.
What’s your take on the governing Tonse Alliance’s fight against corruption?
Much has been said and continues to be said about the Anti-Corruption Bureau and its director-general Martha Chizuma. But what is appealing is the President’s and government’s commitment to fighting corruption in this country. For the first time, we have seen serving ministers being arrested and charged. This never happened with the past regimes.
The attack on the ACB director could be a strategy to delay and derail the fight against corruption. Therefore, we need to give her all the necessary support and solidarity. The removal of Chizuma will be giving victory to the corrupt cartels; hence, a disaster for the country in the fight against corruption. This is worrying and will delay the fight against corruption. We need to fight for the independence of the ACB. The ACB is not fully independent and those running away from being prosecuted are taking advantage of that. If we indeed let Chizuma go, we should forget about fighting corruption in this country.
The CSOs have branded the Tonse regime dictatorial for assenting to the controversial NGO Bill amid calls against it. Do you share this feeling?
The Bill has been signed with a lot of problems in it. If I were the President’s adviser, I would urge him not to sign the Bill and take it back to Parliament to review those grey areas. But I believe the problem is not the President, but I blame his advisers. He might have signed based on advice from technocrats. We have our colleagues there such as Minister of National Unity Timothy Mtambo and presidential adviser Martha Kwataine who we have been fighting together against this. We started fighting against this law during the Bakili Muluzi era and continued in the regimes of Bingu, Joyce Banda and Peter Mutharika. The two former activists in power should have been key advisers to the President not to sign this Bill. By signing this bill into law, Chakwera has dented our international reputation that the government wants to squeeze the civil society space. The law has some provisions which are more punitive that a dictator might use them to squeeze the civic space. We needed more time to digest the Bill before being signed. It’s unfortunate that Parliament passed such a Bill and the President went on to sign it.
Looking into the future, is there any hope for the country?
The nation must have hope that things will be well regardless of what we are going through now. Good things, a good economy, will require patience, sacrifice and time. Let us admit that the economy cannot recover and grow overnight. This is a fact, the message we have to share with Malawians.