Until August last year, when President Lazarus Chakwera appointed him as his special adviser on persons with albinism and disabilities, OVERSTONE KONDOWE was known as a daring activist who fought for the rights and welfare of persons with albinism. But he soon quit activism and joined frontline politics. Now he is vying for the Nkhotakota North-East Constituency parliamentary seat in next week’s by-election. Our News Analyst LUCKY MKANDAWIRE engages Kondowe on his desire to be a legislator and other issues. Excerpts.
Why do you want to become a lawmaker?
My aspiration is derived from the calls of the people of Nkhotakota North East. Since the death of former MP (Martha Lunji Chanjo), a a hole was left and needs to be filled. However, it is not every other human being that can fill this vacuum, but a capable person with a proven track record of transforming communities and peoples’ lives. After assessing all potential candidates in the area, constituents settled for me and urged me to represent them. As someone who is passionate about promoting the welfare of less privileged people and poor communities, I had no choice but to accept their call.
How will your election contribute to the welfare of persons with albinism?
Participation of persons with albinism (PWAs) in political, public and social life is crucial to fighting existing stereotypes, prejudices and segregation. Their exclusion from decision-making processes creates not only more divided and potentially less-peaceful societies but, also, significantly weakens their opportunities to defend their interests. Ensuring that PWAs take an active role in the political and public life of their societies, thus, contributes both to stronger respect for their rights and to more albinism-mainstreamed legal and policy frameworks that better reflect the needs of all community members. Issues of PWAs are not only attacks, abductions and killings; they also touch on health, education, economic, social and political concerns that need to be addressed holistically. If we focus on attacks and killings of PWAs only, then we will lose the fight of promoting the rights of PWAs in Malawi and the Southern Africa Development Community. If I win as an MP, it will be a great achievement in the albinism fraternity and that will put Malawi in the limelight in the region. This will create equal opportunities for PWAs to have decision-making powers at the central level on issues of inclusive participation and human rights promotion; thereby addressing albinism information gap among duty bearers. At the Sadc level, I will lobby for the commitment of governments to implement Southern Africa Regional Action Plan on Persons with Albinism.
How would you describe your journey as a presidential adviser?
am really humbled by the trust and confidence President Chakwera places on me. In light of expectations and demands from persons with disabilities, I thought the office will be more challenging. However, with the generous support received from the President and fellow advisers, the work at State House has been an easy take and very successful.
Now being part of government strategy against barbaric acts on people with albinism, do you think Malawi will ever win this fight?
It is very disheartening to see that at this age of civilisation, we are still witnessing human rights violations targeting persons with albinism (PWAs) as a result of harmful cultural practices and witchcraft beliefs. However, with the holistic interventions government has put in place, and if wholly implemented, I am optimistic Malawi will win the fight. If our neighbours in Tanzania won it, what will stop us? Let me commend the President for not only showing commitment to end the attacks but, also, demonstrating that by providing adequate funds for the implementation of National Action Plan on Persons with Albinism and construction of decent and secure houses for PWAs.
After being an activist, now in government, where do you want to see yourself in the next few years?
I have learnt immensely from the past 20 years of experience in programming and managing development, human and disability rights and governance programmes. I feel I am matured and I am willing to work out of my comfort zone. Similarly, in the next few years, I will strive to work on tasks that bring out the best in me. I see the coming years as full of new challenges and responsibilities that will anchor me to become a better leader and professional.
What are your last words?
To assure the people of Nkhotakota North East that I humbly present myself to them, not as an intelligent and capable young man, with a proven track record of transforming communities and people’s lives. I promise to give hope to the hopeless and bring change in situations where others think it is impossible. The people of Nkhotakota North East cannot afford to elect a leader who will survive on trial and error as this will keep the constituency poorer and underdeveloped. We have a chance to build a new future together. I am indebted to President Chakwera for his commitment to address the atrocities faced by PWAs and also for entrusting me to work in his office as a special adviser. The room given to disability fraternity cannot be taken for granted. It is a record set not only in the history of Malawi, but also the whole world.n