A friend once told me that when you get on a wrong train, every station becomes a wrong station. There is no right stop or short cut to your destination until you go back to get on the right train.
What we have seen after the May 2019 elections should make us start asking questions about whether the country is on the right train.
Since the elections, the country has witnessed train wrecks in the form of violent protests demanding the ouster of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah even as the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) was hearing—and later deliberating—on whether Ansah and her fellow commissioners had handled the elections, especially the presidential vote, competently.
The court later found that the integrity of the elections was wanting and annulled the presidential results that handed President Peter Mutharika a second term.
Like all controversial decisions, the ConCourt verdict was met with celebrations by the opposition and its supporters, hailing the five judges that held the case as heroes of democracy and above reproach.
Those on the losing side had a different take, stating that the judgement was faulty and that it had created a constitutional crisis. They even went ahead to question the integrity of some of the ConCourt judges.
Since last year, this country has had too many unanswered questions. Let me throw on the table some of the questions. Will Malawi ever have a credible election? If we go to the next election, assuming the Supreme Court does not reverse the judgement; will the politicians who refused to accept losing accept this time around? Has the ConCourt decision strengthened or weakened the citizens’ faith in the integrity of the third branch of government?
Should citizens demand more accountability from the men and women on the bench in the same way voters demand accountability from the Legislature and Parliament as well as civil society demands accountability from the President and his Executive branch?
I do not agree often with President Mutharika, but I agree he has a point when he said “the essence of democracy is that everyone must be accountable to someone else and only God be accountable to nobody.”
Given the poignancy of the moment, is this not an opportunity to have a conversation on how high the ethical bar should go to ensure that the foundation of justice is not shaken to its core?
Make no mistake; there is a vast majority of judicial officers in Malawi who—despite meager resources—have sacrificed everything to uphold the sanctity of the rule of law. Some have even defeated the corruption machine.
Yet, a few have succumbed, reminding us that there are no angels, not even in the Judiciary.
There are other painful questions I have been grappling with post 2019, especially since the way of Anti-Ansah protests started. What happens to those poor Malawians whose houses have been burnt, businesses burnt or looted in the political violence of the past few months? I know many people who have lost their homes and have been made refugees in their own country. Will the perpetrators of the violence be taken to account? Will the victims be compensated? Will government brave the moral courage to compensate victims in the stronghold of the opposition where we saw the worst of violence? Can those who burnt down the country afford to pay for damages even if we brought them to book? What about rebuilding the country? Will the President brave the courage of rebuilding where government property has been destroyed? But then, there is the other question. Even if we agree to compensate victims and launch a rebuilding programme, where will we get the money? After the fresh presidential elections results are announced, what assurance do we have that this country will not regress into violence again? Throughout this turbulent period of violence and judicial anxiety, I have generally been bemused with the general silence of the academia and the church. What role should they play in helping to end political violence? We in the media condemned what we feared to be “mobocracy”. But are we doing enough?
Questions, questions, questions!