If you are interested in accountability (or governance; or women’s rights, or our Constitution, or Adadi—I need an emoticon right now, Nation!), the chance is that you have sent or up-voted a message to our President complaining about the appointment of one Charles Mchacha into the cabinet and/or the lack of women ministers in the said cabinet. If you have done so, you will not be alone.
The Malawi Law Society no less (they know a little bit about the law), numerous CSOs (they know a bit about how the common Malawian feels about governance and accountability), and thousands of Malawian voters (who are quite important when it comes to, guess what, voting) have expressed dismay at the appointment of (Honourable?) Mchacha into the cabinet as well as the lack of women’s representation in the cabinet line up.
The said Mchacha has been heard denouncing mothers, daughters and grandmothers who happen to challenge his politics as whores and other unsavoury epithets.
Whilst many Malawian voters have been rushing about the place trying to send a message to the President that appointments like these are retrogressive and that they should not have a place in our democratic dispensation; I took some time to wonder if the President is actually sending a message too.
After all, our President is a professor of law and constitutional governance. Having participated in the drafting of the most sacred of our national texts, the nuances of the said text and the responsibility of leading this nation surely cannot be lost on him. More importantly, the legal and political ramifications of his actions must have more clarity than that of the compatriot managing a stall at Bangwe market.
In a shot, the legal and political fences that surround appointments as important as the selection of the citizens entrusted to lead government departments are very clear to our President.
Let me start with the legal fences. Our law requires that the government should aim for 40-60 ratio between men and women in all appointments to public office. This is not a mere political slogan but a requirement of our laws. A related issue on maintaining fidelity to the law despite political expedience relates to the position of our Vice-President in the arrangements of government.
By effectively excluding him from the cabinet, the President has purposely gone against the clear provisions of the Constitution, the highest law of the land.
Now, I know there will be some who will argue, in view of the evident breakdown of the working relationship between the two that there is no practical path to including the Vice-President in the cabinet. That indeed may be the case, but the law is clear that the cabinet must include the Vice-President. If we are not slaves to our Constitution, then we have nothing but personal idiosyncrancy in the running of this democracy.
On the political front, our President claims that he is a champion of the HeforShe campaign which aims to achieve a 50:50 representation of women in public life. How exactly does the failure to adhere to the minimum requirements under law for women’s appointment, make him a HeforShe champion? How exactly does the appointment of Mchacha affirm the President’s pro-women politics?
And one further question has been bothering me in all this: Where is the sisterhood of DPP women in all this? Are they happy with the apparent disregard of women’s contribution to our democracy?
Looking at both the legal and political limits to these appointments, one cannot help but conclude that the President is himself sending a message: that message is that he cares not so much about the legal niceties that our Constitution lays down and further, that the politics of the women’s vote do not matter so much.
I might be wrong in my assessment, after all I am a mere teacher. But our professor President has a very good understanding of the responsibilities that he has under our Constitution. So, whilst we are clamouring for some sort of explanation from the President regarding his latest moves, perhaps we should listen to the message that he is sending.
*The author is from Bangwe and sometimes teaches law.