MARCH 20, 2012The first 20 years of my life are indelibly scarred by the effects of MCPâ€™s brutal dictatorship. So often, painful memories from those dark days spring up to haunt me. I know there are many Malawians who go through similar experiences when they remember how MCP led by Kamuzu Banda made our lives a living hell.
But one distinct memory stands head and shoulders above the rest. I was a barefooted schoolboy in Standard 4. One day, MCP youth leaguers stormed our home in Kasakula Village and beat up my father severely before my eyes and arrested him. His crime, they told him as they rained blows on him, was that he had refused to allow my mother to travel to Blantyre to sing and dance at independence celebrations on grounds that she had just given birth to my twin brothers and was nursing them.
My father was later hospitalised and the family had to live with the memory of his humiliation at the hands of youths who were young enough to be his own sons. I may have just been a boy, but I knew then that there was something terribly wrong with the country I was growing up in.
It took another painful tragic incident to bring the full weight of Kamuzuâ€™s dictatorship to bear on me. The year was 1983. Three Cabinet ministers and an MP were killed under circumstances that still remain mysterious to this day. I was at Kasungu Boma when the body of one of the four deceased, Aaron Gadama, God rest his soul, was brought to be buried at Makanda Village in T/A Mwaseâ€™s area.
It was a working day, I remember, but the pall of fear and gloom that hang over the town was unmistakably ominous. People spoke but in low, hushed tones as though they didnâ€™t want to be heard. Police brought Gadamaâ€™s body, with strict instructions on how to bury it. My father would later explain that politics had â€œeatenâ€ Gadama because he had dared to play with the Lion, the Life President, Dr, Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
Until then, I believed that it was God who gave life and it was He who took it away when He chose to. Now I was learning that there was a vengeful Malawian lion that had the power to take life away!
Let me share one last personal experience with you before I explain why I have had to delve into my treasure trove of memories to make a point in my column this week.
I was a 21-year-old college student when the Catholic bishops released that epoch-making pastoral letter entitled Living Our Faith on March 8 1992. It was read to us as a Catholic community at Chancellor College by Father Patrick Oâ€™Malley during mass that Sunday morning. Shortly afterwards, the MCP government deported the fiery Irish priest who had delivered it. The act itself came as no surprise because by then, I had grown pretty accustomed to Kamuzuâ€™s dictatorial excesses and seen with my own eyes how politics in Malawi â€œateâ€ people up.
My reason for dredging up my painful past in My Diary is because I am a living testimony to the effects of tyranny and have a personal experience of it. That is why I threw myself head first in the freedom movement in 1992 because I did not want the children I would one day have to grow up to watch me being beaten for a personal conviction and principle in a country I am a proud citizen of. I did not want to live in a country where people had to speak in hushed tones because they never knew who could be listening and what fate would befall them when the party thugs got wind of it.
Kamuzu and his MCP actually kept us out of college for eight months after riots broke out as noises demanding multiparty democracy grew louder.
I voted â€œYesâ€ in the 1993 referendum to demolish the brutal one-party dictatorship and the lack of individual freedom that came with it. I loathed the monotony of one voice on the national scene and the arbitrary arrests, deaths and banishment into exile of those who had dissenting voices.
That is why My Diary has the character and the tone of voice it has. You cannot separate me from my conviction that as a Malawian journalist and newspaper columnist, I am at liberty to express my views freely because I fought for the right to do so all those years ago. I will not apologise for it because I am a product of my history.
At this point in our torturous history as a country, I feel the time has come for our Catholic bishops to go into spiritual retreat and write a pastoral letter that will echo with the fire and the passion of the historical letter of 19 years ago.
Tyranny is alive and well in Malawi today under Bingu wa Mutharika and his DPP government, and no way, in this world, will I call a spade a big spoon. Today, critics of the regime risk arrest and detention. Others receive death threats from thugs and hoodlums working with the blessing of the ruling party. To date, no one but the DPP inner circle understands why Atupele Muluzi and John Kapito were arrested and thrown in a smelly cell this week.
But we will not be cowed into submission, no matter what this government does. For all his excesses, Kamuzu did not manage to kill us all, which brings me to a quote I have come to appreciate because it sums up my resolve in this fight against oppression. â€œYou can cover the whole world with asphalt but a few blades of grass will still break through.â€ Wise words from Ilya Elhrenburg who knew what it was to live in the dictatorship that was the Soviet Union.
Even as I write, Malawi is burning. Soon even the water to put out the fire will be in short supply, like everything else we have been queuing up for these past several months. Those bodies such as the World Bank and IMF that can help us out of this mess are being denounced by Bingu and his minions, leaving us, the people, to bear the brunt of the effects of his bad governance.
Despite this, the President expects us to remain silent, arbitrarily arresting those who refuse to hold their peace.
But as Malawians, we refuse to remain silent. We will not accept tyranny in any form or disguise, and that dear citizens, is what our Constitution says.
Can PAC be ignored?
President Bingu wa Mutharika on Thursday plainly said he will not bow down to resolutions that the PAC conference came up with last week. They, among others, asked the President to change his management style of leadership or resign within 60 days. Fair resolution in my view because it is giving Mutharika a choice of either changing course or going to Ndata for early retirement.
The interests of 13 million Malawians cannot be sacrificed because of one person. My heart bleeds when I see how African leaders cling to positions even in the face of hopeless failure and stupendous suffering of their people.
As things stand, we, Malawians are in trouble. The person we chose to solve our problems is not up to the task even though he wants to make himself out to be an all-knowing oracle. He insults us and our traditional friends. He despises their advice, claiming he is doing so in the interests of Malawiâ€™s financial independence.
The President has ignored advice and criticism in the past, but PAC cannot be ignored in this country. Lest we forget, PAC virtually co-ruled this country before the 1994 general elections. It also effectively campaigned against former President Bakili Muluzi third term attempts.
DPP better change course; otherwise, they are fighting against the tide they cannot stop.