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Freedoms with furore

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One trouble with us Malawians is that sometimes we speak and behave like troglodytes which in the caves hardly take note of what is happening outside. One example is that those who oppose the proposal to introduce the 50+1 presidential election results do not seem to know that most countries in the eastern region have opted for this system. The opponents have not bothered to find out why. In east and central Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe have adopted the system so too Ghana, Senegal and Ivory coast in West Africa. All these are countries with outstanding elites.

The other example is about unstable and violence-prone states. Do we ask why people in Somalia, Afghanistan, Northern Nigeria and Pakistan are perpetually murdering one another? At one time in the past, they used to live together peacefully. But in their politics, they were prone to using extremist and abusive language. Then one day when one person realised that no matter how rude and provocative he could be the other fellow could not be intimidated to silence but kept on trying to outdo him in the game of invective, he (the former) decided to strengthen the fury by resorting to fighting. Once blood-letting had taken place, communal hatred becomes uncontrollable.

In 1993, by referendum, we voted for freedoms of speech, assembly, association and worship. Nowadays it has become a mantra that where people belonging to different political parties and religious officials meet at a funeral instead of mourning together, they condemn each other.

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The main subject of this article, however, is the fury that has been generated by the press statement that the Public Affairs Committee (Pac) issued last month about the performance of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government during the past two and half years. I did not read the statement but I understand it stated inter alia that the DPP has been a failure in developing the country and eradicating corruption.

It is said every action generates a corresponding reaction. It seems to me that on the government side, some people have overreacted. Nevertheless, when I first read extracts of the statement, I did not clap hands because of the failure it contained.

In assessing the President and his or her government, we must not forget that they have to go through salad days which amount to labour year. This is inevitable for everyone occupying a top job, and who occupies a more demanding job than a president who has to be a generalist to the highest degree.

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The great African American educationist Booker T. Washington said a person’s success should not be judged by the level one reaches but by the obstacles one overcomes while trying to succeed. And where did President Peter Mutharika start? The country was plunged into famine for two years because of droughts and flash floods. Such funds as were available after the donors had suspended their support had to be devoted to repairing the damage caused by the nature disasters. He pledged that no one was going to die of starvation. Perhaps there have been mass starvation somewhere but I have not read or heard of them yet. Is this not commendable?

When Pac started in 1993, its membership comprised not only the clergy and elders of churches but also laypersons with different professional backgrounds. Perhaps before issuing press statements, Pac should invite some laypersons with relevant background knowledge on the subject of the statement. For instance, one of the first principles economists learn is that when you want to do two things, you must do one thing while the other is waiting.

Certain programmes that the President must undertake cannot be accomplished in a matter of weeks or months. For example, corruption is like a chronic disease; it cannot be eradicated within one term of office. Hardly a country in the world can boast of being completely corruption-free. Most corrupt people are very smart; they know how to evade the dragnet.

Having said this, let us remind those on the government side that we Malawians owe our freedoms from colonial rule and restoration of multiparty politics with the freedoms that go with it to religious bodies. The late Harold Macmillan who released Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda from the Gweru Prison initiated conferences that led to Malawi independence says in his book Pointing the Way that he had been influenced by the Church of Scotland. For many years between 1964 and 1994, some people had been demanding freedoms but to no avail until in 1992 when eight Catholic bishops issued a pastoral statement. The freedoms we enjoy these days can be traced to that statement whose extracts you can read in History of Malawi Volume 2.

Some of those who were speaking in defence of the governing were trying to convince the public that Pac had issued a subversive statement and should be disbanded or should transform itself into a political party. This will not do. Pac is doing a valuable job. Remember Lord Actons dietum: “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” People in high places should welcome dissenting views provided they are expressed in such a manner that they do not offend.

All those of us who take liberties criticising not only the government but other people as well should heed the following words by President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States: “It is not the critique who counts nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena whose face is marked by dust, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement.”

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