By Richard Chirombo:
Nothing prepares citizens for a scenario where democracy stops working in a democracy. More so because, in a democracy, it is a given that democratic principles have to flow continuously, like a river that serves as the outlet of an ocean
As such, no one was going to tell that, 26 years down the path of democracy— after Malawians voted for the re-acting of the script of multiparty politics in 1993— the high mountain of democracy would descend to a valley of intolerance, made worse by people who keep the name of democracy alive on their lips but deny its fruits through their actions; which fruits are freedom of association, expression, conscience, opinion, the press, assembly, movement, among others.
These ‘fruits’ were not brought to life by the word of mouth, or when it tickles the fancy of individuals who preside over national affairs; the fruits are enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, specifically sections 32 to 39.
This notwithstanding, indicators are that the wood-of-democracy has tumbled into a ruined cross in Malawi, so that the chasm between constitutional provisions and reality on the ground grows big each passing election. Malawi has had five elections, after the five-year tenure of councillors— we have voted for them twice actually— legislators and heads of State.
Ours is a case where the card of democracy is used— when elections are around the corner every five years— as a mantrap, after which (elections) the electorates gaze down or look back at the process and see only the cold reality of pain.
This time, though, even the scent of elections on May 21— four months from now— is not enough to bring a warm-heartedness, even if temporary, from ruling and opposition parties in Malawi to would-be voters.
A case in point is this ‘year’s commemorations for John Chilembwe Day, a day reserved for the memory of a man who stood up to challenge exploitation of the natives in 1915. The absence of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera was as conspicuous as the absence of Chilembwe himself when Malawians, led by President Peter Mutharika, descended on Providence Industrial Mission (PIM) in Chiradzulu District to attend activities meant to honour the American educated reverend.
And, as if re-reading an old, worn out script, MCP secretary general, Eisenhower Mkaka, attributed Chakwera’s absence to intolerance.
Not in a vacuum, through. On January 15 last year, when Chakwera attended John Chilembwe Day commemorations in Chiradzulu, he was given a torrid time by political opponents who attacked him.
And, this year, if Mkaka is to be believed, history would have repeated itself.
“They [Chakwera and others] drove early in the morning all the way from Lilongwe and were just a kilometre or two away from the venue when they were tipped to go back by the party’s security team that was on the ground, which said that the situation was very volatile,” Mkaka said.
He said, drawing lessons from the past, party officials who wanted Chakwera to attend the event were in touch with PIM leaders, event organisers, who assured them that there would not be a repeat of last year’s regrettable events.
If this is true, surely, only progressive thinking can put an end to this fruitless m i s understanding, especially when it comes to national events. Such events put the nation in one frame of mind, which is a fertile ground for the stuff of serious minds, the so-called unity of purpose.
However, Information Minister and government spokesperson Henry Mussa also re-read an old, worn out script, in the process throwing the egg back at MCP leaders’ faces, doubting their version of the story.
In the first place, Mussa said, John Chilembwe Day is a national day— which means it is not the exclusive of the government or ruling party officials.
The government spokesperson even said Chakwera’s name was on the programme as he was supposed to lay a wreath at John Chilembwe Memorial Tower.
“It is not true that Chakwera was barred from attending the function.
“If you are talking about security, how come everyone who was invited attended the function? Police officers were deployed to the function to provide security. What security is Mkaka talking about? They should tell Malawians other reasons as to why they failed to attend the event,” Mussa said.
The short of it is that political story-lines read like a brunt-edged knife that fails to sparkle even with wit; more so because such stories have been rehearsed and said, again and again— as if they were an exponential curve, doubling and doubling again at every turn of elections.
The opposition tries its best to make the story of what happened or would have happened scary so that the blind party follower may draw, quickly, the conclusion that what happened is macabre, cynical and provocative.
The ruling party, through the government machinery, also tries its best to come up with a storyline marred with wit and a good dose of assurances.
That is how shallow players on the political divide have become. Representatives of each political party seem to believe that their political colours have flesh and blood different from colours of the national flag: red, green and black.
But, then, we are supposed to be of one ilk because, after all, all national players want a better Malawi.
In an ideal world, national events like John Chilembwe Day would be peopled with a legion that— when their political, religious and other inclinations are thrown into the picture— is akin to a court of many colours.
And, in fact, that is what multiparty politics and democracy are all about; unity in diversity.
Hostilities must have boundaries. If national events cannot serve as a boundary, I do not know what will.
Otherwise, when opposition leaders are so hopeless that they cannot attend national events due to fears of insecurity; when the ruling elite is so confident of themselves that they cannot spare a minute to let others enjoy the fruits of democracy, it is citizens that become the proverbial grass between two fighting elephants.
They (citizens) stand further back in the gloom, hopeless and fearful, unsure if their aspirations and those of political leaders are one.
Time is up for gloating over petty issues.
In addition, democracy has no room for those who operate in isolation.
Time to cross the historical divide between poverty and prosperity is now. Every well-meaning citizen’s interest should be to move painlessly forward, past the bitter province of petty politics that has characterised post-1994 Malawi.
Anarchic politics could, on the face, be admirable and, perhaps, more lovable than order— but the truth is that it is so counter-productive that it sucks.
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