By Grace Hara
Former United States of America president, John F Kennedy, once said: “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”
Malawians have lived this principle by building inclusive societies and sustaining peace through democratic governance and conflict prevention.
It is probably against this background that the country continues to be credited worldwide for being peaceful irrespective of divergent views on politics, religion, beliefs, culture and ethos, among others.
National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Public Trust Executive Director, Ollen Mwalubunju, believes the prevailing peaceful coexistence is a result of the citizens’ zeal to embrace and nurture fundamental principles of democracy.
Mwalubunju stresses that Malawi is a liberal democracy whose political system is marked by constitutional entrenchment of fundamental human rights, including rights of person; and freedom of belief and speech, of assembly and of political organisation; the rule of law and equality before the law; the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers; and free elections with universal adult suffrage.
Much of the political competitions, including local, parliamentary and presidential elections, have occurred peacefully among existing political institutions since the re-advent of the multiparty democracy.
However, the country has degenerated into chaos and lawlessness as a result of discontentment over how the May 21 2019 tripartite elections were managed.
There are those who believe the polls were mismanaged and that the declaration of Democratic Progressive Party’s Peter Mutharika as winner was unlawful.
Malawians have witnessed an increase in violence and protests as the election case progressed in the Constitutional Court.
Nice realises that rising political tension, violence and lawlessness are a recipe for violation of human rights and a threat to peaceful coexistence.
The organisation further appreciates that violence and protests have the potential to plunge the country into chaos and deep poverty if religious and political leaders do not take steps to tackle root causes of these protests.
Mwalubunju says it is against this background that Nice embarked on a peace-building mission where it is undertaking sensitisation campaigns and facilitating stakeholders’ engagement and dialogue at community level to promote peaceful coexistence at all costs.
The campaign was part of the organisation’s efforts to preach messages of peace among Malawians, especially at a time Malawians were waiting for the long-awaited court verdict in the presidential elections case.
Nice started the campaign by engaging 22 prominent media personnel from different institutions to inform the nation about the initiative. After announcing the launch, the organisation held a number of panel discussions, phone-in programmes, district awareness training on peace-building, peace-building announcements on radio and engagement with faith groups.
In all the peace-building sensitisation meetings, participants signed ‘peace agreement commitments’.
Nice also facilitated the formation of WhatsApp Peace Groups, radio soap operas, engagements with vendors and minibus drivers. And finally, Nice conducted a study on police/citizen relationship in relation to peace.
Mwalubunju states that all this was aimed at preparing and empowering Malawians to accept the verdict without resorting to violence, stressing that violence is a vice that does not only retard development and kill innocent lives, but also undermines principles of democracy.
The leading civic education provider has been moving across the country to appreciate the possible causes of violence and how opinion leaders can delve into to deal with those issues after being empowered by the organisation.
Mwalubunju therefore urges citizens to avoid and prevent violence even in the event that the court determination goes against their expectations.
“Peace is the oxygen of democracy. We chose democracy some 28 years ago and we anticipate Malawians to continue co-existing amidst the court ruling to help democracy be consolidated and help it produces its fruits to the country,” he states.
Mwalubunju emphasises that everyone, regardless of faith or race, creed or political affiliation tribe or region, is entitled to live a full life, free from poverty within a thriving democratic sphere.
He says Nice therefore believes in tackling violence as it is a major driver of poverty and a barrier to democracy and development.
“We believe the world can and must be changed so that there is equity and equality, dignity and freedom for all. Section 38 of the Constitution of Malawi guarantees Malawians a constitutional right to hold demonstrations, but urges citizens to exercise this right in a responsible manner and desist from abusing other people’s rights by, among others, destroying property.
“We also call upon human rights defenders, civil society organisations, political parties, District Commissioners and city Chief Executive Officers, and the police, at large, to ensure that their actions in management of any form of demonstration should lead to peace, orderliness and adherence to the Constitution and laws of Malawi,” he stresses.
Nkhotakota District Council chairperson Sam Chunga says peace-building trainings have come at the right time when the Constitutional Court is delivering its judgment on the presidential election case.
Chunga, who is also Sani Linga Ward councillor, is optimistic that the peace messages Nice has been spreading will help unite Malawians and empower them to rise above petty politics to observe peace after the court delivers its verdict.
Thyolo DC Justin Kathumba commends Nice for engaging influential leaders in peace-building initiatives, saying the district has not been spared when it comes to cases of violence.
“I am very hopeful that with these peace messages, Malawians will not have a reason to resort to violence if the court determination does not go in their favour,” says Kathumba.