Malawi OP-ED 

Malawi from May 2019 to June 2020: Profiling a Troubled Nation Desperate for True Freedom

By Precious Nihorowa

The American political scientist and political economist, Francis Fukuyama, in his famous book, The End of History and the Last Man, explores the historical evolution of political systems through different epochs and generations which culminates in the current Western Liberal democracy. According to him, in as far as political systems are concerned, humanity has reached an end of exploration as there will never be another human system of government that will replace liberal democracy. As part of his exploration, Fukuyama presents the motivations for the successful propelling of history and notes that “It was the slave’s continuing desire for recognition that was the motor which propelled history forward, not the idle complacency and unchanging self-identity of the master.” In other words, the slave’s dire need for better life has been the core factor for determining the socio-political and economic direction of states. What Fukuyama posits seems to be true of Malawi as a nation and indeed of many other African countries. It was the slave’s desire recognition, freedom and dignified human treatment that reinforced the spirit of independence in the 1960s that led to the collapse of colonialism.

Malawi’s struggle for freedom can be traced as far back as 1915 with the uprising of John Chilembwe against the thangata system, a move which seemed premature and yet significant. The battle was later picked up by the likes of Orton Chirwa, Masauko Chipembere and others in the 1960s which finally bore fruits in 1964, the year Malawi got independent from colonial rule. As if this was not enough, Malawians had yet to endure the autocratic government of Kamuzu Banda for 31 years which they finally decided was not good for the country and eventually ushered in multiparty democracy in 1994. From 1994, Malawi has seen leaders such as Dr Bakili Muluzi, Professor Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda and Professor Peter Mutharika rising to the presidential throne and each leaving behind legacies open to the scrutiny of the people. In the just ended election, Dr Lazarus Chakwera has been declared the winner and eventually the sixth president of the republic of Malawi. However, as widely noted by many people both within Malawi and the international community, this year’s election arose from interesting circumstances that should rightly be considered as a step forward in the maturing of Malawian democracy.

The history of this year’s election, which was held on 23rd June, dates to 21st May 2019 when the country had the tripartite elections. When Peter Mutharika was declared winner of that election, there was an atmosphere of discontent among many people citing that the election was rigged using correction fluid, widely known as Tippex. This prompted two opposition parties, MCP and UTM to file a complaint at the Constitutional Court, citing the irregularities they noticed in the elections. This move was coupled with countrywide demonstrations led by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) demanding the resignation of Chief Justice Jane Ansah, the then Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson as well as the nullification of Mutharika’s presidency. On 3rd February this year, after almost eights months of court battles, the Constitutional Court declared that the grounds on which the opposition parties sought the nullification of the vote were indeed valid and went on to nullify the election of Mutharika and order a rerun within 150 days. When the Democratic Progressive Party appealed against the ruling at the Supreme court, the highest court simply upheld the ConCourt ruling. Even after trying to employ so may tricks to stop the fresh election from taking place, the DPP government failed.

Since the ConCourt ruling of 3rd February, Malawi has gained admiration from many countries especially for proving that the judiciary is independent. Additionally, the courage and persistence that the common people showed by constantly demonstrating on the streets and eventually unseating the incumbent president through the polls, has been another marvel. But despite all this admiration, and despite that Malawians are at the moment proud of being the talk of the town by showcasing a good example cherished by many countries, I don’t think it even occurred in the mind of Malawians to solicit to be such a good example. All that Malawians were looking for is to have their vote count and usher in a leader who would recognise them as dignified human beings. It was this simple desire for recognition that propelled Malawi’s history forward.

With the Mutharika administration being accused of corruption, nepotism, poor quality of education, a nosediving economy that led to deep poverty levels, high unemployment rate, loss of trust and professionalism in public institutions and crisis of leadership in a government that took the people for granted, Malawians believed that they deserved something better and they kept fighting for it. Above all, the support and patriotism shown by the courts, the army and civil society organisations reinforced the people’s struggle for recognition.

It is not surprising, therefore, that after being robbed off their right in last year’s elections, the common people guarded this year’s vote, a situation that state security officials described as vigilantism. This ended up being a potential recipe for violence towards those who displayed any signs of wanting to disrupt and rig the elections. Even without international observers Malawi has been touted once again for holding a free and fair election.

The election is over, and it is time to get back to the business of putting the country in order. Over the years, many things in the Malawian landscape have changed and perhaps they may continue to do so. Above all, the wave that has swept over Malawi from May 2019 to June this year will remain in the history of Malawi. We are not sure what the future holds but it is evident that Malawi has changed and will never be the same again. The citizens may never allow that the country should slide back to where it was before. As the new government takes over, people are on their guard. They still desire a government that will recognise them as citizens of this land. They want a government which will no longer take them for granted, one which will work towards delivering on their promises and ensuring a dignified living for all. As Fukuyama alludes to Hegel, throughout history “freedom was not just a psychological phenomenon, but the essence of what was distinctively human…Human freedom emerges only when man is able to transcend his natural, animal existence, and to create a new self for himself.” For Malawians too, freedom means more than what they got at independence but the realization of a dignified life.The writer is a Malawian currently studying Theology at the Catholic University of East Africa in Kenya. He writes in his personal capacity. Feedback: preciousniho@gmail.com

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