Malawi OP-ED 

Sadness about the Sad Story of Malawi: A response to the Pastoral Letter 2024

By Janet Karim

You come to me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defiled. — 1 Samuel 17:45

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde

The reactions to the Pastoral Lenten Letter by the Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (February 25, 2024), have been mixed as media reports have shown. There are those who felt the Bishops were right, and even look forward to widespread reactions from the populations in and outside Malawi, as was the case with the historic 1991 pastoral letter from the same conference. But other Malawians felt the men of the cloth went too far and failed to offer the country or President any solutions, except in terms of the use of their votes. Given the local and global environment, the Letter was not really helpful because it was another rollcall on the bleeding obvious: life is a horror in this land.

The Bishops highlight that “the citizens, the voters, are also responsible for the problems facing Malawi because they choose “leaders who are not able to govern the country properly.” On its part, the government itself was very diplomatic, saying it was ready to work with the religious leaders though it could not answer them point by point of the attack in the 2024 Lenten Letter!

There is a sad story that can be depicted of Malawi from numerous angels. Some of the causes as President Chakwera outlined in his State of the Nation statement last month, are manmade, others are natural disasters; however, while some of these are homegrown (of the country’s own making), others are the shocks from outside Malawi, and beyond its control. In all these, Malawians have been resilient, they have withstood the tempestuous storms, and as the Men and Women of the Cloth, need to always rise above the storm to help both government and its peoples. They must do it without complaint or boast. This is done “as unto the Lord.” When one looks at Malawi’s history it would prove many of the naysayers wrong on all points. There are real challenges that Malawi is experiencing, however, it is our joint responsibility, all 22 million plus of us – in and outside the country – to do our bit.

Of all the challenges, Malawians biggest challenge is not choosing leaders that are able to govern, but the ability to choose their leaders, to love them, support, defend and to help them when they make a mistake by giving them constructive solutions to a mess they may have created. Another challenge is for all Malawians over the age of 60 to accept that they were card-buying members of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP, whether forced or willingly, we were all once members of the MCP. Lastly, Malawians loved, adored, and supported the Tonse Alliance in 2020 (your faces can be found in the crowd at their rallies.) Malawi multiparty, because Kamuzu and his team arranged for the transfer to multi-party first through the 1993 Referendum and then 1994 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, which Kamuzu accepted on both occasions. He was still the head of the Defence force, he could have ordered the MDF and raised down into the bottomless pit, if he had so desired in 1993 or 1994. The same with APM in 2020. He too, accepted the results. Let these two points sink-in please.

In all seriousness, there are seven points to keep in mind while it has been four years since the Tonse Government has been at the help of the country, Malawians need to also remember that the country enters into the commemorative celebration of the 60th anniversary of independence from colonial rule. As this response is written, there are some Malawians that hold the view that “there is nothing to celebrate, because the country is in shambles, that our neighbours are doing better than we are, and that the Tonse Government bears the blame for most, if not all, of the challenges faced by Malawi, and therefore we would do better with someone else at the helm of leadership.”

  1. Sixty years of independence should unite Malawians of 60 years of peaceful existence.
  2. The MCP is not government, neither is the Tonse Alliance. The Government is the Presidency (president, vice president and the cabinet), the Legislature, and the Judiciary.
  3. Malawians must learn to take collective responsibility when things go wrong, or when things go right. We need to stop making or labeling villains and heroes of our leaders.
  4. There are natural disasters and there are manmade disasters. In all these, Malawians need to always work together to mitigate their impacts. It s not the appropriate time to point fingers, or look to outsiders to help us, when help can be found within the country.
  5. We need to consider inside shocks and outside shocks. The outside shocks are sometimes heavy and overwhelming for the country. An example is the impact in 1989 to 1991 in the unification of Germany and the breakup of the Soviet Union led to massive call for African countries to democratize; this was coupled with withholding of development aid. In 2023, it is the forced IMF/World Bank devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha.
  6. Malawians in all levels need to re-learn to do the LRP their leaders: Love, Respect, and Pray. Stop berating persons elevated to leadership positions.
  7. Malawians must grow up. We are 60 years old as a country. There is the need to stop expecting that when a challenge erupts, the government is there to fix it.

On point 7, the big reminder to the Bishops is the Principle of Subsidiarity in Catholic social teaching. This Principle holds that “social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate or local level that is consistent with their resolution.” In other words, when a person is downtrodden and put out, they should not give up; when a neighbor is suffering, the stretched hand to help him or her should come from the person nearest. This is preferred rather than looking to a higher or distant authority. Persons in one’s area, are the answer to the problems other people; this is “getting by with a little help from friends” around them. EXAMPLE: on the issue of abuse of the elderly or accusation of the elderly of witchcraft. As the president is at State House, the religious, civic, and traditional leaders reside in the areas where the atrocities are taking place. Subsidiarity compels all of them to play the “good neighbor” role on issues affecting fellow men and women in their areas.

O God save our Land of Malawi! Keep it a land of peace – Malawi National anthem.

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