Malawi OP-ED 

Time to accept the truth that Malawi is a Constitutional democracy

Bakili Elson Muluzi was the president of Malawi from 1994 to 2004 and was Chairman of the United Democratic Front UDF until 2009

Condemning the innocent or letting the wicked go—both are hateful to the Lord. Only someone with no sense would promise to be responsible for someone else’s debts. —  Proverbs 17:15,18

If media reports and rumors are verifiable, someone needs to tell the Director of ACB Martha Chizuma that in a democracy it is not only okay but the right thing for her to resign from the plush position on the Constitutional body called the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). Watching the events of the past three months since the Malawian-born British-based Zuneth Sattar corruption saga was unleashed on Malawi, the country has been hurled into disarray. From the State President in making comment on a substandard ACB report that implicated people that it had not interviewed, naming and defamed a member of the presidency (also known as the Vice President), to demonstrations, riots, and arrests. The country is a mess: Sattar started it and Chizuma’s manipulability and failed arrests highlight sacred cows that even include the original culprit, that is, “the one who got Malawi in this mess called corrupt officials,” aka Sattar.

After this disregard for fairness before the law, Malawi is awash with calls for demonstrations by the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiative (CDEDI) executive director Sylvester Namiwa, going the full hog and calling for the dissolution of the presidency. One blaring post reads “Politicians should not be allowed to get away with their lies.” Below it reads “Scrap off presidential immunity or just accept that you (President Dr. Chakwera)are too compromised to lead the fight against corruption!”

Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera is sworn in in Lilongwe, Malawi, July 6, 2020. REUTERS/Eldson Chagara

These blaring headlines are amidst media reports that following last month’s ACB announcement that after arresting IG of Police Dr. Kainja, it would arrest four more people that are connected to the Zuneth Sattar corruption case. Consequent to the fact that only the IG of Police has been arrested, the CDEDI has given the State President a few days (starting with 5 Days) to roll into the process the dissolution of Section 91 that by the stroke of a pen relinquishes presidential immunity. This would pave the way for the ACB to fully and freely investigate all the people (high and low) that benefited from this dude called Sattar.

And definitely plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.

For starters demonstrations, which have always attracted a coterie of lawbreakers including thieves and other miscreants usually end up with people being arrested. This week in the anti-judiciary demonstrations, Robert Edward reported that Lilongwe Police spokesperson, Hastings Chigalu confirmed the arrest of 40 people. Among these were Kingsley Mpaso, Phunziro Mvula, Billy Banda, Jonathan Phiri, Victor Nyenyeliwa, Harale Aubrey, Edward Kambenje, and Chimwemwe Mphepo. They charged the suspects with contempt of court and unlawful assembly.

Apart from getting the ACB to resign for her failure to stop the unraveling of the fabric of corruption complicity, the human rights watchdog organizations need to have compassion for the people of Malawi: calling for demonstrations does not serve the participants, and there is no material gain form the ordinary Malawian because participating in a demonstration does not put money on peasant population. The call for demonstrations appears to be blackmailing the presidency. Human rights organizations must find other ways besides demonstrations for their campaigns.

The lack of knowledge of the workings of the Constitution is indeed widespread in Malawi. It is not the President alone that can lead to a change to the Constitution. Consequently, after 31 years of president-led changes to all thing’s governance in Malawi, Malawians should be allergic to any one person, especially the president directing changes or amendments to the constitution.

The other point about the democratic governance constitution is that the office of the Presidency is a two-tiered segment with well-defined roles, protections, benefits, opportunities, and requirements. The loss of immunity for one would also affect the other president. Section 91 was inserted in the Constitution to protect the President’s office made up of the President and the Vice president. With the removal of Section 91, any person can scream “fire!” at any one of these presidents, setting in motion the unraveling of an administration. Present circumstance highlights this very point.

As former President Dr. Bakili Muluzi once said being a president is not for play (simasewela)! As wonderful, delightful, and enviable as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s may be, the Presidential Constitution that Malawi adopted did not write in the vacating of Malawi’s leaders except for incompetence, ill-health, or death. Section 91 was inserted and insulates the two presidents and protects the country from unreliable spin doctors like human rights organizations removing the presidents.

Malawi’s presidents can only be removed through a vote. This is the reason the Constitutional Court could only call for fresh elections; they could not look at the tally sheets and determine any person as the winner. For 28 years numerous administrations from Muluzi, Bingu Mutharika, and Peter Mutharika could not rid themselves of their vice presidents because the Constitution is tight, and other than an election, elected officials cannot be removed from their positions in the manner that was done with there was only one political party and a Life President in the Palace. This put an end to prosecutions and court cases and imprisoning of political opponents; it also put an end to propelling or plunging the country into chaos, a constitutional crisis.

A word from constitutional experts to Malawi citizens from the ordinary to those in high offices, organizations must all stop calling for the president or vice president to resign or be imprisoned; stop desiring or promising that either President Chakwera or Vice President Chilima will be removed from their elected offices. If anything, all Malawians should be praying for an end to outsiders like Zuneth Sattar coming to our borders and stirring our peaceful existence.

Malawi is not a dictatorship. Malawi is a democracy!

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