the article was published in the sunday times on 13/11/05
Once again an unproven and highly exaggerated threat is
being utilised to force through a reactionary political
agenda. Personally I am of the opinion that everybody is
equal before the law and that those, committing any
crime, are liable to face punishment.
All those thinking that they escaped justice or managed to evade the system
must be made to understand that politics has taken a new shape. Little by little, there seem to me growing and emerging powers from the electorate which is the major
step in consolidating our infant democracy.
When arrests are made against politicians, misconceptions tend to rise either by will, political manipulation or shear ignorance. Make no mistake, there indeed exist the notion of political arrests and our country's history is full of examples where people have been or were arrested on political grounds.
Thus in the late fifties, we had the likes of Aleke Banda, Orton Chirwa, Dr Banda and many others who were arrested mainly because they were advancing their political ideology.
The trend resurfaced soon after independence when allot of freedom fighters were persecuted for their beliefs. Throughout the MCP’s brutal regime, innocent Malawians suffered for harboring dissent views with some being victimized for simply being Malawians from a blacklisted region which was being perceived as a threat to the then regime or triumvirate.
Dr Chiona, Dr Mwanza, Prof Felix Munthali, and many others are good examples of politically driven arrests ,many of them arrested as a result of a scheme masterminded by the political
authorities which saw secrete agents engaging themselves into clandestine projects where they could forge letters and board a flight to Zambia or Tanzania and post their forged letter to their selected victim and latter on intercept their letter and build a case to confront an innocent citizen. Just like that a man is gone regardless of his innocense and his only crime was that he came from the northern part of Malawi.
In 1983, four innocent politicians in the name of Dick Matenje, Twaibu Sangala, Chikwenga and Gadama were clobbered simply because they criticized government expenditure as well as objected the idea of changing the constitution to allow the creation of the position of prime minister or acting president at a time when Dr Banda was deciding to take a sabbatical leave
A spell of political arrests continued with the arrests of intellectuals and other prominent figures notably Prof Jack Mapanje for his intellectual poetry prowess and Dr Ntafu who was merely arrested for refusing to offer an apology to Dr Banda after questioning the implications of MCP’s Anti northern policy which saw the repatriation of civil servants [mainly teachers] to their region of origin. The last known victim of MCP's political
arrest was hon Chakufwa Chihana who was arrested for promoting his human rights campaign.
In the post single party era, Malawi witnessed several arrests by the UDF government. I’m reminded of Dr Ntaba’s arrest who was simply arrested for nothing other than being critical of the Muluzi government and the arrest of Gwanda Chakumba on almost a non existence case
of forgery which Dr Muluzi advanced to limit the damage being made after the leaking of his memo to the press and the diplomatic community and latter, the arrest of a
noble citizen Matafale who sadly died in prison after being manhandled by the police for criticising Dr Muluzi's government.
There are sharp contrasts between the list of the above mentioned examples and the arrest of political figures we are witnessing today and the role of the ordinary citizens. Interestingly common in the arrests of political figures during the MCP and UDF regimes were
heavy presence of political figures and or secrete agents with links to the political elites of the time.
I am told during the stand off between hon Mpingajira and Dr Muluzi, there was large presense of politicians who were actively involved when effecting an arrest and were seen almost updating Dr Muluzi on an hourly basis via the mobile phones. On one account where Mr Makande BJ's-right hand man was arrested, Ministers like hon Mwawa and Late Lemani were physically present during the interrogation.
Sadly we have in Malawi today a situation where Influential people including lawmakers who were supposed to be exemplary ,are often arrested for immoral related
The difference however between the past regimes and the present one is the nature of offence. Here we have real crimes being committed with sections of the law being seriously contravened. What distinguishes these developments is the public’s role or approval in the saga. The recent arrests of hon, Milanzi and Lucious Banda are cases in point. Here there is no evidence of heavy presence of political operatives let alone the humiliating nature of prolonged detentions and torture but rather a new dimension in that it was the public which fed the authorities with information about the gentlemen’s wrong doings. (Milanzi and Banda)while Mr Mpasu’s arrest was a result of recommendations made by the commission which was set up by Dr Muluzi.
If anything, All Mr. Mpasu should do is perhaps to quiz his master Dr Muluzi why the commission's report on his alleged corrupt activities was left un destroyed.
As for the public with regards to the role of the public,discontent experienced by the UDF soon after 2004 elections,tells me something more than the political skirmishes and harassment songs, UDF operatives would want us to be singing against the government.
It tells me of a society wanting to hold accountable any individual be it a politician whom they perceive as an obstacle to reforms and development by earthling out
his/her misconduct into the public domain as the only way to ensure a sustainable progress along development lines.It also shows the trust and confidence in the system without which, the same society would have resorted to mob justice .
Perhaps it is important to highlight here that the momentum of struggle for reforms can open people up to awareness of the need to fight for much more thoroughgoing change—and of the
power of their movements to do so. The coming together of the single-issue campaigns over the last 18 months to support the present government has created precisely such a momentum. The tendency to see things in terms of a confrontation with the system as whole, rather than
just one aspect, has grown ever more marked.
From being implicitly anti-political ideology to dub any politician insensitive to their needs such as HIV and Hunger as an enemy of progress and development, and indeed society
has become increasingly explicitly so.
We are witnessing a political paradigm shift where days are not far away when the people of Malawi would free the nation from the politics of killing, repression and deprivation of the masses,". Such radicalisation does not take place in some uniform manner. Reformism is not
merely a set of ideas about how to improve society. It also finds embodiment in institutions of a various sorts—especially parliamentary institutions—which are based on channelling such ideas, but this cannot be done by people who cheated their way into the chamber.
Individuals who are prominent because of the connections with such institutions can play a very important role in providing a focus for bringing movements about in the first place. By pulling people around them to press for change they create a focus for activity—and in doing so
set off the tendency for society to grow that look beyond mere reform. For this reason, the involvement of such individuals in initiating these developments is not just something to be tolerated—it is to be positively encouraged.
It is often the key to the growth of democracy to which level headed citizens must and
should be proud of.
The way in which this crisis of belief has been intensely amplified through the perpetual complaints from the UDF, has been one of the main drivers of the recent unrest. But don't blame the Government for doing what it is supposed to be doing and that is to make sure that law and order is maintained and if I were to go further,that public officers and lawmakers should be the first citizens portraying good examples for others to follow.
Understandably, UDF's cynical criticism of authority is quietly shared by those who wielded power and through their influence, fermented a belief that they should not be held accountable even in the face of clear violations against the laws of the land. By letting the cat out of
the bag, the UDF party simply transmits the message that politics lacks meaning.
Not surprising indeed that UDF sympathisers are offering no evidence to demonstrate that these arrests are political. One thing interesting about their argument is the evasive manner in which they seems to suggest that these people have not breached the law. By that, they
wants us to believe that these people were arrested because of their political beliefs and values.
I do not deny the fact that these arrests are being made in a climate mared with political tension, but I am also aware that malawians are not fools to be duped into
believing that all these developments are being politically motivated because they know that forgery is a crime, that exconvicts can only take a public office seven years
after their conviction.
To suggest that these people are being arrested for their beliefs is to imply that
offenses were not committed and I find it extremely hard to believe that we as a society can be so politicaly warped
To put it bluntly: there are no UDF values to share. I cannot see any sense in sharing the belief and value that all party donations should be banked in a leader's personal account, neither do I see any logic in continuing to defend the leadership whose misguided tactics are tearing the party away. There is however the danger that the once loved party with its well researched manifesto wants to position and brand itself as a party where lawlessness, chaos, phonication,
corruption and bullfighting is adopted as a tactical strategy to advance her political cause.
In the absence of a common web of meaning, even small differences can
turn into a major conflict. In such circumstances, there is every incentive to inflate suspicion and magnify difference. That is the politics of today, and probably of tomorrow if the UDF still want to entertain such kind of lawlessness.
Perhaps I need to remind the UDF party that contrary to this biased view, these gentlemen committed crimes and if the law is meant to be observed by all, they should expect to go through the same process and wait to be cleared by the courts.
UDF's arguments on the coincidental arrests of politicians who have genuine cases and queries to answer should not in either way be referred to as political arrests.
This kind of thinking and mentality is dangerously misleading because it creates a situation
where senior and influential politicians should be left free to commit any crime of choice while expecting the rest of us to obey the laws. Sadly, it is through this mentality that people who should not have been called honorables are now being elevated for their mastery to
evade the system.
One crucial point society is also forgetting is the bizarre manner in which our parliament conducts its business. Time and again, we’ve had numerous calls from various stake holders including the voters who’ve gone to great lengths to voice their concern and dismay
against our lawmakers. I am now beginning to understand why there is such amount of childishness and skirmishing petty fighting in the chamber because many of these lawmakers
are people who have cheated their way in.
They have no morals and manners because many of them are fugitives.
This why they refuse any suggestion in the direction of introducing a recall bill.
I have no reason to believe that the UDF is suggesting that our Parliament should be made of forgery activists, fraudsters, ex convicts and outright thieves and expect them to make laws on our behalf and expect the laws to be applied on us ordinery citizens. I therefore would
not accept the views of the UDF party leaders that law breakers should be declared innocent and should not be punished.This is simply political foolishness and too dangerous for a country like ours to adopt.
UDF needs to move beyond this negative image and reform itself into
an ideological based political entity.
It needs to embrace itself and create a mechanisim where lawbreakers are disciplined "Just because the culprits are politicians, it should not be construed that they are not answerable and that the government authorities should shy away from executing their noble task of
enforcing law and order fearing that politicians will twist their actions and dubb them political harassments.
It must be emphasized here that the object of all legal punishment is not altogether with a view of operating on the offenders themselves, it is also for the sake of
offering an example and warning".
Mo Rocca, comedian and author of "the entire President's Pets, once said "There are different ways to end the debate: There can be a two-thirds vote for cloture, or there could be a head butt," explaining political procedure in the Russian Duma, which is similar to the
United State's legislative branch and finally our own legislative assembly.
According to Rocca, Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky makes Sense. Reid and
Frist look downright polite.
"If he feels strongly about something, he'll spit at the opposition," Rocca said.
"If it is a real important priority, he will throw water. If something is extremely important, then the nuclear option is orange juice."
The politicians in Taiwan have also been known to get a little rowdy. Their government officials have thrown punches, kicks, even bananas and apples. I am reminded of the statement of Nazi leader Herman Goering on trial for war crimes telling the court in Nuremburg,
“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.It works the same way in any country.”
What we are witnessing in Malawi is nothing to that scale. There is no clash of ideologies or political thinking. It is simply government institutions doing their mandated duties. The best thing our politicians should be doing is to make sure that they are
not on the opposite side of the law.