The best weapon of all: Civics education and why it is vital to change in Malawi…

“His Excellency the President Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika has dissolved the cabinet with effect from today,” the radio reported quoting OPC statement. “All ministerial duties revert to the Office of the President and Cabinet.”

As I write this blog there’s a debate going on my wall on whether or not the president has the powers to “dissolve” the cabinet and it is boiling down to semantics  used by the media. Whatever the case may be the question is what does it imply? How does a layman like me understand what is going on. According to Section 92.1 of the constitution it says:

There shall be a Cabinet consisting of the President, the First Vice-President, the Second Vice-President and such Ministers and Deputy Ministers as may, from time to time, be appointed by the President.

The constitution of Malawi is not perfect nor its people. One thing’s for sure and it’s that the President has too much power. This is a trend all over Africa and we wonder why we are creating leaders who are monsters, mini gods and who don’t want to leave their posts when their terms expire. So what is the problem? How can we solve the problems if any?

I’ll admit that I had never paid no attention to it until the whole Academic freedom saga broke out between the government and the Universities. First it was to look up what was said Academic freedom but I ended up reading the whole Human Rights section. However, the more I read the more angry I became. It’s ridiculous just how many examples you come up with as far as violations committed by the government on the people. Funny enough when you talk to some people it’s even more frustrating because their mentality is that of “we don’t have to meddle with politics in Malawi, they cripple you.” A good of example of making you “handicap” is by doing everything possible to make sure you are  financially unstable. That is life in Malawi.

Bishop Zuza in his famous “Chitsiru chamunthu” sermon, which is now reported to have landed him in some hot water, clearly stated that we the people are part of the problem. Let me explain. The problems faced by the people didn’t start now but all the way from the H.K. Banda era. We, the people, lived under terror during his reign and even though he emphasized on education as key, introduced Sukulu za Kwacha, he still controlled just how much information was handed down to us from the academics. Yes we were taught civics but it was enough just to make sure we are alive but not politically active. The president had a say in the College syllabus, what classes etc. So, how exactly did we become part of the problem?

In 1994 when democracy in the form of multiparty system of government rolled down the red carpet we were all excited. Finally the long-awaited freedom was here. For some it was all about what new spheres of education they would now conquer, the MYP and youth league is now gone “tipumeko kuzunzika” (no more being oppressed) and for others it was about I can now wear a mini skirt. Different strokes! Whatever the case, amidst all the excitement, some mistakes were made and we as a nation are paying dearly for them.

For starters, I’ve never understood why most if not all of Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda’s policies and programs were done away with. The programs I liked the most in terms of education were “Sukulu za Kwacha’  and the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP). Some of you were either too young to remember them or not born yet, so let me explain what they were all about and those of you who were there at that time feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda was a learned man, so he didn’t want his people to be illiterate. He knew that some of the older men and women had not attended school in their younger years but wanted to give them an opportunity to atleast learn the basics which were reading and writing. Ok, now you know how to read and write so what’s next? People were taught personal hygiene and nutrition basics bearing in mind that a healthy nation will in turn be a productive nation. In the MYP training bases people learned farming skills which they in turn used and taught others once they went back to their villages. We are an agricultural nation so why was it wrong to teach people about proper ways of farming, carpentry, sewing etc?  I get it that what Ngwazi did in making them an armed wing of the government was wrong but why get rid of the farming and skilled training part of the programs? Such programs were scrapped off  because everything Banda was evil. Luckily for some (a small number of people) they have the privilege of going to such schools which are being run by the churches or NGO’s.

On the road to 2014, inorder to make a difference, we need people who are somewhat familiar with how the government works. What I mean is that we need people who understand what their rights and duties are under the Constitution, people who are active citizens and not passive who will hold their elected officials accountable and answerable to their employers. Right now the chances of that happening is kind of low. It is very easy to manipulate the illiterate people, so am I right in assuming that this is one of the reasons why the new regimes did away with programs like Sukulu za Kwacha? I could be wrong but it makes you wonder why education could have been so bad in a country where we the people were supposedly on our way to more enlightenment in terms of knowledge being that we were now ready and free to explore the horizons.

Malawians in general have limited knowledge when it comes to people’s rights thanks to Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda and the regimes that came after him have done little to make that a reality. Most people who are illiterate have no idea what is in the constitution as far as rights are concerned so how does someone like that fight back when the government takes away the rights they didn’t know they had? The right to exercise most of the rights is slowly being taken away from the people even though they are still in the constitution. One such right is of assembly or the right to a peaceful demonstration. It is because of such ignorance of not knowing what politics is that made me post the definition according to Wikipedia which is:

“Politics (from Greek πολιτικός, “of, for, or relating to citizens”), is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs. It also refers to behavior within civil governments. However, politics can be observed in other group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions. It consists of “social relations involving authority or power and refers to the regulation of public affairs within a political unit, and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy.”

That said, there is great need in for people in Malawi to be taught basic Civics education and the Constitution in detail so that the know what to expect from their government. Civics education is the kind of teaching that aims at imparting knowledge and skills that we need for effective participation in the community, government and politics. In order for progress to be made, we need to change the political environment in Malawi and that can only be achieved when people become educated and know all the above so as to enable them to actively participate in their government. People need to know that Human rights are a branch of the Constitution. The two are interrelated; one cannot exist without the other atleast not in a democracy where one’s freedom is part of the package.

The Constitution when applied correctly will be the foundation of a good government. When you build on sand then expect nothing but a structure that is doomed to crumble because the foundation is unstable. The Constitution of Malawi is like a house built on sand. What is going on now is that the structure is falling apart due to a shaky foundation. How will we make sure that the built house will be strong and ready to house the new regime in 2014? Educational programs targeting the masses in the rural areas who need the civics education. This will equip them with the knowledge they need to make better judgements when it comes to electing their representatives. Long gone are times when people elect others based on how much money they have but more on how much they can deliver in terms of policies etc. We need an educated Malawi now more than ever….

About Mbachi Joyce Ng'oma

Femme noire. Femme Africaine.Lover of Politics. My song is of STRENGTH AND DIGNITY! Women and Children Rights are my Passion... View all posts by Mbachi Joyce Ng'oma

One response to “The best weapon of all: Civics education and why it is vital to change in Malawi…

  • Chenjerai

    So true! Need educated society to know and be able to elect leaders not from partisan politics, but what will help to see a better nation, nation built on true foundation!

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