Normally when times are good most people rarely make frequent visits into their past. Why should you when you are living in the moment? Most times we go in the past when things are not good and we (maybe) want to see what went wrong and what could we have done differently so as not to have arrived at this destination of horror. This is exactly what most Malawians are doing today, going back in history. The more we do, the more wounds and unhealed scars we uncover.
Politics in Malawi has never been easy starting with the one party rule of Ngwazi for some 30 plus years. 1964, with the calibre of the cabinet then compared to now, dominated by young University alumni obsessed with the Pan-Africanist school of thought would be a time like no other. September of that year saw what would later be considered the best speeches ever delivered by ministers in parliament in Ngwazi’s presence. For Hon Chisiza and Hon Chipembere they resigned from cabinet to show solidarity for the ministers who were fired because of the Ku-Chawe petition. Below is a list of some of the grievances by the cabinet.
• The way Dr. Banda treated the ministers with contempt, ridicule and sarcasm in private and public.
• Cases of nepotism and corruption in the government and the party.
• Appointment of Michael Blackwood to the important posts of Malawi Development Corporation (M.D.C.) chairman and board member of Reserve Bank. This man was a former deputy leader of Roy Welensky’s party who were all members of a “racist” organization called Africa Capricon Society.
• Dr Banda’s uncogent foreign and domestic policies since self-governance in 1963.
Chronological order of events:
In July Ngwazi introduced the Skinner report on the civil servants. In summary what the report did was increase salary deduction and taxes to the point that some people ended up taking home 95% less than they did the previous month. In August the cabinet met to voice their protest on the above and that led to the Ku-Chawe petition. In September Ngwazi dismissed Kanyama Chiume, Orton Chirwa and Augustine Bwanausi from the cabinet. The resignations from the other ministers came in after this. This was the cabinet crisis of 1964.
Unfortunately the ministers who rebelled against Ngwazi ended up being charged with treason and sedition. Some would later seek asylum abroad where they ended up being killed mysteriously by assailants thought to have been sent to by Ngwazi.
In 1994 we ushered in democracy under the leadership of Bakili Muluzi. Since I didn’t follow politics or the economy of the country then, I can’t say much about it. Things were quiet even though there were some visible signs of trouble ahead but Malawians were okay since this president had the Umunthu in him unlike Ngwazi. There was peace in the country and for the first time people were free.
Malawi under Bingu has seen both good and bad times, more like day and night. When Bingu was elected president people were excited for the future of Malawi. We now had an economist for a president. Some Bingu loyalists and those who claim to know more about economics than I do have said that there was economic progress but the government failed to plan in expectation for this growth. I can’t prove it. The growth is only visible to the few that are close to the president. When you look at it in terms votes that pass bills in favor of the president’s agenda then yes there has been growth when you consider the fact that it has made kleptocracy easy for the regime. During his first term the parliament was led by UDF. It wasn’t until the second term when he had formed his own political party and run on that ticket that things started getting worse in Malawi. His true colours started shining through.
Amendment of section 46 of the penal code is one repressive law that empowers the Minister of Information to ban any publications that are deemed not to be of public interest. Basic human rights have been denied to the people. Unfortunately for the Malawians this is proving to be a “do nothing” parliament leaving Malawians no option but to use their votes to oust this government come 2014. The plan according to DPP however is to have the presidents brother elected as the next president. If this happens we will have our own dynasty from Thyolo. The sad thing there is a one man battle going on in parliament at present.
Hon Henry Dama Phoya happens to be one such minister like that of 1964. Young, educated and bold enough to state his case to the point that he was expelled from the presidents political party for standing up in parliament and stating his case to his colleagues when they were about to vote for the Injunctions Bill. In a speech that was about 20 minutes long he stated his case and managed to get some votes on his side but they were not enough.
As if all that was not enough, the president introduced a zero deficit budget which was pretty much the death of the people. Malawians on average are highly taxed and now they were about to see more taxation from their government with VAT up to 16.5% on food items as well. This was ridiculous especially since most of the civil servants were not getting paid at all. Sounds familiar? Ofcourse, the 1964 Skinner’s report by Ngwazi on his people. Atleast back then they were getting some of their salary. In today’s case, the people can go for months without receiving a paycheck.
Being a strong critic against the Bingu government comes with a price tag. The Red Revolution started with the fight for academic freedom when Dr Blessings Chisinga a lecturer at Chanco was fired. His crime was that he used Egypt as an example of why people revolt against governments when basic needs are not easily accessible to the masses. Fuel shortages, lack of proper care in hospitals, electricity outages just to name afew have been a problem under Bingu’s rule. Although this has been the case in the past since Malawi is a poor country and these things can be somewhat expected, it’s never been at this level before. Courageous like the 1964 cabinet some lecturers decided to boycott classes to show solidarity with Chisinga. This was followed by their dismissal too. With no classes in session, what we have now is a series of injunctions between the lecturers and the University Council. Infact their reinstatement and guarantee of Academic freedom are some of the items outlined in the petition that was handed to the president on the 20th of July by the Civil Society for the Malawian people.
On the 20th of July the day of the country-wide demonstrations, some of the Civil Society (CSO) were beaten badly by the Malawi police that they had to seek medical attention. At the end of the 21st, 19 people lay dead, a huge price to pay for our freedom. Live ammunition was used on innocent citizens. In a real democracy, if you follow the constitution, the police who were shooting at the people were actually supposed to be protecting them. From July to now we have seen offices of the IPI and Rev Sembereka’s house burnt down. Some of the activists who organized the vigils have been beaten by thugs believed to members of the DPP party.
Some who lost their lives on the 20th were very young but will always be out heroes. The most recent attack is one that most will never forget. Young, 25 years old and a fourth year engineering student who was a strong anti-Bingu critic was found dead on the Poly campus on the 24th of September. According to the postmortem results he is said to have committed suicide. The bloody pictures are all over the newspapers, a Facebook condolences page has been created in his honour. Robert Chasowa had been in hiding after the police had quizzed him on campus over the anti-Mutharika Youth for freedom and Democracy (YFD) group who are behind The Weekly Political Update responsible for articles about how the money from Kayerekera Uranium mine is being deposited into Bingu’s personal account. What is worrying is that we have had such kind of mysterious deaths of people who criticize the president. During Ngwazi’s time four ministers were killed in what late became known as the Mwanza murders. Some as I mentioned earlier were killed in exile and all for not agreeing with the presidents rule then. Homes and offices are burnt to the ground while the activists are being hunted down and beaten by the governments loyalists. Sad times in Malawi today.
While as the 1964 cabinet crisis led to dismissal of ministers and others resigning and later fleeing to neighbouring countries seeking asylum, the cabinet now will do nothing in regards to the concerns of the people as stated in the 20th July petition. They are all pretty much DPP loyalists. The president enjoys a DPP led parliament. President and the VP are at logger heads. The similarities are that the Ngwazi then and the one now has chosen to rule on his own without consulting with the people let alone the cabinet. He refuses to take them into confidence. Diplomatic ties have been severed with some countries and donor community by Bingu. The Ngwazi then was smarter in that at a time when no one was friends with countries like South Africa Malawi had ties with them for economic reasons. They are the same in their treatment of cabinet ministers in that they feel the need to ridicule them both in private and public.
So the question then is, what do we do as a Nation? No one knows the answer, dark days are ahead of us. My only hope lies in the saying “it is darkest before the break of dawn.” In the meantime it is not known just how many will be silenced like Robert Chasowa. May you rest in peace true son on Malawi. Aluta Continua.