Thursday, May 13, 2010

What Malawi should learn from UK Elections

Someone recently said “if the same results of the UK elections were posted in Malawi, Brown would have been sworn in on Friday (a day after voting), Cameron arrested and Nick Clegg would have rushed to challenge the results in court.” Such is the case of Malawian politics in particular and Africa in general. Every time we have elections, we expect three things to happen; a rush in swearing in the ‘winner’, arresting opposition candidates for various reasons, mostly treason and the ‘loser’ challenging the results in court.

The recent UK elections offer three very good lessons to a Malawian politician and one who is aspiring to stand in the future elections.

1. A battle of ideologies not character assassination

Throughout the campaign it was clear that the three main parties believed in different ideologies and they were prepared to implement them if elected. It is very easy to distinguish one party from the other based on what policies they have on various issues like, immigration, education, political reform and the economy. Voters were given a chance to see the candidates debate on the policies that they believe. They had 3 live television debates.
In Malawi, the only thing that differentiates party A and party C is the name and the leaders. They don’t have clearly spelt ideologies or policies they subscribe to. In fact all the campaign rallies are almost similar. Just making empty promises and giving them handouts.

2. Acceptance of results

United Kingdom’s May 6 elections produced no outright winner because no one got the required 326 MP’s majority. All the contesting parties respected this outcome and they patiently waited for the next course of action. It was clear that the coalition meant that parties with different ideologies coming together to form the next government. All the negotiations were centered on what to change in the good interests of the country.

In the history of African politics, very few politicians have had the guts to digest the outcome of an election. Acceptance of results remains a challenge even in the countries we thought have mature democracies. A good example is 2007 elections in Kenya.

3. Transparency

The whole elections process was transparent even to an observer like me who is many miles away from UK. The campaigning period, the voting process, counting and announcement of the results were all transparent. Opposition parties were given airtime on the public radio and television. f course there were some problems which are normal in every election.

In Malawi, politicians are bosses and are not always accountable to us, the voters. In the run up to elections they make decision that only favor them or the candidates they like. The appointment of electoral commissions, the use of public resources and manipulation of traditional leaders do not level the playing field. What is expected of us is to keep quite and watch as the events unfold just like one legal advisor said that we gave them the mandate to run the government for the next five years so we should sit back and let them govern.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


There is something wrong with the way the Malawi Government is consulting its people on the various important issues. Crucial decisions that will affect the masses are being made without Malawians themselves expressing their views in a transparent manner.

First it was the infamous quota system (or equitable access to higher education) of which we were made to believe that a lot of people were consulted and were in support of it. But the truth is that some quarters were very determined to implement it regardless of opposing views or court cases. It has since been implemented disregarding views for those opposing it.

Now it has just finished “consultations” on flag change. From the word go one could see lack of transparency in the way the consultations were being conducted. The idea of consulting traditional leaders as representatives of the people was not the right way to hear views of all Malawians. Like the quota system, it seems government was bent on changing the flag regardless of what the majority of Malawians said. That’s why they had to rush to the traditional leaders who are already singing praises of the present government.

As if that is not enough, there are reports that government is about to table a bill that among others, bans polygamy. There are claims that polygamy is contributing to the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus. Therefore those who will marry more than one wife after the bill is passed will be fined or jailed for five years. This ahs also not gone down well with the many Malawians who think that the government is going too far in this respect. Some call it regulating morals. In a normal democracy, we should have expected this bill to be shot down in parliament but with the majority that the ruling party is enjoying, forget about this possibility. If what the Gender Minister told BBC and Capital Radio recently that government is serious in tabling this bill and the mandatory HIV test bill, then they are as good as already passed. The Muslim Community will make all the noise it can on this issue but nothing will change, ask Livingstonia Synod.
In two weeks time we will clock one year into the second term of the ruling DPP but several unpopular decisions made during this period will easily erase the good image DPP created in the first term. People who are able to read through the walls will agree with me that we should anticipate very long and hard four years to finish this term.


As the people all over the world commemorate this day, Malawian journalists will as usual take to the streets in Blantyre carrying placards with various messages written on them. I would have joined them had it been that I was in Blantyre but am some 80km away and will be working the whole day. I respect and value this noble profession for the mere fact that they feed my growing appetite for information but I don’t envy their salaries or the environment that they work in.

The past year has been very interesting in relation to press freedom in Malawi. If you were in the shoes of the Nation Newspaper you should have been complaining of the advertisement ban from the government and its various departments which came along in that period. I guess you could have written a placard expressing your anger at the treatment your fellow journalists went through in trying to cover government events.

In the eyes of the newly born Weekend Times, you should have bemoaned how easy it was to expose scandals of high profile people. The freedom of writing whatever you found of other people’s lives could have been on your lips all the way to the end of the big walk. If you were Brian Banda you could have thanked all the people who have graced your latest program, Capital Straight Talk. Some questions you asked are sensitive but you forced your way to get the answers. Big fish from both sides of the coin have been your guests. Sad that the drycleaner is not here to join his brother, Paparazi, Makiyolobasi, Twister and Bartender in displaying linen they have been trying to clean all this time.
From a layman’s point of view, we are still enjoying the freedom of expression we voted for in 1994 but there are some areas we can do better. The public broadcasters are still singing praises to the government of the day just as it was with the past regimes. It shows that journalists working in these media houses are not yet free to write or report what they want to (or have they been brainwashed to the point that they don’t see anything newsworthy in the opposing views). Some time there was talk that changing the Communications Act was the only way of making sure that every party will be heard on the public broadcaster. There is no better time to debate and pass the Access to Information bill and change the Communications Act than now when the ruling party has a majority in Parliament.

By the end of the day after a tiresome walk, there will be a dance at Mount Soche Hotel where outstanding journalists will be awarded for their good work. As consumers of the information they report, we don’t have much say on the awards but if I were given a chance I could have chosen Brian Banda and his Capital Straight Talk as the best thing that has happened to the media fraternity the past year. The questions asked in the program are superb, the guests interviewed are at the thick of things and the reporter is just very good. Then there is the Sunday Times. It is a full package that Malawians in need of information needs to read. Muckraking on Sunday, Just a word, Hard Tackle, Wings of Hope, Oped and True Life drama are simply the best. Maybe Zebedee is too old to be getting praises but he is still giving out the best.

Finally I wish all the media guys a very good day in celebrating press freedom. But don’t get very drunk to miss stories for tomorrow’s front pages.