Democracy, in its simplicity form, is the rule of the majority. People are elected as representatives. The elected people need to govern in what is required of them by the majority of Malawians. Democracy is more that voting people into office during elections. There are principles that are put in place to guide democratic nations. Two of these principles include rule of law whereby the constitution is the supreme law and respect for human rights.
Respect for the constitution is the most important basic principle of democracy. The constitution is a documentation of what people agree on how they should be ruled and how public services must be run. Kamuzu era was not democratic in such that it did not have a constitution which recognized Malawians as supreme rulers. Public services were abused to achieve personal interests. It is the constitution that documents the Bill of Rights. Respect for human rights is the second most basic principle of democracy. The progress of democracy in societies is measured by human rights. High levels of abuses of human rights indicate that societies, even if they claim to be democratic, are not in any way democratic. This is why dictatorial regimes, like the Kamuzu era, are not democratic, even when rulers claim that the majority population is happy with their ruling. In these regimes, a lot of human rights abuses are reported and people agree to the rules as they express themselves only in whispers. Freedoms, in true essence, are highly limited in such regimes. In short, democracy is respect for the constitution and human rights theoretically and practically. With this brief account of what democracy ought to be like, recent developments in Malawian politics remove all the principles that make us be referred to as democratic.
Firstly, as already indicated, democratic societies are guided by the constitution and bleach of it is a crime. Chapter IV (also known as the Bill of Rights) in Section 40 assert that every person has the right to form, join, and participate in the activities of any political party of his/her choice intended to influence the composition and policies of the government. This follows that the constitution guarantees every Malawian with political choices. This is one reason why Kamuzu era was also not democratic. People did not have the choice in politics. Any one thought to be an ‘opponent’ of the ruling hegemony was not allowed in Malawi . A lot of people were exiled and those in Malawi were jailed and some even killed.
However, with what transpired at Chinsitu, Mulanje, is anything to go by then Malawi is in for another surprise. What was supposed to be a peaceful political event and a ground for Malawians to practice their political rights turned to be a nightmare. MDF, the public service, was directed by the government to be involved in partisan politics.
Above all that, this rally was also have been called off by the UDF since the courts of law lifted off the injunctions that allowed the UDF to go with the rally. As a democratic party, UDF is well aware that going against court orders is a criminal offence and is punishable by law in any ‘democratic’ country. Instead of ruling based on the injunction, the ‘government’ went a step further to involve the neutral soldiers into politics. This shows lack of trust by the president on the judges.
Involvement of the Malawi Defense Forces to manhandle unarmed civilians (some of who were not going to attend the rally and some of who were DPP supporters) infringed the Malawians of their different human rights and freedoms. They were deprived of rights like expression, assembly and demonstration, and right to free movement within the boarders of Malawi (sections 35, 38,39). Malawians, without any search warrant were searched and denied access to use some roads in their own country for no apparent reason.
The MDF are not to blame. They were following unconstitutional orders from above. It is therefore to look at the constitution and its provision of duties to public services. Being the highest law in democratic, the constitution provides duties for any public dept/services, MDF inclusive. According to the constitution, the MDF are not supposed to take part in partisan politics. No wonder, it is not required of them to vote. Their responsibility is to make sure that Malawi is safe from invasion. Their duties, according to Chapter XVI, include upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic and guard against any threat to all Malawians. It therefore follows that it was not proper to use the army on a rally which was already called off by the courts of law. Unless, if it were on a state of emergency. However, the rally, in no single way qualifies to be a state of emergency. If it were to be conducted against court orders, it was the responsibility of the courts to judge. This is where the government committed a breach the Constitution by involving the army. Their action is not inline with the “separation of power” principle of democracy.
Just as Muluzi said at the mini rally, “the army, in this country, has got a reputation [and] they should not be used to intimidate Malawians”. In all circumstances, the Malawi Army is to protect Malawians who on Sunday, the 25th of March, were manhandled. If anything, the Malawi Police was better placed to disperse people in internal matters.
Statistics show that, in almost all countries which used the army for internal partisan politics, they ended up halving an army ruled government. Nigeria is a very good example.
Having fought tooth and nail to have our hardly won democracy, it is unrealistic to run ourselves into an army state. It is therefore imperative that the “government” does not repeat this ‘mistake’. It should be clearly emphasized that Malawians, who are the sovereign rulers, have highly been deprived of their rights. Their dignity and freedom of conscious has been deprived in such that some have now negative connotation of what the army is all about. They are living in fears in their own countries and are therefore psychologically affected. The action taken by government must be desisted in all corners.
This is not good for development. It is documented in different findings by scholars that only people who are free enough have the potential to develop their societies. It is said that South Africa , USA and other developed countries are doing well in development because their people are free. Almost all poor countries, in contrast, have highest incidences of human rights abuses. NEPAD in Section 79 of its policy document acknowledges that sustainable development is impossible in a country which does not respect human rights and follow principles of good governance. How do we expect to be developed when there are many cases of breach of the constitution and human rights?
As an economic engineer, Bingu rightly knows that political instability is not a good ingredient of development and investors’ attraction. Zimbabwe is a good example. The State President must therefore apologize to all Malawians for breaking the Constitution and their human rights which are limitless. The inherent dignity and worth of each human being requires that the state and all persons, including the State President recognize and protect fundamental human rights and afford the protection to the rights of all individuals as guaranteed in Section 12 of the Republic Constitution. Section 12 further says that all persons responsible for the exercise of powers of state do so on trust and shall only exercise such powers to the extent of their lawful authority and in accordance with their responsibilities to the people of Malawi . It is therefore uncalled for to involve the army in partisan politics. Many donors and investors, just as Malawians, I believe have also been shocked over the use of the army for partisan politics. This does not send any good signal to them. This is chasing them away. We should not get surprised when they tell us that they have freezed up their funding on us for breaking democratic and developmental principles. We need them to develop, and above all we need the protection and observation of human rights in our country.
The involvement of the army only shows how afraid Bingu is of Muluzi. And his revelation of the fear has given Atcheya mangolomera oyima. He knows that someone somewhere fears him. What is also hard to believe, as already pointed out, is the use of armed soldiers on “the rally which was already called off by the courts of law having lifted off the injunction that UDF obtained”. UDF being a ‘democratic’ party, I believe it could have respected the court orders to call off the rally. One wonders therefore, how could these people crash in their ways when there was no rally to be held?
Mr. President must be advised that involvement of the Malawi Army is not the ideal way to shake Atcheya. People are watching and with this development many Malawians are now sympathetic of the UDF. If the president continues with this dictatorial authoritative rule, he need not to get surprised with the would be outcome of 2009. Apart from Atcheya “being the man of people”, the use of the army is not the best way of getting people to one’s side. No Malawian can entrust the government into the hands of a person who already signals dictatorial attributes. What Muluzi did; to have a mini rally is one of the strategic ways to coax two souls into your side; while, on the other hand, what Bingu directed is just one strategic tool of chasing two souls from your your political party for good.
In any democratic country, human rights and freedoms must be respected. Breach of human rights is an indication for the death of democracy. Politicizing constitutionally guaranteed security services in a democratic society is not on undemocratic but also criminal offence. Bingu is breaking the constitution which he swore to protect. It is also an enemy of development. This is not the ideal way to shake up Muluzi, as asserted above. With the delay in Local Government elections as guaranteed by the constitution and this development, if not impeached, then he has cases to answer when he leaves office.