Government hides the truth

If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that's something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can't live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.
Noam Chomsky

Power is a drug on which the politicians are hooked. They buy it from the voters, using the voters' own money.
Peter Newman


The Mhlako Triumvirate

Wednesday, February 2, 2011



Both Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika on ascending to the Presidency swore on oath to uphold the Constitution - Muluzi on the Quran and Mutharika on the Bible. I wonder whether either of them ever read it. Certainly its contents do not seem to have caused them any cause to pause in doing whatever they think fit.

This careless attitude has affected their juniors. According to a report in the Sunday Times (Malawi) of January 30, 2011 under the heading "Government rebuffs gays", the Presidential Advisor on Civil Society, Bessie Chirambo, made a statement to the effect that Government will never accept same sex relationships because it goes against Malawi's traditions, religious beliefs and is unnatural. For 'traditions' I think we can read 'culture'. Whenever anyone wants to put a stop to critical thinking and reason the two old backstops of religion and culture are brought into play.

We will leave aside for the moment the question of homosexuality. Chirambo displays either ignorance of or disdain for the Constitution of Malawi. There is no one Malawi culture, there is no single set of traditions, there are numerous religions from Cha Makolo (the REAL African tradition!) through Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Ba'hais to Scientology (all 'non-traditional' African). While I have no doubt that she has clearly echoed the President's stand on this matter she is wrong to think that she can speak for all cultures and all religions. I wonder if that is part of her remit. Is she even authorised to make statements on Goivernment policy. Gvernment already has an official spokesperson. She should note that the Constitution and the Laws of Malawi are not based on any particular culture or set of religious beliefs amongst which there is no unanimity of belief. The Constitution is based firmly on universal concepts of human rights. But what does she care for human rights. She has to take her cue from her political master. Or perhaps she is just intolerant, misunderstood her function and lost her temper!

Culture is not static. It is dynamic. What she may consider to be her culture probably differs greatly from what her grandparents thought of as their culture. It is the nature of man that the fading, ageing generations decry the younger, growing generations for not adhering to traditional values. It is the nature of man - to change from generation to generation.

The Constitution of Malawi accepts that there are many cultures. Perhaps the 'gay' life-style is a culture - although I have not put that to any of my gay aquaintances and they may not thank me for suggesting it. Let us just accept that an intolerant and ignorant society forces them to develop an underground sub-culture.

Mama Chirambo, get yourself a copy of the Constitution. Study it and let it guide your thoughts and actions. We fought for a participatory democracy. We are all equal in value to you and the President. We are his and your employers.We did not employ you to preach to us!

Here is what Section 26 of the Constitution says:

"Every person shall have the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of his or her choice"

Section 33 says:

"Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, belief and thought, and to academic freedom"

It is quite clear, therefore, that no one in authority has the right to assume that their own idea of religion and their own idea of culture should predominate or that others should be constrained by them.

Religion and culture are INVALID ARGUMENTS!

Furthermore, under section 34 of the Constitution, any person has the right to freedom of opinions and to hold, receive or impart opinions. The opinions of those she castigates are just as valid as those she herself holds, or those held by the President. She should not be annoyed when civil society insists that they remain free to express them (Section 35). They have every right to expect that the President and Government respect those opinions even when they disagree.

When the President appoints someone to liaise with any particular section of society as he has done with faith groups and now, obviously, with civil society, one would think that such a person would be schooled in the finer points of public relations. Unfortunately, Ms. Chirambo appears to think that it is her job to castigate them. Certainly her reactions to civil society's pricipled stand on homosexuality and the recent criminalisation of same-sex relationship between women would indicate that she is not professionally qualified in this field. Her attitude will not build bridges between civil society and the President. There is already an almost unbridgeable gap that she will only widen.

Ms. Chirambo should not forget that it was the determination and actions of civil society to defend the Constitution that prevented Bakili Muluzi from becoming President for Life. Without us there was absolutely no chance that Mutharika would have been voted into office. How many votes did he receive when he stood as President on his own without Bakili's efforts to get him in  at all costs?

If the President is serious about dialogue with civil society then he needs to replace her.

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