Malawi: Bloggers discuss freedom of speech and 2014 election

A Presbyterian senior clergy Rev Levi Njombole Nyondo was arrested last Friday during a funeral service of former Health Minister Professor Moses Chirambo. Police allege that Nyondo uttered seditious words during the service. The government has been blasted by Malawi's faith community and civil society for its heavy hand on the men of God claiming that this behaviour is characteristic of a one-party state that Malawi went through for 30 years before 1994. Nyondo and his Livingstonia Synod are a fierce critic of Muthaika administration. Blogger and law student Cryton Chikoko groans over government’s arrest of Nyondo. Rev. Levi Nyondo, General Secretary of Livingstonia Synod of the CCAP

In his post titled Prosecting Free Speech in Malawi, Cryton goes to some length to justify why Nyondo should have been left free:

The president’s decisions, among others, include: the establishment of the Mulhako wa Alhomwe to champion the course of the president’s Lomwe ethnic group; the change of the national flag; the inclusion of his wife in cabinet; the reduction of the salary of the leader of opposition and recently the endorsement of his brother to be the presidential candidate for the ruling party when the president’s final term in office comes to an end.

In my view all these are legitimate issues worth full debate. Malawians are justifiable in express their views. These are valid issues for the clerics to express their opinions.

It is not seditious if the object of the speech was to show that the government has been misled or mistaken in her measures, or to point out errors or defects in the government with a view to their reformation, or to excite the people to attempt by lawful means the alteration of any matter in government by law established, or to point out, with a view to their removal, matters which are producing, or have a tendency to produce, feelings of hatred and ill-will between classes of the people in the country.

Cryton raises a number of interesting issues worth pursing in the rest of the post. A political science student and blogger Boniface Dulani agrees with some of the issues raised by Cryton. Boniface suspects that president Mutharika’s actions have something to do with old age. He proposes an age limit on the president in Malawi. A number of “sad” developments during Mutharika's second term of presidency could have been prevented if there was age limit:

Perhaps we should have seen the warning signs earlier when he embraced the establishment of the Mulhako wa Alhomwe to champion the course of his Lhomwe ethnic group instead of becoming a champion of the all-inclusive ethnicity of ‘Malawi’.
A few months back he not only ordered the re-introduction of the quota system for university selection….
In recent times, he has spearheaded the change of the national flag under the false illusion that Malawi has transited from the dawn of development to a full blown developed nation deserving of a full sun (although the white star on the ‘new’ flag looks like the moon than sun!) Those of us who have been critical of the flag change have meanwhile been ridiculed as drunkards (talk of irony!).

“Malawi turning into a Mutharika Dynasty”

It started as a rumour that President Bingu wa Mutharika was grooming his brother Professor Peter Mutharika to take over as president in 2014. Last year he publicly defended his brother’s ambition to lead Malawi come the ext elections. Many expected that the country's first woman vice president Joyce Banda would possibly be the torch-bearer for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Now the story is official. The DPP has nominated Professor Peter Mutharika as its candidate in 2014-four years ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections. The development has received widespread criticism as being undemocratic since other players have not been given the chance to be nominated.

Blogger and news analyst Kondwani Munthali writes about the long journey to 2014:

If Joyce Banda has presidential ambition, which is a very normal thing, give her space and time to organise herself. In politics the one with the best strategy wins and that will happen in DPP once the euphoria launched a three weeks ago stabilises.

For Professor Peter Mutharika I don’t equally see anything wrong for him to be endorsed by anybody…. The challenge will be for him to stand the heat and scrutiny as he will be compared as a presidential candidate throughout the next four years, something he might not be comfortable with as his statement, dress, language and everything will be interpreted as campaign or playing big.

A university student and blogger Ananiya Ponje sheds more light on how Mutharika created room for his brother to come into the 2014 journey. In a post titled Peter might be the next DPP candidate, he says:

“The bashing might have been aimed at creating room for his brother to be ‘popularized’ without any hurdle. He might have thought that if a number of top DPP members continued positioning themselves for 2014, then his brother might have very little room for being made popular among the majority of voters. Of course, we need to be mindful of the fact that the ruling party would eventually hold a convention where the party’s 2014 torchbearer would be elected,” a political scientist who chose not to be named replied in a questionnaire.

Generally, Malawians have mixed reactions to the nomination of Peter Mutharika. Some say it is too early. Some say the process is undemocratic equating the nomination to the creation of “Mutharika political dynasty.” Others have said Peter is a hard item to sell therefore the earlier the better. While others say believe that Peter Mutharika is the right candidate to take Malawi further into the new era of progress and development that justified his brother's efforts to change the national flag.

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