By Aristide Bance
Malawi has claimed to be ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ for decades now. The marketing slogans of countries can be far from the truth, but Malawi’s case is a title that is well articulated and is well deserved. When you visit Malawi, one thing that will strike you most is the friendliness and somewhat timid nature of citizens of Malawi. In my view, these two aspects are what earns Malawi their ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ title because Malawians are naturally humble people.
Malawi held its election on the 21st of May 2019 and a total of ten candidates were contesting for the post with incumbent president Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vying for a second term in office. Other notable candidates were Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi Congress Party) and Atupele Muluzi (United Democratic Front). Former first female president of Malawi Joyce Banda of the People’s Party planned to run but later withdrew and endorsed Lazarus Chakwera as her preferred candidate. Ras Chikomeni Chirwa another candidate was disqualified due to lack of funds and falling to collect enough signatures.
The Electoral system of Malawi
To set the context of this article, it is imperative to understand the electoral system of Malawi. The president of Malawi is elected using the first-past-the-post system or winner takes all system where the candidate that receives the most votes is the winner of the election. The one hundred and ninety-three Members of Parliament (MPs) are also elected by the first-past-the-post voting in single member constituencies.
Countries of the world using the first past-the post
The following countries of the world that practice the first-past-the-post are the following: Antiqua and Barbuda, Azerbajan, Bahamas, Barbados, Bangladesh, Belize, Bermuda (United Kingdom), Bhutan, Botswana, Brazil (Federal Senate), Canada, Cayman Islands(United Kingdom), Cote D’Ivore, Cook Islands (New Zealand), Dominica, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, India, Indonesia (Regional Representative Council, Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Liberia Marshall Islands, Malaysia, Mauritius, Micronesia, Myanner (Burna), Nigeria, Niue, Oman Pakistan, Palau, Philippines, Poland (Senate), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Singapore, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Taiwan, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Virgin Islands (United Kingdom and United States of America), Yemen and Zambia (yes, our Zambia).
In my opinion, the first-past-the-post system works better in countries that have a two party system that dominates the political landscape because you hardly hear of election contestations. For example, the United States of America (Republicans and Democrats), Jamaica (Peoples National Party and Jamaica Labour Party), Trinidad and Tobago ( Peoples National Movement and Peoples Partnership) the United Kingdom (Conservative Party and Labour Party), Belize (United Democratic Party and Peoples United Party), and although Canada has a multi-party system similar to many African countries, the first-past-the-post works well there.
Malawi disputed election results and Jane Ansah must fall campaign
The May 2019 election results in Malawi were highly contentious and opposition leaders led by Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima disputed the results in court. This was followed by nationwide protests in May, June and July with fresh planned protests for August aimed at staging protests at the countries Airports and country borders (So much for the timid nature of Malawians!!!!!). The Government of the Republic of Malawi has, through the courts, ordered a ban on protest action at the country’s airports and border crossings on Friday, August 23rd, 2019.
This makes for interesting reading because for the past three months, Malawi as a stable ‘Warm of Africa’ environment has not been at peace. What the Government of the Republic of Malawi has miscalculated is the people’s intent to remove them and the government relying on the usual Malawian timid nature. They have it wrong and of late, we have seen even the most oppressive leaders over-thrown. A case in point, Omar al-Bashir( Seventh president of Sudan- 1989- 2019) who in December of 2018 faced large scale protests which wanted him out of the presidency and in April 2019, he was removed by the army. So, if you look at the will of the Sudanese people, they started protests in December of 2018 and despite the government harassments and all, in April 2019, they succeeded (Other African Leaders, watch out!!!).
Coming to the case in hand, the chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission Jane Ansah and the incumbent president Peter Mutharika were accused of having rigged the 2019 elections. The Malawian Youth organised a ‘Jane Ansah Must Fall’ campaign. This sends strong signals to other leaders of Africa. Remember, the number of youths in the developing world far out numbers the old rugged leaders we have in Africa. If I am an old president or even a president who has overstayed their welcome, I would be thinking carefully for my next election movements. The women of Malawi on the other hand, held the ‘I am Jane Ansah’ campaign alleging, Ms. Ansah was a victim of gender discrimination.
Lessons from the warm heart of Malawi
The fight in Malawi is dragging on and the youth are demonstrating their power and with enough pressure, they will get to their intended goal. It is becoming an unbearable environment for the people of Malawi and the year is almost over and the government of the day is sweating over protests and using courts to ban them. It is a bad thing because the country is put on hold in terms of developmental matters. Critics may not support the protests based on the fact that nothing is happening in terms of moving forward but if the will of the people is not with the government, then its time to listen. The so-called timid nature of Malawians is what the government relies on and I am pretty sure they are surprised that the people are uprising. I am an avid movie watcher and I enjoy Sci-Fi movies and old Sci-Fi movies used to predict uprisings, mass demonstrations and fighting of limited resources amongst people. I think people should pay attention to movies and learn a lot. As we approach, 2021 and it is election year in Zambia, an awareness of the so-called friendly people of Zambia and their patience with their leaders is a good indication to the leaders on how to handle the situation. The Government of the Republic of Zambia should not rely on the idea that Zambians will never get up in arms. The government will get a rude awakening (Remember: former President Rupiah Bwezani Banda crying on national television after losing in 2011). My fear is that, in Zambia we have an idea that Zambians are peaceful people and fear war and fighting, but remember, we are living in a world where resources are becoming limited and the population is growing. That idea of peace loving Zambians can disappear when people are left fighting for scraps, and we will be left surprised with events that may ensue in 2021. My humble plea is for our leaders is not to be selfish. Look what’s happening to Omar al-Bashir, he is behind bars. Just across the border, in Zimbabwe, though not an appropriate example, we witnessed Uncle Bob (Robert Gabriel Mugabe) taken out and though Mnangagwa is also facing the headache of protest action day in and day out in Zimbabwe of late due to worsening economic conditions in that country. In Zambia, as we approach 2021, the pre lesson we can learn from Malawi is that, the Electoral Commission of Zambia must exercise impartiality otherwise, ‘Electoral Commission of Zambia Must Fall’ will be loaded.
African deposed presidents
Africa is a continent with great potential, but the leadership is a curse. My fear is it will only get worse as the young people have picked up selfish motives and learnt from their selfish leaders. However, I still have hope if we have countries where the youth stand up and show that they will live with the repercussions of decisions and selfishness of old presidents who would have been long dead.
Here are a couple of African presidents that have been deposed of and it should serve as a lesson for modern day presidents that after you are gotten rid of, it’s not all rosy. In Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh came to power in 1994 through a bloodless coup and ruled for more than 22 years amid human rights abuses to silence opponents. In 2017, Gambians elected an opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow who was at the time in neighbouring Senegal. Barrow had to wait for weeks during a stand-off between himself and Jammeh until Jammeh flew into exile to Equatorial Guinea with his family and has not been heard of since.
Chad’s Hissene Habre’s rule from 1982 to 1990 was marked with Human rights abuses that eventually saw him forced from power by current president Idriss Delby. For more than 20 years, Habre lived in luxury while in exile in Senegal until paramilitary police took him into custody and has been sentenced to life in prison making him the first conviction of a former head of state by an African Court for crimes against humanity. The other African head of state worth mentioning is Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam who ruled from 1974 to 1991 and is blamed for the killing of hundreds of students. He has since fled to Zimbabwe and was hosted by former president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe. Mengistu was convicted in absentia by an Ethiopian court in 2006 of genocide and later sentenced to death, but Zimbabwe has refused to extradite him. One last mention and a good example of a president trying to hold on to power is that of Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore who came into power through a bloody coup in 1987 that killed that country’s revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara. After ruling for more than 27 years, Compaore, tried to change the constitution to seek another term in office (Does this sound familiar in a Zambian context: Remember F.T.J Chiluba’s third term bid?). Faced with a popular uprising, he was forced to step down in 2004.
Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Malawi had served one term prior the 2019 elections and despite him being declared winner which enables him to go for a second term, the people are protesting. Mutharika may be delaying the inevitable, that is, his removal from office. The people of Malawi are saying, ‘Mr. Mutharika, you served one term, please go!’ The same message may be echoed in 2021 in Zambia and if the will of the people is not with the government, no matter what you do as a government, it will never be good enough because the citizenry do not want you. Let us be careful as we approach 2021 for ‘The One Zambia, One Nation’ we so love will disappear and that will surely break Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda’s Heart.