Malawi's Democracy is Under Siege. The Challenge to Rescue it Falls on Our Collective Shoulders.

It is no exaggeration that Malawi’s nascent democracy is facing an existential threat. The democracy project is at a crossroads. Where we go from here shall be largely determined not only by our institutions, which are purpose-designed to provide the pillars on which our democracy rests, but also on active citizen action as a bulwark against blowing autocratic winds.

Constitutionally, state power is derived from the people of Malawi through open and transparent democratic choice. Its use and purpose are solely for the benefit of the people of this country. Credible and fair elections, therefore, form the bedrock of our democracy as a chosen system of government. As such, any attempt to circumvent the will of Malawians through rigging of elections amounts to an assault on our constitution. To the extent that it is an unlawful means to gain state power, it is tantamount to treason.

Sadly, this is exactly what Professor Peter Mutharika and his Democratic People’s Party did in the recent May 21 elections. Aided and abetted by a compliant Elections Commission, Mutharika oversaw a nationwide conspiracy to rig our elections, using the crudest of methods – that is, by simply physically erasing tabulated results by using correction fluid (the most popular brand is called Tipp-Ex). The use of this basic and pedestrian rigging method was arrived at following multiple attempts and failures to use other methods, including intimidation and coercion, violence, and system hacking, among others.

Such is the level of desperation of Mutharika and his cronies to keep state power that they have failed to acknowledge widespread anger of Malawians as expressed through never-seen-before public demonstrations and protests. Instead of listening to the popular uprising of the masses and taking steps towards correcting their wrongs, Mutharika and his corrupt cronies have instead chosen to dig in and unleash the brutal force of the country’s police to suppress the voices of discontent among this populace.

It is clear that Mutharika is failing to read the mood of this nation. He is too intoxicated with power to see the writing on the wall. The truth is, Malawians are tired of a leadership that promotes tribalism at the expense of nation-building. Malawians are tired of corruption that is robbing them of much-needed public services. Malawians are tired of living in a country where all development indices point to stagnation while everyone else around them – including Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique – is making progress. Malawians are tired of seeing their opportunities determined by their tribe and not their talent, abilities, skills and character. Malawians are tired of the lowering of education standards, of dwindling industrial and agricultural output, of a worsening public health system, and an arrogant and unresponsive executive.

We, Malawians, must not allow any threats, violence or intimidation to deter us from demanding that which is truly ours. No number of petrol-bombs shall extinguish this fire of popular uprising. No amount of harangue or mudslinging shall shame us from voicing our discontent. We must not rest nor relax and believe that change is inevitable. Our experience indeed teaches us otherwise. We must fearlessly fight for change, for genuine democracy. We must demand that we be governed by the people we have freely chosen. We fought the colonialist. We fought the one-party state. We shall see this fight to the end as well.

The time is nigh. Soon it is going to be daybreak.

Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima is a trained economist, a published author and the former Vice President of the Republic of Malawi, serving from 2014-2019. During the country’s May 2019 election, Dr. Chilima ran for president as the elected torchbearer of the United Transformation Movement, better known as the UTM.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of Vanguard Africa or the Vanguard Africa Foundation.