Malawi: ‘Bishops letter proves nothing is working’

Political analysts and observers have said concerns which Catholic bishops have raised in their pastoral letter are an indication that the situation has not improved on the ground.

Sunday, the bishops issued a 16-page pastoral letter as they celebrated 30 years since they issued the first pastoral letter in 1992, when it had a significant impact on the politics of Malawi.

In the letter, read in all Catholic churches in Malawi, the bishops noted that the country continued to grapple with challenges similar to those Malawians were facing in 1992.

According to the letter, the Catholic bishops of 1992 bemoaned the growing gap between the rich and the poor; the reality of many workers’ failure to buy necessities because their meagre wages rendered them unable to afford minimal material needs; bribery, nepotism, tribalism, apartheid, regionalism and divisions.

“It is sad that, a generation later, we are grappling with the same vices. In actual fact, it is regrettable that these vices, which the Catholic bishops condemned three decades ago, have become even more deeply engrained and are tearing our society and our nation apart while keeping the vast majority in grinding poverty.

“If we are not careful we, as a nation, are heading towards social disaster; hence, there is an urgent need for every Malawian, starting with our political leaders, to stand up strongly and courageously against these vices and to choose to amend and correct the situation by implementing the values of equality, justice and unity,” the letter reads.

“This is the only way that we, Malawians, can experience true development that benefits all citizens. Sadly, at present, it appears that the distribution of national resources, development projects and influential political positions are not based on merit and competence but nepotism, regionalism, tribalism and cronyism. This will not take this country anywhere near where it can be,” it adds.

In the letter, the bishops also bemoan endless political bickering, especially among members of political groups that are in the Tonse Alliance.

According to the bishops, the bickering projects to the public a lack of cohesion within the alliance and a sense of no direction.

“These feed into the popular discourse and fuel an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability which has disastrous economic effects. In this regard, there is an urgent need for the alliance partners to draw up joint programmes of action for the remainder of the government term. The lack of such programmes is fuelling public dissatisfaction. “Such programmes can facilitate accountability and actions that are based on electoral manifestos and pledges of the individual parties.

“This can help fulfil the need for an inclusive socio-economic development strategy for this country,” the letter reads.

According to the bishops, in view of the 50 percent +1 electoral formula for the election of president adopted in 2020, it is unlikely to have a government that will comprise one political party only.

“Electoral alliances are likely to become the order of the day and so too are coalition governments. We note, however, that the country lacks a legal framework for coalition governments.

We, therefore, call upon Parliament to put in place a legal framework for coalition governments.

“From time immemorial, it is a well-known fact that how political power is configured and exercised can either bring about good developmental outcomes, effective service delivery and people-centred systems or it can bring about state predation, big man politics that prevent servant and people-centred leadership, corruption and kleptocracy,” the bishops say.

Political analyst Mustafa Hussein told The Daily Times that, going by the contents of the fresh pastoral letter, it is clear that the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same.

He said Malawians hoped that things would start moving in the right direction with the coming in of the Tonse Alliance-led administration but that their expectations have not come to fruition.

“Going through the letter, one sees that the problems that were there in 1992 are almost the same problems we are facing today. Problems of nepotism, tribalism, poor health and education standards and corruption,” Hussein said.

Political scientist Joseph Chunga said the pastoral letter contained nothing new but has merely reflected what other quarters have pointed out about the direction the country is taking.

“It’s a no-brainer that we have retrogressed not just in the past two years but the whole three decades. We have made progress in some areas and later retrogressed. It is like taking one step forward and two steps backwards.

“Basically what that letter shows is that corruption remains our biggest enemy, something several people have said, but, maybe because it [the message] is coming from one of the most powerful bodies the leaders will take heed,” he said.

University of Livingstonia political analyst George Phiri described the Catholic bishops’ move as a good development.

“Indeed, Malawians continue to suffer from socio-economic challenges and political torture from political leaders in the country. Political leaders tolerate corruption and resource abuse by not prosecuting those involved in corruption, bribery, fraud and theft of public finances.

“The Tonse Alliance government has completely failed to address critical issues affecting the livelihood of people in Malawi. Therefore, what the Catholic bishops have observed is true and a reality of life in the country; Tonse Alliance government is indecisive and weak to address the issues,” Phiri said.

Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Chairperson Gift Trapence said some of the issues the bishops have raised were also raised by HRDC.

“HRDC agrees with the Pastoral Letter and it’s a wake-up call for the Tonse Alliance government, especially MCP [Malawi Congress Party] and its partners. President [Lazarus] Chakwera should wake up from slumber and should not take Malawians for granted.

“Malawians are angry and have lost trust in this government. Two years down the line, there is nothing they can show for what has been achieved to fulfil campaign promises and the aspirations of Malawians. Let President Chakwera listen and act on the voice of reason; otherwise, time is not on their side,” he said.

Government spokesperson Gospel Kazako said Capital Hill had received yesterday’s pastoral letter with grace.

“We view the Catholic Church as a crucial partner in the development of this nation. We respect their voice and contribution.

“We will look at the letter, and engage with you, to update them on some issues that have already been accomplished and those that are in the pipeline,” Kazako said.

Those that have signed the letter are Most Reverend George Tambala President, Archbishop of Lilongwe and Apostolic Administrator of Zomba; Right Reverend Montfort Stima, Vice President and Bishop of Mangochi; Most Reverend Thomas Msusa Archbishop of Blantyre; Right Reverend Martin Mtumbuka, Bishop of Karonga; Right Reverend Peter Musikuwa, Bishop of Chikwawa; Right Reverend John Ryan, Bishop of Mzuzu, and; Right Reverend Peter Chifukwa, Bishop of Dedza.

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