For every Malawian, the year 2020 started with unprecedented suspense arising from waiting for the then-pending judgement by the Constitutional Court which was at that time deliberating on the controversial May 2019 Presidential Elections Case.
The judgement came, and the parties at the wrong end of it ill-advisedly appealed. By the time the Justices of the Supreme Court of Malawi were through reading their judgement, the appellants wished they had not dared to appeal.
After much positioning and futile politicking by the then-president and his horde, Fresh Presidential Elections were duly conducted, and here we are.
A lot has been said and written about this case; hence I will not re-invent the wheel. Suffice to say that commendations for the judges involved came from near and far.
The most notable is perhaps the Chatham House Prize, an annual honour awarded to the person, persons or organisation who “are deemed by the institute’s members to have made the most significant contribution to the improvement of international relations in the previous year”.
Of the Constitutional Court Judges, Chatham House said:
“At a time when standards of democratic governance are under threat not only in Africa but in many democracies, Malawi’s constitutional court judges set an example for their peers across the world by upholding the centrality of the rule of law and separation of powers.
The 2019 Malawi presidential election result was overturned after a panel of five High Court judges identified ‘widespread, systematic, and grave irregularities’ in the polls and called for fresh elections.
Despite high-level bribery attempts and threats, Justice Healey Potani, Justice Ivy Kamanga, Justice Redson Kapindu, Justice Dingiswayo Madise and Justice Michael Tembo – who arrived in court under armed escort and wearing bullet-proof vests – delivered their 500-page ruling which upheld the constitution and defended citizens’ democratic rights in the most challenging circumstances.
While some African countries have made important progress in the consolidation of democracy, this is now under threat as the pandemic creates space for authoritarian opportunists. The Malawi ruling is unprecedented in a country where past elections have been marred by irregularities, electoral fraud and violence. The judges successfully asserted their independence in the face of significant pressures and the power of incumbency.
Dr Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House, said: ‘This is a historic moment for democratic governance. The ruling by Malawi’s constitutional court judges is not only crucial for rebuilding the confidence of Malawi’s citizens in their institutions, but also for upholding standards of democracy more widely across the African continent.’
There could be no more special way to mark Chatham House’s Centenary than by recognising the commitment of these brave individuals to the cause of accountable governance and the justice that this affords to all.
Malawi’s constitutional court judges will be presented with the Chatham House Prize later this year, with a formal ceremony due to take place in 2021.”
Now, you may often think that what we do, as individuals, professionals, or in whatever capacity, goes unnoticed.
Let me assure you Blues’ Orators, not much escapes notice.
The Economist, an international weekly newspaper of repute which focuses on current affairs, international business, politics, and technology, put the icing on the cake by honouring Malawi as The Economist’s Country of the Year.
Unlike dubious awards that some amongst us have been receiving from equally nondescript “institutions” – with a lot of noise by the way – this honour stands out on several dimensions.
Firstly, in a year when democracy and respect for human rights regressed in most countries around the world, Malawi was the lone star shining bright.
This is very humbling because it shows that we have done well and can do even better and that the departed souls of those heroes who penned “Living Our Faith: Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Malawi” which catalysed democracy in Malawi are proud of us.
Let us take a moment to remember them: Archbishop James Chiona, Bishop Felix Mikhori, Bishop Mathias Chimole, Bishop Alessandro Assolari, Bishop Allan Chamgwera, Bishop Gervasio Chisendera, Monsignor J Roche and Fr Gamba; we salute you!
May their beautiful souls, including that of the late Archbishop Tarcisius Zizaye, continue resting in eternal peace!
The Economist, verbatim, says:
“To appreciate its progress, consider what came before. In 2012 a president died, his death was covered up and his corpse flown to South Africa for “medical treatment”, to buy time so that his brother could take over. That brother, Peter Mutharika, failed to grab power then but was elected two years later and ran for re-election. The vote-count was rigged with correction fluid on the tally sheets.
Foreign observers cynically approved it anyway. Malawians launched mass protests against the “Tipp-Ex election”. Malawian judges turned down suitcases of bribes and annulled it. A fair re-run in June booted out Mutharika and installed the people’s choice, Lazarus Chakwera. Malawi is still poor, but its people are citizens, not subjects. For reviving democracy in an authoritarian region, it is our country of the year.”
Blues’ Orators, we are citizens, not someone’s or anyone’s subjects. Our leaders should never, ever forget that.
You too should never ever sell cheap.
We are citizens.
Look at the context. This prize could have easily gone to New Zealand for its excellent management of the Covid19 pandemic.
Or to Taiwan – which not only contained Covid19 but kept the virus at bay without imposing lockdowns. Further, Taiwan’s economy is one of the few expected to have grown in 2020 while fending off Beijing on the side!
Or the United States where they booted out President Donald Trump and even Trump-appointed Judges were steadfast in resisting Trump’s efforts to overturn the will of the people.
However, the prize is deservedly ours.
You know what I want to ask of you: Let us guard our hard-won freedom jealously! I, for one, have never been prouder to be Malawian and I intend to defend my liberty with all I have got.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!