6 July marks the 55thanniversary of Malawi’s attainment of independence. It is a day to celebrate the country’s many achievements, not least the human quality that has won it a special place in the hearts of many. Despite adverse economic circumstances, Malawi has been distinguished by the generosity, kindness, dignity, humour and resilience of her people.
Yet it is clear that Malawi right now is not a nation at peace with itself. Independence Day was preceded by two days of massive demonstrations in all the main cities, with people protesting against what they believe was fraudulent conduct of the recent Presidential election. The Constitutional Court has the heavy responsibility of determining whether or not there was sufficient malpractice to warrant a re-run of the election.
Meanwhile a strong popular movement is determined to exercise its democratic right to peaceful protest. The peaceful nature of the demonstrations is constantly emphasised by the organisers but feeling is running high and there have been incidents of damage to property. Last Thursday the Malawi Army had to intervene to keep the peace when young men loyal to the governing party clashed with demonstrators. Malawi rightly prides itself on being a peaceful and orderly society so such incidents are troubling for many.
While the presenting issue is the conduct of the election, such is the anger that it suggests a deeper disenchantment. Many feel that the political system is not working for them. A small elite has prospered while the great majority feel that they are losing out. In this regard Malawi mirrors a global reality. Pankaj Mishra, in his book Age of Anger, has observed: “An existential resentment of other people’s being, caused by an intense mix of envy and sense of humiliation and powerlessness, ressentiment, as it lingers and deepens, poisons civil society and undermines political liberty, and is presently making for a global turn to authoritarianism and toxic forms of chauvinism.”
Viewed in this perspective, Malawi’s political crisis signals disturbing questions for all of us. How can we create an economy and community in which there is a meaningful place for all and a just distribution of resources? This is not a new question but it comes with fresh urgency in our time.
Here in Malawi one sign of hope is that there are inspiring people doing their best to meet the challenge. Among them is Rev Master Jumbe, once my student and now Executive Director of the Church and Society Department of the CCAP Synod of Blantyre. Perhaps it is only a renewed vision of the kingdom of God that can enable us to meet the crisis of our times, locally and globally.