The Chichewa language, the mother tongue of many Malawians, has many vivid expressions. One of them is madzi akufika ku mphuno– the water is coming up to your nose! The picture it evokes is one where your house is being flooded and it has reached the serious stage where the water is now up to your nose. Unfortunately, it is an expression being commonly used to describe the national situation.
A significant section of society has not accepted the result of the Presidential election held last May. It regularly mobilises to hold large-scale street demonstrations calling on the Chair of the Electoral Commission to resign. The organisers always urge that the demonstrations should be conducted peacefully but anger and frustration sometimes lead to outbreaks of violence.
In one such incident in Lilongwe recently a crowd stoned a police officer to death. In peaceful Malawi with its strong tradition of respect for authority, this sent out shockwaves. The previous week in Blantyre a peaceful protest march was attacked by armed youths who seriously assaulted one of its leaders, leaving him badly injured and fortunate to escape with his life. Again, this has left many shaking their heads and asking what is the country coming to?
Perhaps most worrying is that violent confrontation is being normalised and no one knows where it will lead. Politically the situation is polarised with the Government trying to carry on as if everything is normal and the Opposition insisting that the election of the President was fraudulent. Day after day the constitutional court sits to hear the arguments from either side. Meanwhile the economy suffers from the uncertainty, as do people’s everyday lives.
At such times people look to the churches. This can expose the extent to which they too have allowed themselves to be defined by the regional loyalties that drive division. Churches have to face up to the extent to which they are part of the problem.
They can also be part of the solution. At national level the Public Affairs Committee has been active for 27 years to bring a faith perspective to the life of the nation, seeking to be both prophet and mediator. At local level, every Sunday at church we are encouraged to pray for the country – at home, at our regular congregational worship and at specially convened prayer meetings. When the water is up to your nose, it is time to pray!
Malawi’s national anthem offers a prayer for such a time:
O God bless our land of Malawi
Keep it a land of peace,
Put down each and every enemy
Hunger, disease, envy.
Join together all our hearts as one
That we be free from fear
Bless our leaders each and every one
And mother Malawi.