In Malawi the Catholic Bishops have a knack of speaking to the public mood at critical moments. Their well-tried method is to issue a Pastoral Letter, technically addressed to their own flock but invariably gaining a much wider audience. With a re-run Presidential election in the offing they have again caught public attention with a Pastoral Letter entitled “Call for a New Era in Malawi.”
Of course, there is a political contest underway but the Bishops have looked beneath the partisan politics to put their fingers on a series of issues that give powerful resonance to their call for a new era.
They point out that politics is working too much on the basis of tribalism, with nepotism and inter-tribal rivalry the prevailing forces. They also call out the use of political violence, which recently resulted in the murder of three people when a party HQ was firebombed. Despite frequent condemnations, corruption remains a deep-lying problem and the Bishops point out that it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer as a result.
They lament the under-investment in public services like health and education that leave the average Malawian poorly served. Likewise, it is the poor who suffer most from the degradation of the environment, with increasing desertification of a once fertile land and resultant loss of food security.
They also address the conduct of the election where the weak performance of a number of public authorities has eroded the trust and confidence of the electorate. Nonetheless they urge full participation in the electoral process. Without promoting any particular candidate, they highlight the qualities needed in the leadership of the country:
honesty, democratic, transformational leadership, visionary, selflessness, servant leadership (Mark 10:44), good stewardship, exemplary, decisiveness, respect for the Constitution and the rule of law, willingness to step down (Luke 17:10), being above tribal/regional/political interests, accountable and God-fearing.Episcopal Conference of Malawi, 23 May 2020
Amidst a political maelstrom, the clear notes struck by the Bishops help us to find our bearings and to imagine a new era.