The latest instalment of our “book tour” with Beyond Impunity saw the book being launched at the University of Malawi in Zomba. This was something of a “home game” since we held the event in the very room where the project was first conceived.
A highlight of the occasion for me was the contribution of Edge Kanyongolo, the brilliant lawyer, public intellectual and human rights activist. When I first met Edge more than thirty years ago, he had not long been released from prison, having been arrested during his student days for expressing an overly-critical attitude towards the one-party regime that was in power in Malawi at that time.
Far from being deterred by his prison experience, Edge developed the radical political critique that has become his hallmark. When the movement emerged that would defeat the one-party system and introduce a more democratic era in Malawi, Edge was in the middle of it. However, while others used this platform to launch their own political careers, Edge kept his (critical) distance from the political arena, emerging as a champion of the constitution, the separation of powers and the pursuit of social justice.
He was one of very few who, with me, could remember the origins of the kind of inter-disciplinary engagement at the University of Malawi that has generated the Beyond Impunity book. We met in April 1992 to discuss the recently published Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter Living our Faith, widely credited with playing a decisive role in the fall of the Kamuzu Banda regime. Since the Government had declared the Pastoral Letter to be a seditious document, it was unclear whether or not our meeting was legal. But it went ahead and proved to be the beginning of a sustained attempt to offer academic analysis of the political direction of the country.
The subsequent history has been marked by a succession of false dawns when it looked like more hopeful times were coming to Malawi, only for the hopes to be dashed. Edge is always deeply realistic in his analysis but refuses to let the false dawns stop him from speaking and working for a better Malawi. Though now officially retired, it was his voice that brought our book launch to life.
Beyond Impunity can be downloaded free of charge at https://openuctpress.uct.ac.za/uctpress/catalog/book/12