Monday, April 11, 2011

Statement issued in Dakar, on 8 April 2011: Violations and abuses of Academic Freedom in Malawi

.CODESRIA Postpones Holding of International Colloquium in Honour of Professor
Thandika Mkandawire

One of the African countries where the democratic revolutions in
Tunisia and Egypt have both galvanized the social movements for the
deepening of democracy and provoked authoritarian, knee-jack reactions
from the state and university authorities is Malawi. The Council for
the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and
indeed the entire African intellectual community, have closely been
following events in Malawi, where threats, intimidation and dismissal
of academic staff members of the University of Malawi, are becoming
too frequent. One recent victim of these intolerable treatments is Dr.
Blessing Chinsinga, Associate Professor in the Department of Political
and Administrative Studies at Chancellor College, University of Malawi
(UNIMA). Dr. Chinsinga was summoned to the Zomba Police Station for
interrogation over the contents of one of his class lectures in which
he gave examples of reasons for popular protest taken from Egypt and
Tunisia. He was subsequently dismissed. So were Chancellor College
Academic Staff Union president, Dr. Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, her
Secretary General Franz Amin and Legal Advisor, Dr. Garton
Kamchedzera, on Wednesday 30th March 2011. Fortunately, the decision
to sack these colleagues was set aside by the Malawian courts. The
threats and dismissals of academic staff of UNIMA constitute gross
violations of academic freedom, and a violation of several sections of
the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, which inter alia provides
for academic freedom.

CODESRIA is a pan-African organisation that promotes academic freedom
as an integral part of the struggle for democracy and social justice.
CODESRIA has therefore been monitoring all contradictory developments
in Africa since the beginning of this year very closely. Indeed, the
year 2011 will go down in history as a year when Africa would have
displayed both ‘the most beautiful and the ugliest of its faces’.

The “Jasmin Revolution” in Tunisia and the fall of dictatorship in
Tunisia and Egypt, as a result of the relentless popular struggles for
democracy, jobs and better living conditions, have made the promise of
democracy much more real in Africa. On the other hand, the crisis in
Cote d’Ivoire, the massacres perpetrated by the Libyan Guide Momar
Qhadafi and the bombings by NATO are reminiscent of some of the
darkest pages of Africa’s history. During the World Social Forum held
in Dakar in February this year, CODESRIA, the Third World Forum, and
ENDA Third World jointly organized eleven (11) roundtable discussions
on some of the greatest challenges facing Africa and, more generally,
the Global South, with panelists drawn from all across the South and
from Europe. The democratic revolutions unfolding in Tunisia and
Egypt, and the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire were among the issues discussed
at length. CODESRIA fights for the rights of African academics and
researchers, and for all Africans to have better living and working
conditions without any externally imposed restrictions. This means not
only decent conditions of work and an environment conducive for
research on campus, but also the freedom of research and the freedom
of academics to express their thoughts and conduct teaching and
research activities on topics of their choice. Therefore, CODESRIA
cannot remain indifferent to threats and other acts of intimidation
perpetrated against members of the academic and the larger
intellectual communities in Africa. Such silence would be contrary to
the principles of academic freedom and solidarity that CODESRIA has
been fighting for since its inception in 1973. Dr Chinsinga’s class
was infiltrated by informants hired by the Malawian state police, a
practice reminiscent of the worst days of the Kamuzu Banda
dictatorship. No modern university can properly function, let alone
develop, under close police surveillance.

In recognition of his contributions to the development of CODESRIA and
to the advancement of knowledge production in Africa and around the
world, CODESRIA has planned to hold an international colloquium in
honour of one of the greatest African scholars, the Malawi-born
Professor Thandika Mkandawire. This event, organised by CODESRIA in
collaboration with the University of Malawi and the South Africa-based
Intellectual Heritage Project, was earlier scheduled to take place in
his home country, Malawi, on 2-4 May 2011. Thankdika Mkandawire is
currently a professor at the London School of Economics, after having
spent many years as the Director of UNRISD, Geneva (1998-2009) and
Executive Secretary of CODESRIA (1985-1996). This great icon and proud
son of Africa marked his 70th Birthday Anniversary last October. For
such a remarkable friend, inspiring leader and vigorous interlocutor
for so many people, one who ‘shared in our tribulations and triumphs’
(to use the late Archie Mafeje’s phrase), the occasion is not merely
an anniversary of the birthday of an individual ; it is an opportunity
us to celebrate a community that is as global as it is African. His
70th birthday is a milestone that we would like to turn into a
collective celebration of a life : that of someone who has been a
veritable gift to us, both as individuals and as a community.

There is no better place to hold such a colloquium in celebration of
the life and works of Professor Mkandawire than Malawi. There is also
no better institutional partner with which CODESRIA can organise this
colloquium than the University of Malawi. However, the recent gross
violations of academic freedom at the University of Malawi has made it
necessary for us to postpone this historic occasion, until such a time
when our Malawian colleagues feel less threatened in the exercise of
their rights as scholars and the enjoyment of the freedom of research
and expression, without fear of being persecuted because of their

Furthermore, CODESRIA and the entire community of African social
researchers would like to appeal to the Government of Malawi to take
urgent steps to reinstate the academic staff of UNIMA who have been
dismissed, ensure that academic freedom is respected and guaranteed,
in compliance with the Constitution of Malawi, and respond positively
to the demand of the Chancellor College Academic Staff to assure them
in writing that no such actions shall be repeated by any official
authority, or agent connected with the Police. We hope the Council of
the University of Malawi would also refrain from practices that make
the academic staff of the university feel insecure.

Lastly, CODESRIA wishes to assure our Malawian colleagues of our
solidarity with them in their struggle to make UNIMA a thriving centre
of excellence in teaching, research, knowledge production and
dissemination that can contribute immensely to the development of
Malawi and the African continent.

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