Monday, October 14, 2013

Jessie Kabwila, the Good-Hearted!

It has become very common, and usual, for ruling party and government officials ignorant of the nature of freedom, to criticise and demonise people- read, honest citizens- who follow the dictates of their heart: Politically, socially, economically, and otherwise.

Most of these people- short-sighted in their thinking- are those who toe the line of the President- in this case, President Joyce Banda; the President who has failed Malawians big time, but is refusing to resign. A President who has become the over-night owner of a tea company in Southern Malawi, houses in Ngumbe in Blantyre, trucks registered in the name of ordinary citizens, school blocks constructed within eight months of her ascending to Malawi's highest office on April 7, 2013, and more questionable wealth. A President who has metamorphosed from hope to despair for Malawians.
Kabwila (centre) has let bygones be bygones

And, as would only be expected of them, these people have gone on over-drive, demonising an innocent and well-meaning citizen, even the renowned academic- the head of the English Department at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, during the infamous Academic Freedom stand-off that tainted the already tainted reputation of former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika's regime- Dr. Jessie Kabwila.

Kabwila, for starters, is so many things to so many people. She is an accomplished academician. A tell-it-as-it-is feminist. A human rights activist who has waged her own war against descrimination of any kind. And, now, a politician- the spokesperson of the Malawi Congress Party, the party that led Malawi to independence from former colonial master, Britain, in 1964.

More than anything else- more, even, than her Academic Freedom crusade- the cronies of the under-fire President Joyce Banda- otherwise known as the Plunderer-of-Malawi's-Meager Financial Resources due to her relentless travel (both locally and abroad; and her incessant liking of allowances and the trappings of power- have gone over-drive, criticising Kabwila for joining the Malawi Congress Party. Now they want her to resign as lecturer because, they say, in the myopic thinking, she has joined active politics.

But ask law expert and lecturer at Chancellor College, Dr. Edge Kanyongolo, and he will tell you that university lecturers are not civil servants; rather, they are public servants. So, President Joyce Banda- who has a hand in all these headless sayings- and her cronies, who try hard, even harder, to please the embattled President, have got it all wrong. 1-0 in favour of Kabwila!

It is also prudent that people understand that Kabwila is not the only University of Malawi lecturer to have shown interest and participate in active politics.

What they have forgotten is that there is a precedent of lecturers participating in active politics while fulfilling their obligations with the university of Malawi. For example, the late Harry Chiume remained a lecturer while serving as the president of the United Party. Another lecturer, Prof. Wiseman Chimjere Chirwa continued to fulfill his obligation as lecturer while serving as the Secretary General of the People's Progressive Movement in the morning of the party.

That is not all, however. Joseph Salule Masangwi continued to lecture while serving in the executive committee of the National Democratic Alliance of Brown Mpinganjira. Nobody complained.

Why didn't anyone complain? May be because of the Constitution. The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi has this to say on the issue of civil servants. Section 193 has the answer:

"193. 1. Members of the Civil Service shall ensure that the exercise of participation in political activities does not compromise their independent exercise of their functions, powers and duties as impartial servants of the general public.

2. The National Assembly may prescribe a category of civil servants, who by reason of their seniority shall not be able to directly participate in political activities:

Provided that -
a. the civil servants so restricted shall have the right to resign in order to participate directly in political activities;

b. nothing in this section shall be deemed to prejudice any civil servant having the absolute right to vote in accordance with this Constitution;

c. without prejudice to subsection (1) any civil servant whose functions are not directly concerned with the formulation and administration of the policies of the Government shall be exempt from restrictions under this section; and

d. nothing in this section shall prejudice the right of any civil servant to hold office in, or be a member of, any association, group or professional body..."

Jessie Kabwila, the Good-Hearted!

What has inspired this write-up, however, is the issue of Jessie Kabwila's good-heartedness. There is a side of Kabwila that some people may not know; her forgiving, let-bygones-be-bygones side. What is it?

When Malawi attained independence from Britain in 1964, all started well, and all we satisfied with the manner in which Malawi's first president, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, governed.

However, as his rule wore on, he became unimpressed with some of the things that were happening among citizens, among them the refusal by Jehovah's Witnesses to pay tax. The ruling elite were inflamed that, despite refusing to bulge on paying taxes, the Jehovah's Witnesses continued to benefit from services offered partly by taxes payers' money and partly by development partners.

So, the then ruling Malawi Congress Party leadership had a solution cut out for them: ban the Jehovah's Witness faith because some of its beliefs were tantamount to democracy. The ruling elite had the means of fast-tracking Malawi's development, and one of these means entailed paying tax. And one section of the population, Jehovah's Witnesses, could not pay tax for religious reasons.

And, so, Jehovah's Witnesses- for their unrelenting faith- were forced into exile.

Which brings us to the issue of Kabwila. She was a Jehovah's Witness- and still is- then, and happened to be one of the people- along with her parents- who were forced to abandon the only land they had ever known for the unknowns of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, among other countries that were willing to accept them.

Kabwila, during that time, grew up in a country outside Malawi. Simply because she had a religious belief, and could not abandon it to please the powers that be, and the, then, ruling Malawi Congress Party!

That (the experience) might have been painful. And the Jehovah's Witnesses had to wait a long time to set their eyes on Malawi again. And that moment came in 1994, when the United Democratic Front, under Bakili Muluzi, thumbed the once mighty Malawi Congress Party and occupied Sanjika Palace- the seat of Malawi's sitting president.

And, with that change of direction for the political winds, the Johovah's Witnesses were to freely come back home. The Kabwilas were welcome in their own country again.

Today, instead of holding grudges, Kabwila has become the spokesperson of the party that ostracised her faith and members of her family.

Such an unforgiving spirit, such a let-bygones-be-bygones attitude, is what Malawi misses.

And, as it were, it is the greatest gift Kabwila can give!

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