Is Malawi an ‘African exception’?


The previous 10 months have been momentous for Malawi. After a sequence of protests towards what many have perceived as a flawed presidential election, on February Three the constitutional court docket annulled the outcomes of the May 2019 vote as a result of “serious irregularities” and ordered one other election to be held inside 150 days.

Peter Mutharika, the incumbent president, rejected the ruling, calling it a “serious miscarriage of justice”. There will likely be a listening to of an attraction case by the Supreme Court from April 15, however the recent elections will go forward, whatever the consequence of the attraction case. Currently, no date has been set as Mutharika refuses to signal into regulation a brand new electoral invoice which was ready primarily based on the court docket’s ruling.

Meanwhile, the parliament has dominated the members Malawi Electoral Commission, who oversaw the May 2019 vote, incompetent and really useful their dismissal.

The defiance of Malawi’s establishments and their insistence on defending democratic process within the nation have stunned many observers.

Amid rising dictatorial tendencies amongst nations in southern Africa and a unbroken pattern amongst African presidents to disregard constitutions and search to abolish obstacles to re-election, Malawi appears to face out.

So has Malawi turn out to be an “African exception” as some observers have claimed? And what’s behind its present political disaster?

Loads has been written about Malawi within the aftermath of the historic court docket ruling, together with inevitable comparisons with different African nations. Indeed, Malawi’s case could seem distinctive, because the judiciary and the navy have resisted government strain and dealt with the problems of public curiosity pretty. But for the Malawian context, it isn’t unprecedented.

Since Kamuzu Banda, the dictator who dominated Malawi for 30 years, accepted defeat within the 1994 basic elections, the nation has witnessed 4 transitions of energy, together with in 2012 when President Bingu wa Mutharika, Peter’s brother, died in workplace and his vice chairman, Joyce Banda, took over.

Malawi has additionally managed to beat makes an attempt by presidents to cling on to energy towards the rule of regulation. In 2002, President Bakili Muluzi tried to amend the structure so he may run for a 3rd time period, however the parliament rejected his proposal.

Banda’s takeover of the presidency was additionally not easy. A bunch of ruling social gathering members, together with Peter Mutharika, tried to dam her from being sworn with the assistance of various legal professionals and prosecutors, however the plot didn’t work.

In 2014, Banda herself tried to cancel an election after she misplaced to Mutharika, however her actions have been deemed unconstitutional. After the High Court ordered the electoral fee to launch the outcomes, Banda conceded defeat.

Indeed, over the previous quarter of a century, Malawian establishments have withstood fairly a couple of assaults by the manager energy. Members of the judiciary and the navy have carried out their duties with professionalism and dedication to the constitutional order within the nation, regardless of the specter of being dismissed by the presidency.

They have additionally protected one another. In the times operating as much as the court docket ruling on February 3, it was closely armed navy personnel that offered safety for the 5 judges.

For these causes, it’s no shock that the judiciary and the military have stood their floor over the previous few months.

Likewise, the navy has been defending protesters throughout their demonstrations from the excesses of the police drive, defying the frequent stereotype of African navy crushing protesters and propping up unpopular leaders.

On March 18, Mutharika sacked and changed the navy commander, Vincent Nundwe, which can recommend that the president was not happy along with his choice to guard demonstrators.

But all through the previous two and a half a long time, there have been additionally moments when it appeared to some observers that Malawi’s democracy was on the verge collapse. In 2001, simply 5 years after the primary free elections within the nation, the net outlet Malawi Digest declared the “demise of democracy” within the nation, describing varied transgressions by the Malawian parliament, together with cancelling constitutional clauses with out due processes and rejecting court docket rulings.

Ten years later, Amnesty International revealed a report titled Malawi’s Democracy Continues to Unravel. The doc listed varied violations by the Bingu wa Mutharika presidency, together with the killing of protesters, restrictions of human rights and assaults on rights teams and activists. The report additionally talked about the British ambassador being expelled for calling the president “autocratic”.

Today, the media is celebrating the nation as an “African exception” and the court docket ruling as an “historic moment”. But the reality is, there’s nothing extraordinary about what has been taking place in Malawi given its latest previous. And it isn’t the one African nation the place courts have defied the manager.

Furthermore, what Malawi’s expertise demonstrates is that democratic growth is much from a straight path. Therefore, making an attempt to border it inside a sample or exceptionalise it’s futile. In different phrases, there is no such thing as a such factor as “African model” or “African exception”. Each nation in Africa, in addition to the remainder of the world, is strolling its personal path, influenced by native histories, socioeconomic realities and geopolitical dynamics. Africa is just not a rustic, in any case.

At this level, it’s nonetheless not clear whether or not there’s a purpose for celebration in Malawi. The president continues to defy the court docket order, and the upcoming COVID-19 outbreak will possible derail the method to arrange a brand new election.

Protests can not proceed because the presidency has declared a state of nationwide catastrophe and banned all gatherings of greater than 100 individuals, although the nation is but to report any instances. Mutharika, who’s 79 years previous, was final seen in public on March eight and now appears to have withdrawn from public appearances, presumably out of concern of his personal well being.

Before the outbreak, there was a powerful feeling of a basic clean-up and that Malawi was headed in the appropriate course. Hopefully, it would keep on monitor even after the epidemic passes.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.