Echoes from the Past….democracy

By Geoffrey Mchinanguwo Gondwe

The dawn of democracy in Malawi in 1993 was understood to offer people a platform that would involve them in making decisions for the nation. In the past, for 31 years many people lived in silence watching from a far how the country was run by a few. By then, there was no way anyone would raise contrary views against government without facing retaliations. To make matters worse, there were no institutions which would promote and safeguard the interests and rights of the public. However, the recent wind of change that has blown over Malawi has changed how things ought to be done. Malawians have awaken from slumber that they no longer let anything that concerns them pass without giving a say.

The dawn of technology has considerably empowered people to be actively involved in what is happening in the country. Social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp have allowed people to raise their views on matters of national interest. The level of awareness in most people on national issues is unprecedented.

Chakufwa Chihana: Fought for Malawis democracy through a referendum in 1993

For democracy to be effective it needs people’s participation at all levels. To have democracy that has people who do not hold their leaders accountable is as good as living in a totalitarian government. Way back in the past, those who advocated for democracy over dictatorship envisioned a new system of government in which everyone will have a say on how things should go. Previously before democracy, kings or dictators had absolute power and were answerable to nobody. No one would dare question their decisions or conduct. In the end, it were people who suffered at the expense of recklessness of such leaders who thought they were the only ones capable of leading. Although democracy might not be the best form of government but at least it tries to balance the power so that the public is not left behind.

At the heart of democracy is the fundamental principle that leaders rule according to the general will of people in which when withdrawn, the leadership falls. In a democratic society when a leader has lost trust and mandate of people they must step aside.  The recent fall of Professor Peter Mutharika and DPP is a result of loss of trust from people and refusal to heed calls from the public. The social contract that was between the former head of state and the public was broken. There was no way the old regime would continue ruling.

Power to the people!

In other forms of government, many people are passive and rarely contribute towards development of their country. In democracy, the public plays a crucial role in the development of their country through free expression of their views. The wave of change that hit Malawi recently has transformed people’s thinking towards governance. Now many people are able to critically look into how things are done in many areas. At national level, people have on many occasion influenced government decisions. The president and cabinet minister do not have the pleasure to do things as they please. Now, they have to do things in line with the interest of the public. At district level as well, people no longer sit back and watch. Most district councils have been called to account for their action to the people they serve. Malawians want to see a government that embodies everything about the will of people than the “lucky” few and their families.

For Malawi’s young democracy to thrive, it certainly needs involvement of people at all levels. The government need to be tolerant to allow the public voice out their concerns without fearing anything. The mutual trust between the government and the public is important for sustainable development of the country. Once people decide to withhold their trust it becomes difficult to govern. The previous administration of the DPP can attest to that.

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