Catholic bishops in the country, under the umbrella of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), have said Malawi needs a new era as the country prepares for the June 23 presidential fresh elections.
The influential Catholic church played a significant role in birthing democracy in Malawi when they issued a Pastoral Letter in 1992 at the height of Kamuzu Banda’s regime under which was titled ‘Living our faith’.
The letter, and the subsequent incidents thereafter, turned to be the whip that broke the back-bone of Kamuzu Banda’s one party dictatorship.
And in this 26th Pastoral Letter read out in all Catholic churches on Sunday titled ‘A Further Call for a New Era in Malawi: Leadership at the Service of Citizens,’ the bishops noted that the country is at crossroads.
“We can either choose to save our nation or destroy it,” reads the letter.
“The most urgent task before us is to choose a leader who can rescue it from further deterioration. We call upon all duty bearers to ensure that the forthcoming presidential election is free, fair, credible and peaceful.
“We also urge all Malawians to go and vote and vote wisely, keeping in mind the consequences of not voting or not voting wisely. Let us continue to pray and seek God’sguidance for the success of this election,” the powerful church hierarchy wrote.
The seven Bishops noted that the forthcoming presidential election provides Malawi with an opportunity to choose a leader who can save the country from collapsing and who can turn it into a unified, orderly and prosperous nation.
“As we said in our previous pastoral letters, such a leader requires to have the following necessary qualities: honesty, democratic, transformational leadership, visionary, selflessness, servant leadership (Mark 10:44), good stewardship, exemplary, decisiveness, respect for the Constitution and the rule of law, willingness to step down (Luke 17:10), being above tribal/regional/political interests, accountable and God-fearing.
“Failure to have such a leader will result in our nation becoming more chaotic, divided and with deepening levels of poverty. Wakutsina khutu ndi mnansi,” the bishops epistle reads.
The Bishops further point at several political factors that have hindered Malawi’s development and that need to be put right.
This include rising tribalism, increasing acts of political violence, rising levels of impunity, rising levels of corruption and fraud, dysfunctional systems of public service delivery, the Covid-19 pandemic and continued environmental degradation.
The ECM also notes that there are challenges related to holding a credible election.
“Aware of the fact that an election is a process not an event, we are concerned about the following: the loss of public trust and confidence in the current Malawi Electoral Commissioners, inconsistency in the determination of electoral calendar, vandalism of MECequipment, lack of security in centres where MEC is processing voter transfers and issuing duplicate voter certificates, biased, unprofessional and defamatory reporting by the public broadcaster, MBC.
“We are also concerned with the general abuse of freedom of expression by political party zealots on social media by among others, fabricating all forms of falsehood, lies and rumour-mongering. This calls upon all Malawians to exercise extra vigilance to ensure that the electoral process is transparent. Let there be issue-based campaign. Above all, it calls for a leadership that can provide appropriate direction and supervision.”
The incumbent President Peter Mutharika, a 80-year-old former law professor, has managed to rein in rising prices of basic goods and improved Malawi’s roads and other infrastructure. However, critics accuse him of cronyism and failing to tackle graft.
The Pastoral Letter has been signed by leaders of all the eight Catholic dioceses in the country, led by ECM bishop chairman Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa of Blantyre.
He is deputized by Right Reverend Martin Mtumbuka Vice-President, the Bishop of Karonga.
Other members are the Most Reverend Tarsizio Ziyaye, Archbishop of Lilongwe; Right Reverend Peter Musikuwa, Bishop of Chikwawa; Right Reverend Montfort Stima who is the Bishop of Mangochi; Right Reverend George Tambala, Bishop of Zomba; Right Reverend John Ryan, Bishop of Mzuzu and the Very Reverend John Chithonje, Diocesan Administrator of Dedza