, 05 December, 2019 / 12:13 AM
Following months of post-elections unrest in the Southeast African nation of Malawi and a court hearing expected Friday, December 6 on an election petition challenging the May 21 poll, Catholic Bishops in the country have called on the estimated 16.8 million Malawians to accept the court ruling or challenge such outcome through “peaceful and constitutional mechanisms” even though the final verdict is expected in February 2020.
“As we await the court ruling, our country faces serious threats to peace and unity,” reads part of the December 3 statement by Catholic Bishops in Malawi referencing the case at the constitutional court filed on August 8.
The Bishops have appealed, “In the event that the court ruling does not go in your favour, accept it or challenge the outcome through peaceful and constitutional mechanisms.”
“We all have the duty and responsibility to promote peace and unity. We, therefore, call upon all the citizens of this country to respect and uphold the rule of law so that all can peacefully coexist,” the Bishops have stated against the backdrop of divisions and unrest characterized by violent confrontations.
The divisions and unrest followed the May 21 disputed elections after the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) declared the incumbent President Peter Mutharika, leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), winner with 38.57 percent of the vote against the leader of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Lazarus Chakwera who garnered 35.41 percent. The country’s former Vice President Saulos Chilima of United Transformation Movement (UTM) received 20.24 percent of the votes.
In their December 3 statement availed to ACI Africa, the Bishops have urged Malawians to “desist from any acts of violence or harassment aimed at instilling fear in others.”
The Church leaders have also condemned the sporadic violence in various parts of the country by human rights defenders, terming it “evil and unacceptable and contrary to human rights and freedoms, which we fought for when we chose multiparty system of government.”
“We condemn in the strongest terms the violence, in all its forms and manifestations that continues to take place in some parts of the country,” the Prelates have stated and added, “We denounce this injustice, often based on political, regional and tribal lines, that is being perpetrated on innocent people and their property.”
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) in Malawi has been meeting with various religious leaders encouraging advocacy for peace among their respective followers including the need to accept the February 2020 court ruling.
In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, December 4, Malawi’s CCJP Coordinator, Boniface Chibwana said that the situation in the country is unpredictable as “tension is manifested in other forms and there is a lot of discontentment among the people.”
“It’s difficult to tell the outcome of the case from a layman's point of view,” Mr. Chibwana said referencing the case in Malawi’s constitutional court challenging the results of the Presidential elections.
He added, “What is clear is that the party that will lose the case is likely not to take it; there is seemingly violence coming in after the ruling.”
In an earlier interview with ACI Africa, the Chairman of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre expressed concerns over the possible chaos that might follow the constitutional court ruling saying, “We foresee problems because one side will not be happy. To avoid these scenarios, we are saying the parties involved prepare their supporters.”
Inspired by Kenya’s 2018 “Handshake” that saw the cessation of hostilities following the coming together of the East African country’s key political rivals after two disputed and quite divisive 2017 elections, religious leaders in Malawi have called on the political class to put aside their differences and agree to work together to get the southeast African nation back to its feet.
In their December 3 collective statement, the Catholic Bishops in Malawi have further warned against fake news saying, “Desist also from spreading sensational news in relation to this court case, especially on social media that can easily stir up and bring about disquiet, anger and violence among Malawians thereby disturbing peace and unity.”
While calling for justice to prevail in their country, the Prelates have reiterated their June 2019 call for peace, calm and unity.
“We call upon all our Commissions such as Justice and Peace, Pastoral and Social Communications, as well as Catholic media houses to come up with concrete ways of preparing people to accept the court ruling in the interest of maintaining, promoting and safeguarding peace and unity among Malawians,” the Bishops have stated.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa