Are Malawians really interested in the rule of law?

You'd think after the last few years of increasingly autocratic government that Malawians would be keenly interested in anything that might help to entrench the rule of law, and secure the independence of the judiciary - so that there are enough checks and balances to prevent the country from ever returning to the bad old days of Bingu.

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

September 5th, 2012

You'd think after the last few years of increasingly autocratic government that Malawians would be keenly interested in anything that might help to entrench the rule of law, and secure the independence of the judiciary - so that there are enough checks and balances to prevent the country from ever returning to the bad old days of Bingu. And you'd think that the launch of a new report by the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) on the Rule of Law in Malawi would be packed with members of government, opposition, civil society, media, and donors - eager to study its findings and recommendations.

But you'd be wrong. While a host of lawyers turned up to participate in a fascinating discussion involving the President of the Zimbabwe Law Society (who was a member of the IBAHRI delegation), his Malawian counterpart and a commissioner from the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), there were just a couple of journalists and a handful of donors. Perhaps the timing of the launch contributed. But still - the lack of interest (exemplified by the lack of traditional and social media interest in the report as well) was shocking. And the report really is worth reading - because it includes a detailed analysis of the current state of the rule of law as well as realistic recommendations that would benefit all Malawians and keep the country on the Road to Recovery.

So why the lack of interest? Do Malawians think that they can relax now that Bingu has gone? Do they think that the same structures and institutions - from the judiciary to the police to the MHRC - that were unable to halt Bingu's march towards dictatorship (despite their best efforts) will somehow be more effective in future? Or is it the old misconception - let's deal with economic, food-on-the-table issues before we worry about the rule of law?

But this is not the time to be complacent. This is the time to make the changes that will entrench the rule of law and strengthen checks and balances. And the report is a thought-provoking place to start. 

Just one final point. Ralph Kasambara is currently the Justice Minister, the Attorney General (with influence over the DPP) and legal advisor to the president's party. That is an awful lot of judicial power in one man's hands. Now Ralph might well be a good guy. But what about the next guy?

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