Malawi: Lenten Pastoral Letter seeks to awaken the consciences of politicians and citizens.
Paul Samasumo – Vatican City.
To mark the 30-year milestone, this week, Malawi’s Catholic Bishops issued the Pastoral Letter, Commemorating ‘Living Our Faith’ -Lent 2022.
True to its 1992 precursor, the new Pastoral Letter, in plain and straight language, seeks to rouse the consciences of Malawi’s political leaders and those of its citizens. The Bishops want Malawians, in general, to have a hard look at their society today and possibly start a conversation about the direction of their country - thirty years and beyond.
It all started on 8 March 1992, when Malawi’s Catholic Bishops took the unusual step of publicly challenging the authoritarian regime of President Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s one party state. The 1992 Lenten Pastoral Letter was the first public criticism of President Kamuzu Banda within Malawi. It was a scathing attack and, as expected, did not go down well with the Kamuzu Banda establishment. The Bishops were publicly vilified and threatened. For some time, there were fears for the safety of some of them.
Three decades later, the same vices
“The present environment in which the people of Malawi live can be described as very dehumanising. Vast numbers of men, women and children today, like Lazarus in the Gospel (Luke 16: 19 -31) are languishing in abject poverty while wealth and luxury are enjoyed by a few who are unconcerned about these dehumanising conditions of the majority,” said the Malawian prelates in the new Pastoral Letter.
The Bishops are irked by the fact that three decades later, the country has not made progress and is still struggling with the same ills.
“It is sad that a generation later, we are grappling with the same vices. In actual fact, it is regrettable that these vices, which the Catholic Bishops condemned three decades ago, have become even more deeply engrained and are tearing our society and our nation apart while keeping the vast majority in grinding poverty. If we are not careful as a nation, we are heading towards social disaster,” admonished the Bishops.
Bishops want a judiciary system that works for all
The Bishops further decry deteriorating education and health care services delivery and a Judiciary struggling to assert its independence. Of particular concern is the perception that the Judiciary sometimes administers justice selectively to the advantaged and powerful in Malawian society.
There have been accusations of the Judiciary itself being involved in corruption, allegations the Judiciary vehemently denies. Nevertheless, the Bishops acknowledge positives in this vital organ of government.
“In this area, we must applaud the Judiciary, which has, on several occasions recently, demonstrated that it is acting with the independence required and expected of it. However, as has always been the case, there are, unfortunately, some whose actions, decisions and judgements threaten to tarnish the image of the judicial system. The Judiciary must always remember that it has a key role to play in the administration of justice and especially in the fight against corruption,” the Bishops explained. They remind the Judiciary to “ensure that corruption cases are expedited and that everyone is seen to be treated fairly and similarly before the law.”
The need to lead a credible corruption fight
The Catholic Bishops’ overall assessment of corruption in the country will make for uncomfortable reading among politicians. The Bishops criticise President Lazarus Chakwera’s indecisiveness when faced with corruption matters. They want him to demonstrate political will and executive political leadership. For a government that campaigned heavily on tackling corruption, the Bishops’ message is a rebuke that should call for a new strategy.
“We believe that a President who campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, and promised to deal with the vice, will not keep any of his ministers and aides when there is sufficient information about their involvement in corruption,” the Bishops said.
A gracious government response
Keen to avoid an all-out fall-out with the Catholic Bishops as happened in 1992, this time around, Malawi’s government has been gracious even in the face of such a critical Pastoral Letter. Information Minister and Government spokesperson Gospel Kazaka told local media that President Chakwera’s government was “thankful to the Catholic Bishops for being open in pointing out governance issues.” He said the Malawian Government was addressing the issues raised by the Bishops.
Malawi: A country vulnerable to climate change
Malawi is a land-locked country in southern Africa. At the last count, the population was expected to reach 19.55 Million by the end of 2021. The country has one of the lowest per capita income levels in the world. Almost 90 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, mostly engaged in smallholder, rain-fed agriculture. Malawi has been on the receiving end of climate change especially in recent years. The population seems to alternate between the effects of drought and tropical Cyclones.