Respect your elders – in Africa, this is a cornerstone of most cultural traditions. In its purest practice, this means that you cannot confront your elder where they’ve erred and the assumption is that the elder is always right. However noble, one key flaw of this, has been the application of this in African governance. According to CNN, the average age of the ten oldest African leaders is 78.5. This means that dissenting voices, especially younger ones, have a steep hill to climb.
Enter, Ben Chiza Mkandawire, 40, a Malawian human rights & political activist and one of the growing young voices on the African terrain that hasn’t been afraid to speak out against his government even though this has meant him being at the receiving end of the government’s vicious, choreographed smear campaigns. It is fair to conclude that he has positioned himself as a critic of Malawi’s current government.
WHAT DRIVES him? He says that human rights advocacy for all regardless of race colour and creed drives him. ‘’Leadership failure is an African way of life, in my lifetime I have not experienced democracy just limited rights to do certain things freely’’ he said.
In 2012 he was arrested in Lilongwe and charged with inciting violent demonstrations. At the time he had called for street vendors to be empowered through educating them about their rights. This was after a group of women had their clothes stripped off because they had been wearing trousers and short skirts which some deemed as being inappropriate. Before that he’d been arrested along with other activists for holding protests in front of parliament speaking out against (the late) President Bingu wa Mutharika’s regime.
In 2016, he was one of the many Malawian digital influencers who pushed the #BringBackMutharika hashtag on twitter which gained wide reach. This came about after President Peter Mutharika had left Malawi for the United Nations General Assembly which concluded on the 26th of September 2016 but almost a month after the meeting, the president had not returned home and his whereabouts were unknown. Well, ‘unknown’ is being rather facetious as he was still in the United States but the issue was that the president was not discharging his duties or being transparent about his whereabouts and young Malawians were holding him to account.