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Ben Chiza Mkandawire. Malawi’s answer?

BCM

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.

 

bcm3Enter, 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.

 

Mkandawire’s brash, direct approach has been likened to that of South Africa’s Julius Malema. Both were members of their respective ruling parties and now turned thorns to their sides which has meant that some of their fellow comrades have turned into their most strident critics. Not one to retreat from opposition, Mkandawire said (after being the subject of ruling party’s choreographed smears) ‘’I can take down DPP [the ruling party] myself singlehandedly, I can go after Peter Mutharika so bad you will not stop me. But I have maintained my respect for the man because of our friendship. And it will stay that way.’’ Although it is unclear how he would do this – it is clear that he is a man that the powers that be view as a credible dissenting voice. Being a dissenting voice in African politics is not for the weak hearted so only time will test Mkandawire’s resolve.

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