A Rotten Society

court-house-25061_1280What does one make of professor Garton Kamchedzera’s claims that Malawi is experiencing a dwindling of legal standards?

Last week, during a sensitisation conference organised by the Malawi Law Society in Lilongwe, the lecturer said

“It is very embarrassing and hurting to hear that some of my former students are implicated in dubious deals which has lowered the public trust on legal practitioners in the country which is one of the oldest and noble professions worldwide due to greed and hunger to make money fast”

During his presentation(titled ‘The Salient Failures of ethics for the Malawian Lawyers: Emerging issues in ethics’ ) at the conference, Kamchedzera said the legal profession was a calling from God, and so legal practitioners needed to be competent and comply with high ethical standards, so as to properly serve the public. He urged vigilance in ‘ reversing the country’s values through our decisive attitudes…’

This is a guy who in the past criticised Ken Lipenga and urged him to step down amidst massive corruption and fraud in Joyce Banda’s government. He has also said in the past that Malawi has leaders who like to be worshipped – an allegation I completely agree with.

What struck me this time around though is that he talked of ‘an already rotten society‘, saying the greedy behaviour of lawyers wouldn’t help fix such rottenness.

I’ve heard too many complaints about legal malpractice in Malawi and if you have dealt with lawyers in Malawi, it’s likely you too have a tale or two to recount, but that’s not what this post is about.

When I hear terms such as ‘rotten society’, the immediate question that comes to mind is not what does he mean by ‘rotten’, but instead, how did such a society become ‘rotten’? And, what’s keeping it rotten?

I’m sure these are questions which some progressives who would like to see a better Malawi will be thinking of. But assuming we all agree on what is meant by a ‘rotten society’, it seems to me that if you ask any knowledgeable commentator about these issues, they will identify one or more of the following as some of the causal factors :-

  1. Governance failures & Corruption since 1994 (Cashgate remains unresolved; Bakili Muluzi’s case has not been finalised; We don’t know the full-scale of plunder during Joyce Banda’s government; there’s a lack of continuity in state projects (the Shire Zambezi project hasn’t been completed); Malawi has in the past hurriedly negotiated resource contracts – which later prove to be flawed, and deprive the government of essential funds)
  2. Lack of discipline and disregard for the Law (Corrupt policing, bribery, rent-seeking, Thuggery, etc) Why would someone steal Solar Panels which are meant to illuminate their city at night (thereby bringing about a degree of safety)? solarLightsFurther, were the culprits of this crime found, and punished? Did the government launch an awareness campaign to ensure it doesn’t happen again?
  3. Lack of Independence of critical institutions (why should the head of the Anticorruption Bureau be appointed by the president? It’s a civil service role, why can’t it be advertised like any other civil service job? Same with the Judiciary, and even the State Banking Corporations [which as the MSB case has revealed were abused to channel money to the country’s then president]. On this point, has an investigation been opened into the affairs of Bingu Mutharika to find out whether what Mulli claims is true? Shouldn’t such an investigation be opened, and be free and fair?)
  4. Poor healthcare (ill-equipped, under-resourced, under-staffed hospitals)
  5. Pull down syndrome, and jealousy (Instead of people working to lift each other up, when one succeeds, they drag each other down). This is closely associated with a lack of a forward-thinking culture. For example since Malawi often has power cuts, how many people have invested in alternative sources of energy like solar? solar-cells-594166_640You may say you don’t have the money to buy them, but the chances are you haven’t even tried saving for them? Frankly, from my experiences many people are happy drinking away and using their money for partying – instead of attending to their problems. poverty
  6. Poverty and Economic stagnation (As a result of lack of money and under-investment in services). One effect of this is that there are so many young people without jobs (prime fodder for criminal activity).
  7. Excessive consumerism of foreign products (as opposed to buying local products, something that could help  revitalise local economies). They want to wear Gucci and drive big and expensive German cars, yet when there’s a fuel shortage (as happened in 2012) they can’t drive those expensive cars. Isn’t it sensible to first work towards a dependable fuel source? To establish a stable economy before thinking of driving a Range Rover? If you have a business, shouldnt you first establish yourself by putting in place measures that will protect the business and give you a breathing space should the worst happen and the market dries up or a much bigger competitor enters the fray?
    Further, when your country is often gripped with forex shortages, shouldnt luxuries take a back seat. And practicality triumph over the need for false appearances? (Malawi’s taste for imports hurting economy )
  8. And a cultural decay (It’s strange how Malawians want to fit in so much with western standards/ lifestyles. Why can’t we embrace our culture, and love ourselves for who we are? Why try so hard to fit into American or foreign cultures?)

These are some of the most common I’ve heard, although I’m sure there are many others.

So the question then becomes, what can/ must be done about them?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers here since money is a big part of the problem. If the government doesn’t have money, or can’t properly prioritize how to use its resources, very little will change.

Having said that, it’s very easy to place blame on the government (its true that they would need to take a leading role – since few individuals have the capacity and capital to orchestrate state-wide projects), but I believe it is the duty of every Malawian to know these lingering problems, and begin working against them on an individual basis. Having an honest, transparent and responsible government would help, but they are only a part of the problem. Having honest, transparent and responsible people is where it all begins.


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