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Building Our Future

Building Our Future
Pastoral Letter from the Catholic Bishops of Malawi to Their Faithful
March 1994

Brothers and Sisters,

We greet you and we pray that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.

INTRODUCTION

We Have a Dream!

In 1994 in Malawi we have a dream. We are at a turning point in the history of our people. A new beginning is offered to us. We are about to exercise new freedoms. In the referendum of June 1993 we opted for democracy. This year, on May 17, we, the people, will democratically choose, for the first time, a president and a government. As a nation we pause to reflect. We remember the past; we look to the future. Our dream is of better things and of a better future; better for every person and for the whole community.

Will Our Dream Come True?

This is the question that must be answered. And the answer lies with ourselves. There is no magic to bring about a better world. Nobody will come to build our nation for us. A better future is a task for ourselves. Democracy means taking responsibility for ourselves, for others, for our future. Democracy means self-reliance. “Fumbi ndiwe mwini.” We must awaken from our dreams and get to work.

Can we as a nation accept this challenge? Or must we like children, always look for others to provide the good things of life for us? Great things are not achieved without courage, generosity, self-reliance, and self-sacrifice. Are we ready for all this? Now is the hour in which we are a nation and as individuals are called to commit ourselves, consciously and freely, to the realization of the dream and to the concrete tasks which lie ahead.

The Contribution of the Church

We, the bishops, intend this letter as a word of encouragement to all who hear or read it. Our faith inspires us with confidence. God our Father is the master of history and of the future. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. The Holy Spirit is our strength. Faith illuminates the meaning of our lives at every level: personal, social, and political. We are called to be witnesses to Christ in all that we do.

Over the last number of years we your bishops have spoken to you openly on social and political issues. We do so now again in recognition of the importance of the forthcoming presidential and general elections. We invite all Christians to participate and to contribute fully to this exercise on democracy.

I. THE CHURCH AND POLITICAL LIFE

Gospel Mandate and Values

Many people may still be surprised that the Bishops should issue a Pastoral Letter which deals with a political theme. Our mandate comes from Christ himself when he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Lk 4:18-19)

Our aim is to promote a Christian understanding of politics. We wish to shed the light of the Gospel on political life. The Good News proclaimed by Jesus Christ is a message of unity, of justice, of peace and of love. As Bishops we aim to infuse into the political climate of our country this same message of Jesus Christ the Lord. We are convinced that these values will best promote the common good of all Malawians. We urge all political parties now active in disseminating their manifestos and canvassing votes throughout the country to embrace these values allowing them to permeate all their political activities.

The Present Choice

In the referendum of 14 June 1993, the people of Malawi voted for a multi-party political system. The mood was for change. While many changes have already taken place, it is clear that many more challenges lie ahead. Following on from the Referendum result, the presidential and general elections due to be held on May 17, 1994 will offer the people of Malawi the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice; those whom they believe will best ensure the building of a new Malawi.

Vision of the Church

As bishops we do not wish to enter into party politics. We have no intention of telling Christians which party or individual they should vote for. This is not our task. Our aim is rather to urge Christians to live by the values of Christ in their political life as in every other sphere.

As we reminded you last year in the words of Pope John Paul II, (cf Choosing Our Future, p. 8), “The Church’s contribution to the political order is precisely her vision of the dignity of the person revealed in all its fullness in the mystery of the Incarnate Word.” Consequently, the Church is vitally interested in human advancement. Christians cannot excuse themselves from their earthly responsibilities by claiming: “Our home is in heaven.” Christians are good citizens who love their country and try to work for the common good.

II. THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF DEMOCRACY

The Basis for Democracy

Democracy flows from the fact that all citizens are sons and daughters of God. As such they enjoy the same rights and duties. These can only be fully exercised in a democratic system.

What is Democracy?

The word democracy means government by the people. The people govern themselves. The people decide how they are to be governed. They also decide who is to govern; they elect those who will represent them. Those who are elected govern. Elected representatives can only hold power for a limited period of time. Then the people choose again. In a democracy power rests with the people. The democratic system makes possible the participation of all citizens in the political life of the nation.

Democratic Rights

In democracy care is taken to protect the basic rights of every person without exception: the right to life, the right to the basic needs of life such as food, clothing and shelter, the right to basic education and health care, the right to word, the right to freedon of association and freedom of speech and the right to religious freedom. Another important characteristic of a true democracy is that eery person is equal before the law which protects him from aggression, unfairness or infringement of his rights. Every citizen in turn is required to respect the rule of law.

It is usual for democratic nation to have a written constitution. This is a document approved by the people which clearly states the rights and duties of all, the method of government and the laws to be observed.

Political Parties

A political party is a group of people who are willing to assume power and to govern the nation. In a democracy people are free to form political parties. The essence of democracy is to have a number of political parties. Each party holds meetings, presents itself to the people and explains how it will govern if given power. The people listen and then, in a general election, choose the party which will govern.

The Election

A country is divided into a certain number of constituencies. In a general election each legal party may if it wishes put forward one candidate (or candidates, as the case may be)in each constituency. The candidate who receives the greatest number of votes in each constituency is elected and wins a seat in parliament.

Government

The political which secures an overall majority of seats in parliament is entitled to form the government. It becomes the ruling party until the next general election. All the other members who win seats in parliament, but who belong to parties other than the ruling party, form the opposition in parliament. Thus the parties who lose the election still have an important role to play in political life.

Once elected, the ruling party has a duty to govern the country in the interests of all the people, both those who voted them into power and those who voted for other parties. They have become the government of all the people without exception. Indeed they have a special responsibility to protect the rights of minority groups. There is no place for revenge. Democracy presupposes respect for those of different views and it requires the government to treat all citizens equally and with fairness.

Wise governments never forget that it is the people who have given them the right and the power to govern. They will remember their duty to remain accountable to the people. They have a responsibility to explain adequately to the public how decisions are made and carried out and how government funds are spent.

Just as the government has a duty to cherish all citizens equally, so too everyone must accept the government of the day even if they voted for a party which lost the election. Respect and tolerance for the views of others includes accepting the decision of the majority of the voters. Once the government has taken office, all citizens are bound to recognize and obey it as the legitimate government of the country.

However all citizens have the right to be involved in the good government of the nation. It is also their right to provide constructive criticism in the political dialogue and the life of the nation. When this is not accepted every citizen has the right and duty to change the government at the next general election.

Opposition

The opposition has an important role in a democracy. We have already seen that it is made up of all those elected members of parliament who belong to parties other than the ruling party. Like all other citizens, they owe allegiance to the legitimate government of the country. At the same time their role is to help the government to govern well and to be accountable to the people by challenging it when necessary. They do this not by engaging in any form of violence but by being prepared to debate and analyze issues in parliament before decisions are made. The opposition can challenge the ruling party to pursue policies which are made. The opposition can challenge the ruling party to pursue policies which are for the good of all and which do not neglect the well being of any group in the community. It can also champion the rights of individuals and groups should the government be tempted to overlook them.

The Duty of Citizens

An essential feature of democracy is tolerance and respect for the views of others even when they differ from one’s own. Citizens have the right to form and join parties of their choice which can decide on particular approaches to political, social and economic questions. Just as every citizen has a right to their political views and to make their own political choices, so too they have a duty to respect the views and choices of others.

Too Many Political Parties

For a country ot have many political parties does not usually contribute to good government. In that case it is very difficult for one party to win a majority of seats in the parliament. When no party wins a majority of seats, two or more parties, who between them have enough seats to form a majority, may make an agreement to work together and form a coalition government to rule the country. Such a coalition often produces a weak government since it easily happens that the different political parties which form the government may disagree with one another on important issues. A country is usually better served by having a smaller number of strong political parties.

Principles to Guide Political Parties

All political parties must strive to be truly national and reject any taint of regionalism or tribalism. By national we mean that they draw their support from all sectors and groupings in the country. It would be a betrayal of the democratic ideal if a government were to favour people of one tribe or the people of a particular region at the expense of other tribes or regions. Tribalism and regionalism are serious evils.

All forms of intimidation and harassment must be rejected by all parties. Democracy flourishes to the extent that the rights and freedom of all are respected. All citizens must be constantly invited to exercise their rights, to participate, to make choices and to be involved in the building of society in peace and security.

The means of communication – radio, the press etc. must be available by right to all. It is the duty of political parties to ensure that this vital sector is open to all, truly expressive of the opinions and aspirations of all and free from domination by any particular group, sector or opinion.

All parties all called to work in the first place for the betterment and development of all Malawians. This has not always been the case. Foreign concerns and multi=national companies have often had too much influence on government policies. This has led to the exploitation of the Malawian worker. All political parties must reject pressures and influences from whatever sources which are evidently not for the good of all citizens, especially the poorest.

Responsible Freedom

One of the notable achievements of the last two years has been a marked increase in personal freedom. People are now free to express their views without fear. The large number of newspapers now available testifies to a greatly increased freedom of the press. Similarly the existence of various political parties is evidence of an enhanced freedom to hold and express diverse political views. There is a far greater responsibility of espousing injustice then there was just a few years ago.

We rejoice at this positive development. At the same time, it needs to be remembered that freedom carries with it a serious responsibility. It must be used responsibly. We do not have the right to say or do anything without regard for the truth and for justice. We are responsible for our words and actions. No one may act solely our of self-interest. We are called to do what is good and we are assured that the goodwill makes us more human.

Each person has free will. However we should remember that the freedom we have received from God is a responsibility to do what is right and not what is wrong, to build and not to destroy. We are called to use our freedom positively.

Use of Freedom

Special mention may be made of two aspects of our present situation.

a) The Press

We now have many newspapers which represent different shades of opinion. It is of great importance that journalists and others take great care to speak and write what is true. As we wrote two years ago in Living our Faith: “Feeding (people) with slogans and half-truths or untruths! Only increases their cynicism and their mistrust of government representatives.”

In this context we invite all citizens to be more critical with regard to what they read and hear. Let the values of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church give guidance to all our people in their acceptance and understanding of what is written, spoked and seen in the media.

The importance of truthfulness cannot be over-stated. Freedom of expression is a democratic right which must be balanced by the duty to accept the dignity and good name of every person. Failure to speak the truth leads to mistrust and suspicion among people. Only a society which is built on truth can flourish and grow strong.

b) Self-reliance

We also wish to stress the importance of self-reliance. Only if we continue to work hard can we be assured of a bright future for our country. Committing ourselves to hard work promotes personal growth, family well-being and the good of the nation. Together with St. Paul we urge all citizen to selfless and hard work,

“We gave you a rule when we were will you not to let anyone have any food if he refused to do any work. Now we hear that there are some of you living in idleness, doing no work they themselves but interfering with everyone else’s. In the Lord Jesus Christ we order and call upon people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat. My brothers never grow tired of doing what is right.” (Thes 3:10b-13)

Unfortunately laziness is often evident among our people. We firmly state that laziness is both a personal and social evil.

III THE COMING ELECTIONS

This is a critical moment in the history of Malawi. It is the beginning of a new political era. It is vital that solid foundations be laid if we are to build a new Malawi. A good start can be made by electing only people of high integrity, men and women motivated by a desire to serve rather than by a hunger for power.

The presidential and general elections are fast approaching. We are concerned that many details are still unclear to the great majority of people. It is our hope that the details of the new constitution will be available to the people for study and discussion as soon as possible. For instance it is not clear what the powers of the president will be.

For our part now we would like to make some reflection on the important task of choosing candidates and on our Christian duty to vote.

The Political Parties

Voters are now well aware that there are various parties from which to choose. Each party has published a manifesto which tells us what the party stands for and how it will govern the country for the benefit of all citizens. It will be the task of the candidates of the various parties to explain to the people what their party intends to do and how it will do it. It is for each voter to examine carefully and to assess the policies of each party. Are such policies realistic? Can they be put into effect or are they unrealistic promises merely designed to win votes? Are they concerned with the common good of all citizens or do they favour certain groups within society?

Qualities of the Candidates

Good government depends on electing good candidates to parliament. It ispossible that a particular party might have a well worked out manifesto and good policies, but that its candidate might be mediocre or even poor. The following guidelines may be useful in order to choose capable and worthy candidates.

  1. A candidate must be capable of holding public office. A certain ability is needed. A sense of vocation and of dedication to work hard on behalf of the people are essential. Nothing will be achieved without conscientious work on the part of both leaders and people.

  2. A good candidate is one who serves. Members of parliament are public servants, just like teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. They are servants of all, rich and poor, young and old, those who live in town or country. They serve people by being available to them, by listening to their needs and by acting on their behalf. Any indication that candidates are concerned only with enriching themselves at the expense of others would be a reason for not voting for them.

  3. Accountability is essential in a candidate. This entails a willingness to allow one’s own performance to be judged by the electorate, and a readiness to explain government policies and how funds are spent.

  4. The people give power to govern them to their elected representatives. Consequently, only candidates who are truthful and have some degree of humility are worthy to be elected.

  5. It is essential that candidates be well known to the people of the constituency which they hope to represent. They should be known to be persons of integrity, unselfish and caring for others; not just individuals who are hungry for power.

  6. Candidates who can inspire their people are needed. Elected representatives are in a position to inspire their constituents to have as ense of their own dignity, to free themselves from dependency and to become self-reliant. They also should encourage people to improve their lives and that of their families, and the contribute to the development of the nation.

  7. Good candidates respect the right of every citizen to choose the Church of religious affiliation they wish. To impose one’s faith is unacceptable.

Duties and Rights of Voters

As we explained before last year’s referendum in Choosing Our Future (no. 8), to vote in elections is the democratic right of every adult citizen. Indeed it is more than a right. It is a serious duty, not to be lightly neglected. Every citizen has a duty to weigh carefully which party and which candidates are the best suited to govern. When all citizens prepare to vote responsibly there is a greater hope of good and trustworthy government.

It was generally agreed by those who monitored the June 1993 referendum that the vote had been substantially free and fair even though there had also been many cases of intimidation. We would like to encourage all parties to the presidential and general elections to ensure that the voting is free and fair. Violence of any kind is to be avoided. Mention has already been made of the importance in the democratic society of allowing everyone to express their views freely even when they differ from our own. We deplore harassment of any kind; whether of candidates or of supporters of any party whatever. Any form of threats e.g. discouraging people to register, denying people ownership of gardens, employment, or education because of their political affiliations is absolutely condemned.

All should be free to express their point of view without interference provided they respect the law.

Voters, too, should not be subjected to any pressures whatever to make them vote for particular candidates or parties. In a democracy voters are free to cast their votes secretly in accordance with their conscience. It goes without saying that all forms of cheating (e.g. bribery, interference with voting papers, whether by multiplying them or by destroying them) are to be strictly avoided. In order to ensure that the vote is fair, the presence of monitors, both local and international will be necessary both during the voting and afterwards during the counting and the communication of the results.

IV. AFTER THE ELECTION

The 1994 Elections will soon be behind us. The period which follows the election will be an important one for Malawi. If we all, citizens and politicians, conduct ourselves will during this time, Malawi will prove itself to be truly democratic.

Accepting the Result of the Election

Just as all adult citizens have a right to vote, so too we all have a serious responsibility to abide by the just and publicly verified result even if it does not accord with our personal preferences. In every society there are some who are tempted to refuse to accept the democratic wishes of the majority. Such a refusal would pose a grave danger to our society and it must be firmly resisted. Should democracy fail, the likely alternative is chaos or some form of totalitarian government.

Those who succeed in the general election, the ruling party and its supporters, can easily be tempted to mockery of those who are considered to have lost the election. There can be temptation to boast of their success and even to humiliate the losers. Such temptations must be resisted at all costs. Nothing is more calculated to promote resentment and division in our society than gloating over one’s success as winners of the election. There are sufficient examples from some other countries of long-term communal violence following general elections for us to be on our guard against such conduct. Our Christian duty is clear. Such an outcome is to be scrupulously avoided.

The Importance of Constructive Opposition

In the aftermath of a general election the unsuccessful parties can be tempted to discouragement. They may even question the value of their presence in parliament. The ruling party , on the other hand, may fall into the temptation of wishing to create difficulties for the opposition parties. It may even wish to destroy the other parties so that it should remain indefinitely as the only party effectively able to rule. Such a situation would be extremely damaging for society. If one party is so strong and the others so weak as to be unable to present a credible alternative, no change is possible. As is sadly evident in some countries, the absence of an effective opposition in parliament can endanger the very foundations of democracy.

A healthy democracy can only exist where citizens have a genuine choice. They must have the possibility at intervals of changing the government through the ballot box if they so wish. If this possibility is denied to them, the danger of violence is greatly increased. If it is not possible to change the government y peaceful means, some may be tempted to use violent methods.

Opposition parties by their nature have an essential function in a democracy. They ensure that the government is held accountable for its policies and for their implementation. By their very presence, they provide a very important check on any misuse of power.

Although the existence of a free and independent judiciary is the principal bulwark against the violation of human rights, nevertheless, in this respect we should not underestimate the importance of opposition parties in parliament. Every democracy needs an opposition loyal to the constitution which sees as one of its principal functions the upholding of the rights of all citizens under the constitution.

Treating all Citizens Equally

Our Christian faith teaches us that all people, irrespective of race or creed, are created equal in the image of God. Democratic societies are built on the same principle of radical equality. Democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people. Government for all the people.

It follows that the government must govern all citizens without favouritism. It may well happen that the governing party receives its support and was elected principally by a particular segment of the population or a particular region of the country. But once elected it is the government of all the people.

Sadly, it must be recognized that numerous countries, and many in Africa, have been marked by communal strife due to the failure of governments to cherish all citizens equally. Nothing is more destructive of harmony than regionalism or tribalism which refuses to accept the dignity of every person and treat them equally.

The Need for Solidarity

In a healthy democracy all citizens work together to promote the good of the community. The essential character of such a society is solidarity. As Pope John Paul has written: “Solidarity helps to see the ‘Other’… not as some kind of instrument… to be exploited… and then discarded, but as our neighbour to be made a sharer with ourselves in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.” (Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 39).

Fostering Peace

In fact, seeds of conflict are present in our society. Some citizens are rich while many have to struggle because they have barely enough to support their families. The steep rise in prices which we are presently experiencing makes this struggle even more difficult.

Democracy on its own will not unify our nation in the face of such dangers. Peace can only be assured if we all – and especially those who exercise political power – show an active concern for the weakest sections of our community and make the promotion of social justice a high priority.

“Winner takes all.” This way of thinking can also be found in our society. But to reward “winners” at the expense of “losers” would be gravely unjust. Such unfairness sows the seeds of resentment and could ultimately destroy our young democracy.

Peace will not be assured unless those entrusted with political power take determined steps to promote reconciliation and govern with fairness. Not only will the government need to be generous in committing resources to less favoured regions and sections of the community, but they will need to be seen to do so.

Responsibility to Work for Peace

In the excitement of holding our first multi-party general election, peoples’ expectations can far outstrip what is realistically possible despite the very best efforts of the elected government. These expectations can sometimes be fuelled by the exaggerated promises of those seeking election. However, we have a responsibility to be prudent in our expectations.

We cannot expect a government to achieve its goals unless we too are willing to make our contribution. Our contribution is not limited to voting on election day. Each of us is responsible to do our own work honestly and willingly. Without dedicated commitment to our daily work, a just and peaceful society will not be built. We call on all citizens to work faithfully to create the conditions necessary for democracy to flourish in our country.

Conclusion

As we draw to a close we wish to recall that this country and its people have been created by God. As the psalmist prays:

The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,
The world and all its peoples.
It is he who set it on the seas;
On the waters he made it firm
(Ps 24)

Yes, our country and we ourselves come from God who is Love. The Lord loves us and care for us. He knows our hopes and aspirations and he wishes us peace and prosperity. He only asks us to give him the first place in our plans:

If the Lord does not build the house,
In vain do its builders labour;
If the Lord does not watch over the city,
In vain does the watchman keep vigil.
(Ps 126)

In order to build the kind of Malawi we want, we must first and foremost place our plans in the hands of God. Again, the Psalmist assures us of God’s care in every situation:

Entrust your care to the Lord and he will support you.
He will never allow the just man to stumble.
(Ps 54)

If we want to build a beautiful and peaceful Malawi, we need to pray earnestly. It is only through prayer that the present moment and the future of Malawi can be secured in peace and harmony. We need to turn to Our Lady, Queen of peace and keep vigil, if possible. The whole Church and other people of goodwill are called to pray for the sake of Malawi and the safety of her people.

If our prayers are to be heard, fasting and abstinence will be needed. We invite every Catholic and all people of good will to fast once a week and to abstain weekly from alcoholic drinks, preferably on Fridays. We invite you to be faithful in prayer so that our country and its people may be blessed both before and fater the elections and into the future.

James Chiona, Archbishop of Blantyre
Felix E. Mkhori, Bishop of Chikwawa
Mathias A. Chimole, Bishop of Lilongwe
Alessandro Assolari, Bishop of Mangochi
Allan Chamgwera, Bishop of Zomba
Gervazio M Chisendera, Bishop of Dedza
Tarsizio G. Ziyaye, Coadiutor Bishop of Lilongwe
Msgr John Roche, Apostolic Administrator of Mzuzu

Prayer for Parliamentary and Presidential General Elections

God Our Father,
You sent your beloved Son into this world
So that we, your children, might have life,
Life in all its fullness

Father, now we came to you for assistance,
Jesus your Son teaches us that
Whatever we ask: in his name will be granted to us.
With confidence we pray
That the forthcoming Parlimentary and Presidential general elections
Be conducted in a respectful and peaceful manner.

Send us your Spirit to enlighten our minds
In the choice we have to make
Grant that the results may be good for all Malawians.

Give us the courage to vote without fear
And in accordance with your plan for us all.
Free our hearts from all hatred, vengeance or greed.

Accept our humble contribution
In the building of this beloved country.
May honesty, justice and true freedom
Flow like a river.

We offer our prayer through your Son Jesus Christ,
Our Lord who lives and reigns with you
On God for ever and ever.

Amen

Mary Queen of peace, intercede