From despotic peace to democratic justice

Analysis by Mphatso Moses Kaufulu

The terms ‘peace’ and ‘peace-loving’ have been repeatedly weaponized by the political and the donor classes in Malawi to sometimes sanitize grotesque human suffering.

Politicians, who have robbed us of our very futures either by commissioning unnecessary deaths upon our families through public health denied, or by consigning us to a lack of formal education and therefore a life permanently trapped in poverty, have been quick to remind us of our “peace-loving nature” at the slightest hint of political discontent and upheaval.

Author Kaufulu

Similarly, when we have taken to the streets in sustained protests, demanding for the bare minimums in how we are governed, we have been fed donor equivocations calling for “all sides to show restraint” to maintain Malawi’s international status as a peaceful country.

This framing callously erases the obvious manufactured suffering around us, to institute a harsh and insensitive moral equivalence between those who viciously plunder and pillage us, and us who get viciously plundered and pillaged.

This begs the question: What is peace? — I will use two broad political deployments of this term.

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Firstly, there is a negative peace: a peace sustained by extreme despair or an almost complete repression of politically consequential expression.

Secondly, a positive peace: a peace sustained by a widely acceptable, continuously adapting, and broadly accessible dispensation of formalized justice.

Understood as a continuum, Malawi’s peace has largely been a negative one – it has been a peace according the political and donor class a self-appointed managerial status over our national politics, while unseeing the misanthropic destruction ravaging “ordinary” people day after day.

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It is this underlying contempt which not only resulted in the cavalier attitude of the vaunted international election observer missions of 2019, but also of other shocking sentiments I came across during the election trial period.

For example, in a meeting between members of a large donor organization and representatives of opposition parties, the anti-corruption drive of Chakwera and Chilima was flippantly characterized as an impractical idealism championed only to mask their underlying quest for power.

President Chakwera

The assumption there was that Malawians are incapable of cultivating political ethics which can be manifested in sustained mass action, championed by their preferred political leaders, without the corrupting influences of money or the blinding seductions of power.

Perhaps this is why, as the people marched in the streets for months, a weird convergence between a government without legitimacy, and a donor class unable to countenance a Malawian public with full political faculties, ensued.


Even after the Supreme Court ruling, the possibility of a Government of National Unity which would center the political and donor class while setting aside the sustained demands of the people, loomed in the background.

This was a contingency built on the unstated expectations that June 23 would return a characteristically Malawian chaos and failure. And of course, these expectations despite the masses of people behind the broad change agenda part of which the Tonse coalition enjoyed.

Put mildly, such expectations of Malawians are nested within a paternalism rooted in distressing historical legacies people around world are currently protesting.

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In our own way, we in Malawi have also repudiated political arrangements prizing despotic peace and acquiescence over democratic justice.

We, Malawians, are just as equipped with the human faculties to enable a politics of aspirations, ideas and ethics, and should be extended the same generosity as any other people as to the sincerity of our political pursuits. We too should make mistakes without becoming defined by them.

The horrific looting revealed over the past few weeks compels us to accept that Malawians were neither deluded nor struggling in vain.

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Now, we expect the new administration to deal with these evils, and for our nation’s partners to join us in this optimism of the people’s democratic will.

If Chakwera defaults, we will rise up again — and then again — in a process towards Democratic Justice.

* The writer is a Womanist; a Pan-Africanist and Political Scientist who maintains a Medium blogging account where he predominantly writes about postcoloniality, race and gender. Occasionally, he also writes analyses on International Political Economyand Malawian Politics.