Member of Parliament for Lobatse has said he feels vindicated after it emerged this week that the Government of Malawi has deported a British High Commissioner for voicing concerns at growing intolerance and dictatorship of Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika.
Nehemiah Modubule of the Botswana Movement for Democracy recently caused a diplomatic storm when he boycotted a state visit by the President of Malawi citing Wa Mutharika’s dictatorship.
At the invitation of President Ian Khama, the Malawian Bingu Wa Mutharika officiated at the opening of the multi-million Pula Lobatse Stadium at which event Modubule was scheduled to give a ‘vote of thanks’ as the area Member of Parliament.
In an unprecedented twist that also embarrassed President Khama, Modubule said his conscience did not permit him to share a podium with a dictator of Bingu’s ilk who found nothing wrong in suppressing political and media freedoms in his native Malawi.
Modubule was joined by all opposition Members of Parliament from across the divide who said it was shameful that President Ian Khama saw nothing wrong inviting an accomplished dictator like Bingu Wa Mutharika at a time when Botswana’s foreign policy sought to actively entrench human rights and broaden democracy across Africa in general and Southern Africa in particular.
But this week, a high level British diplomat was given 48 hours to leave Malawi for saying exactly what Modubule had said about the Malawian President.
“It’s not like what I said about Bingu Wa Mutharika was out of political expediency. I did not boycott his visit because I needed to score political points. I was only expressing what many human rights organizations across the world are saying about his leadership in Malawi,” Modubule told Sunday Standard.
Before he was deported from Malawi last week, the British High Commissioner based in Lilongwe had warned his supervisors in London that governance situation continued to deteriorate in terms of media freedom, freedom of speech and minority rights.
“President Mutharika is becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism. In a public speech on 6 March he called for his supporters to go to the streets to fight his critics to bring discipline in this country. In another speech, two weeks later, reported by the press as Bingu blasts donors, he accused donors of breaching the Vienna Convention through our support to NGOs: what is your agenda in Malawi? Both speeches have provoked action against civil society and donor heads of mission,” said part of the leaked cable by the British High Commissioner.
Incidentally Wa Mutharika’s March 6 speech was also cited by Modubule as part of the legislator’s reasons behind boycotting the state visit.
“On the 6 March 2011, addressing a rally in Blantyre , Dr Mutharika was reported as having called on the youth members of his organisation , the Democratic Progressive Party, to assault members of the opposition who criticize him. According to Dr Mutharika, the youth of the DPP must bring about discipline in Malawi. This, presumably, they will do by beating up critics of the president. As an opposition legislator myself , belonging to the Botswana Movement of Democracy (BMD) such utterances, attributed to a head of the state, who also happens to be the current chairman of the African Union, have left me shocked, and my appearance on the same podium would amount to complicity in the harassment of opposition activists in Malawi. It seems Dr Mutharika is unable to learn the lessons of history. By inciting violence against his political opponents, he is merely repeating what used to happen during the one party dictatorship of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda when pro democracy voices were detained, tortured and killed. My conscience therefore does not allow me to seat next to a man whose intolerance and conduct bear all the hallmarks authoritarianism. I am afraid my appearance at the event under reference would send the wrong signal to civil society, religious leaders and all the peace loving Malawians who have reacted with revulsion to the words of their president. At this moment, I choose to stand in solidarity with the peace loving people of Malawi. The remarks made by president Mutharika are meant to intimidate the opposition into silence. As a lifelong champion of human rights and democratic values, I cannot be part of an event or anything that will promote president Mutharika as an international statesman when in actual fact his actions are the very opposite of that image. The time has come for those who subscribe to democratic standards, on this continent, to expose and shun leaders who preach democracy on the international arena, but whose domestic behavior contradicts all tenets of democracy. If we are opposed to undemocratic leaders, let us show it by demonstrable action. This is my humble gesture to protest against President Muthurika , and I hope more civil society activists, pro -democracy formations and public representatives in Botswana would give expression to their feelings through concrete action,” said Modubule as he justified his stance.
This week Modubule said because of Wa Mutharika’s dictatorial tendencies, donors were now more conditional in their assistance of Malawi.
“The Western countries are very worried by the path that Mutharika has chosen for Malawi,” said Modubule.
He said he hoped Malawi will once again revert to true democracy where civil organisations, opposition and donor organization will be free to differ with Government without fear of deportation or harassment.