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Somos el Grupo Coordinador del Portal para Cristianos en Política (CPP). Creemos que los valores Cristianos y los principios de nuestro redentor Jesucristo son muy importantes para la sociedad y la política.
Malawi previously known as Nyasaland was colonized by the British from 1891 to 1964 when the country became independent. After independence Malawi was under the one party autocratic rule of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda who ruled the country for thirty years until the re-introduction of multiparty politics in 1994. Since then Malawi has had four general elections, the last one being in May, 2009 which was won by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under Dr Bingu wa Mutharika who dumped the party, the United Democratic Front (UDF) that sponsored him into power in 2004 to form his own, the DPP, in February, 2005.
Malawi has an estimated population of just over 15 million people, with a growth rate of 2.7 percent per annum. This population is spread across three regions, with the Tumbuka speaking in the north, the Chewa in the centre and the Yao and Lomwe in the south. 80 percent of Malawians are Christians, while 13 percent are Muslims, with the remainder being divided among atheists, other small religions such as Hindus, Bahai’s and traditional African religions. Life expectancy at birth is 50.03 years while infant mortality is high. Adult HIV/AIDS prevalence is estimated at 11.9 percent of the population. These factors have a bearing on the culture and nature of Malawian politics.
The Role and Influence of Religion and the Church on Malawians and the State
According to the Constitution, the Republic of Malawi is a secular state, and implied in this, is the separation of the Church and State. However, Malawians are very religious, and religion plays a very significant role in the lives of most ordinary people. Religion also exerts tremendous influence on the State. For example, Malawi’s re-democratization journey in 1994 started with a Pastoral Letter called the Lentern, written by Catholic Bishops in 1992 at Easter. This letter which was read in all Catholic congregations throughout the country sparked a chain of events culminating in the downfall of the 30 year one-party rule of the mighty and indomitable Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and the re-introduction of multiparty democracy in Malawi in 1994. Other examples include the church’s influence in 2001 when it mobilized its members who joined Civil Society Organizations against the changing of the Constitution to allow the then incumbent President Bakili Muluzi a third term of office. This move would not have been conducive to the democratic journey that Malawi had embarked on. Further, the church not being happy with the low welfare of the people caused by perceived poor government policies which were dragging the economy down, was instrumental in the formation of a coalition made up of different political parties in the run up to the 2004. The aim of the coalition was to oust the regime perceived to be corrupt and inefficient causing untold misery to the people.
The importance of Religion and the church’s influence and prominence on Malawi’s political landscape can be witnessed when there is a political crisis, stalemates or standoffs in the National Assembly when the Clergy are called upon for arbitration. The State turns to the Church to resolve its conflicts on the political landscape. This shows that the Church’s power and influence is acknowledged and respected. This intervention has been very positive on Malawi’s politics and its people. The Church also plays a ‘Watchdog’ role which helps to keep the government of the day in check, and holds it accountable not only to the poor, marginalized, vulnerable and voiceless people, but also to all Malawians.
In conclusion, although by Constitutional implication there is separation between the Church and State, Malawians are generally religious and religion plays a very significant role both on the people and the State. The State acknowledges this point that is, it calls upon the Church to arbitrate in times of political crisis. The Church also has a role over and above its pastoral role, and has a right and a duty to contribute through dialogue and teachings, like any other member of civil society, to shape public laws, values, morals and policies. The current relationship between Church and State is healthy for the advancement of Malawi’s democracy.
Written by Ann Maganga, Program Officer of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy Malawi, wife of a Pastor ministering the Word of God in Lilongwe, Malawi.