afrol News, 4 June - After the Presbyterian Church of Malawi last month issued a pastoral letter criticising President Muluzi for not upholding "democratic values", now Muslim leaders embark on a frontal attack on Muluzi and his policies. The Sunni Muslim Supreme Council of Malawi in a letter calls the President "a cheat and a liar".
President Bakili Muluzi has upset wide parts of the Malawian society over the last months for not coming out into the open whether he will seek a third, unconstitutional third presidential term. Leading Christian and Muslim societies have united against the campaign, "which is causing a lot of anxiety among Malawians" (Sunni Muslims) asking him to "simply declare your decision not to seek a third term and we believe this matter will be put to rest" (Presbyterians).
The Roman Catholic Church of Malawi has so far been more careful commenting the political situation in the country. It was however the first to make a statement with a pastoral letter, released on 25 March, asking government to hold referenda on matters which affect the Constitution to solicit the opinion of the masses. It also said, "We should not allow anyone or any group to manipulate others into eroding the Constitution."
While neither the Catholics nor the Presbyterians do not want to make a "judgment on your effectiveness as president," the Sunni Council goes further, listing the failures of Muluzi's policies; corruption, undemocratic behaviour, intimidation of the opposition and religious leaders, moral decay, extravagant government spending, economic failure, increased poverty, etc.
The Sunni Council's letter to the President, facilitated through the Chronicle Newspaper, especially emphasises on Muluzi's profession of Islam, explaining him why he cannot call himself a Muslim. "You ... remain in office despite the rampant corruption in your government, bribing and buying support for you to rule even beyond the constitutional requirements. This shows that you are not a true democrat and a true Muslim. You are in fact a bad man."
- You might wonder why we consider you not a true Muslim, the letter goes on. "The following are the reasons: A Muslim is always honest but you are not, you are a cheat and a liar; Proper Muslims respect promises but you do not and you cannot; A Muslim will not, under any circumstances, enter a Christian church, stand on the alter and ask to be sang a Christian song. We believe this must also be contrary to the Christian faith whereby a non-convert cannot be allowed to do what you do in Christian churches."
The letter mentions several cases of Muluzi spending large amounts on alcohol, also inviting Muslim societies to get drunk with him. During the 1996-97 Holy Month of Ramadan, Muluzi had bought "beers, gin, Castle lager, and all sorts of alcoholic drinks and entertained" his Muslim and non-Muslim guests. In his October 1999 wedding, he "spent MK50 million when you knew very well that many clinics had no drugs and that there was hunger in the rural areas." Alcohol consumption was high.
Apart from attacks on Muluzi's person, the Sunni Sheikhs criticise all aspects of his governance. "In your government, which you say is democratic, there is neither justice nor respect of culture," the letter says, before listing, in enormous detail, all types of government failure.
On democratic values and corruption, the letter says, "Your government is busy politically corrupting some opposition leaders by bribing them and seducing them with money to join your party and denounce other political parties. This does not create a healthy democratic environment but creates an atmosphere of barbarism." It names details.
On development and culture, the letter says, "You have destroyed the culture that Malawi built for thirty years. Women are walking about naked, wearing see-through. Young men and boys are smoking Indian hemp openly and publicly. There is no respect between women and men, children and parents. People spend long hours drinking beer. All these are not conducive elements for development." Details are provided.
On economy and the government's cooperation with the Word Bank and IMF, the letter says, "The system of liberalisation which has resulted in the abolition of price control, has given opportunity to people to charge prices the way they want without fearing God or Government."
On governance the letter says, "In United States of America there are 54 states which are being controlled by 12 ministers who are known as Secretary of States. ... [In] Malawi we find that we have 36 cabinet ministers, 34 junior ministers and 34 principle secretaries. Each one of these earn K30 to 40 million per annum. That amount goes only because of a signature on the letters."
On Muluzi's extravagance the letter says, "Ask yourself why you use a helicopter when other richer Presidents use presidential cars? Which one is expensive between a helicopter and car? This shows that you don't have the heart of sacrificing for the sake of our country's economy."
The general attack by the Sunni Council is the most outspoken critic of Muluzi's Malawi so far, signed by a group of 13 sheikhs. Normally, a criticism that strong, alleging the President's moral decay, undemocratic practices, drunkenness, corruption, extravagance in personal spending and political failure, has an aftermath in court in Malawi.
Only last week, the editor of "The Dispatch" newspaper, Martines Namingah, was detained for "publishing false information likely to cause public fear and alarm" for publishing articles entitled for example "Muluzi scared". Muluzi will however find it difficult to detain the entire Sunni Council.
Some 8 percent of Malawians are Muslim (although they are organised by different congregations). 22 percent are Roman Catholics, the biggest religious society of Malawi. The Presbyterian Church of Malawi is the second largest church of the country, to which some 15 percent of Malawians belong. Over 50 percent of Malawians profess to African religions.
Sources: Sunni Council, The Chronicle Newspaper and afrol archives