Lecturers at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, continue their weeks-long boycott, despite an order by President Bingu wa Mutharika to return to the classroom.
The lecturers say their academic freedom was infringed on when Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito summoned an associate political science professor for a lecture which drew parallels between Malawi's current fuel crisis and the uprisings that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt.
The lecturers are demanding an apology and an assurance that their academic freedom will not be infringed on again.
But, last weekend, Mutharika defended Mukhito’s actions. The president reportedly says he, as commander-in-chief of Malawi Police Services, cannot apologize to what he called a “mere lecturer.”
Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, president of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union, says Mutharika’s comments amount to executive arrogance.
“The president, in a party meeting [Saturday], actually said he wanted [to] reiterate what he said last Friday, that is to say that the Inspector General of Police will not apologize. He said, if the Inspector General of police apologizes, because the president is the commander-in-chief of the police, it would be as if he is apologizing,” she says.
Kabwila-Kapasula says a leader who actually feels he or she has done something wrong and apologizes for it would be looked upon favorably by the citizens.
“One would like to think that as a leader who actually can apologize when they feel they have done something wrong, in my opinion, I don’t think it will make him a weak leader at all; it will actually make him gain a lot of support in my eyes or in the eyes of a good number of his voters and citizens of this country because they will know that he has seen where he has gone wrong. But, apparently, he says he cannot do that. To me, that comes out as executive arrogance,” Kabwila-Kapasula says.
She says the lecturers have gone to court to challenge the constitutionality of Mutharika’s order for them to return to the classroom as well Mukhito’s summons of associate political science professor Blessings Chinsinga.
“On Saturday he [Mutharika] gave an order that we should go back to class without any of our demands being met, and we went to court to ask if that order is constitutional. We have also gone to court to get a stay so that order and anything that is attending to that order, there should be a stay on that. We’ve also asked the court to interpret if what the Inspector General of Police did to Dr. Chinsinga, and by extension to us, is constitutional,” Kabwila-Kapasula says.
She says the courts are expected to rule on the appeals by April 20. And, Kabwila-Kapasula says several Malawian organizations are expressing solidarity with the university lecturers.
“Several organizations in the country are expressing solidarity and underlining that the issue academic freedom is pivotal to many issues of development and defines citizenry in many ways. For example, we had the Law Society and then we also had MCTU, which [is] the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions. We’ve also had constituent colleges joining in this show of fear to teach,” she says.
Kabwila-Kapasula also says all the organizations have agreed to take what she calls unspecified action if their academic freedom is not assured.