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Malawi University Lecturers Defy Presidential Order

Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, president of the academic staff union says the lecturers want assurances of their academic freedom

In Malawi, lecturers at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, have defied a directive by President Bingu wa Mutharika to return to class Monday.

The lecturers have not been teaching for nearly four weeks protesting what they call “interference in their academic freedom.”

Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika
Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika

Malawi Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito summoned associate political science professor Blessings Chinsinga over a lecture the professor gave which drew parallels between Malawi's current fuel crisis and the uprisings that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt.

All attempts by VOA to reach Malawi government spokesman Symon Vuwa Kaunda failed. But, Mukhito has been quoted as saying academic freedom must be balanced with issues of national security.

Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, president of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union, says the professors will not return to class until they receive assurances of academic freedom guaranteed under the Malawian constitution.

“First of all, I wouldn’t say we have abandoned classes. The fact is we have not been teaching because we are afraid to teach because one of our colleagues was interrogated by the inspector general of police on the 12th of February. We have not been able to teach because we are afraid to go through what he went through, and we are also expressing our fears to go through what he went through,” she said.

Kabwila-Kapasula says the professors held a meeting Sunday and decided not to honor Mutharika’s order to return to class.

“We had a meeting Sunday and we agreed that the reasons why we left class are still holding. Instead of the inspector general assuring us that our academic freedom won’t be impinged on, his letter was actually reiterating that we should balance academic freedom with national security,” Kabwila-Kapasula said.

She says Malawi’s constitution guarantees that academic freedom cannot be mitigated by any one or any state functionary.

“What we want Mr. Mukhito to do is assure us that our academic freedom will not be impinged on again. According to us, what he did was a violation of what the constitution gives us because, under [the] Malawi constitution, academic freedom is at par with the right to life, and it is stated clearly that you cannot interrogate me over what I am teaching,” she said.

Speaking at a teachers' graduation Sunday, Mutharika reportedly wondered whether it was academic freedom to "incite students to topple their government like in Egypt.”

But, Kabwila-Kapasula says the president should join the lecturers in defending the constitution.

“I think the main issue that we should understand is what the constitution is saying is nobody can get into the class and say what you are saying is inciting. Our constitution has protected us because we come from a background of people trying to use what I teach in class as [a] way to stop academics from what they are doing,” Kabwila-Kapasula said.