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Malawi University Lecturers ‘Unimpressed’ With Presidential Order to End Strike

Malawi's President Bingu Wa Mutharika speaks during the Millennium Development Goals Summit at United Nations headquarters i(file photo)

Concerned lecturers at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College say they will only return to the classroom after their concerns are fully addressed.

Their statement follows President Bingu Wa Mutharika’s order for the university to re-open and for the lecturers to report to work without any pre-conditions.

Bright Theu, lead attorney and a member of the university teachers, said Mr. Mutharika’s directive was a “political suggestion” which did not address their concerns. The lecturers want a guarantee of academic freedom in the classroom.

“The president’s so-called directive is a good political suggestion towards the resolution of the impasse,” said Theu.” We are fully aware that the president as chancellor of the University of Malawi is not the competent authority to hire…, fire….,or reinstate [staff].”

The University Council, which is charged with running the school, is the only entity that can re-open it.

Chancellor College was closed in February following lecturer complaints that government agents are spying on them in the classroom.

This followed a standoff between the teachers and the Inspector General of Police, Peter Mukhito. He interrogated a lecturer who drew parallels between the conditions that led to the Arab Spring to those in Malawi.

The teachers demanded an apology and guarantees of academic freedom in the classrooms. But the top police officer refused after he received President Mutharika’s backing to not do so.

Theu said the lecturers didn’t want to quit teaching.

“That fear of espionage, the fear of intelligence being deployed into the college, is what took the lecturers out of the class. And there have been negotiations over the period of the impasse…talking about how the fear of spies could be tackled,” said Theu. “It’s our hope that as the impasse draws to an end, we will take into account all these interim agreements that have been arrived at during the course of the dialogue.”