Navigating Press Freedom Challenges: A Moonwalk Perspective

In March 2022, President Lazarus Chakwera invited journalists to his home to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. On that day, he and his former minister of information, Gospel Kazako, spoke a lot about safeguarding Access to Information and ensuring the press enjoyed their freedom to share any story without fear of harassment or arrests.

In Chakwera’s own words, he said

“But we must never seek to harm those who offend us in this way or try to deprive them of their freedom through illegal searches, seizures, arrest or invasive acts like hacking, harassment and Cyberbullying. These things have no place in a free society, and this is a free country.”

Agreeing with him on the day, former minister of information Gospel Kazako, who is a trained journalist himself and owns one of the country’s biggest media houses Zodiak, said “his ministry will continue to operationalize Access To Information because the government wants the current administration to be accountable to the public.”

This was the assurance the journalists needed regarding press freedom and the public’s freedom of expression. It is sad that two years down the line, it may seem that the government has forgotten this commitment. Not that this is the first time they are trashing that commitment to the bin, but the extent of how they have forced a renowned journalist out of the country and seeking asylum because they exposed corruption tells you how backward the country is moving.

A Moonwalk on Press Freedom

Gregory Gondwe

On January 29th, 2024, Platform for Investigative Journalism released an exposé titled “Chakwera Still in Bed with Sattar: Treasury Pays $4.98 million for Armored Carriers amidst Corruption Allegations”. This exposé was written by Gregory Gondwe, the platform’s Executive Director. I covered the story on Malawi’s Political Twists: Are You Not Entertained?

The public immediately went into an outcry when the news broke. This was not only a bad look on the president, it was also a bad look on the Malawi Defense Force. One of the reasons is that recently, during the court proceeding where the vice president, Saulos Chilima, is facing criminal charges due to his relationship with Zuneth Sattar, the MDF stated that they could not release their documents as it would breach national security.

Many people made assumptions that they were afraid that it would show that even Chakwera, who sternly proclaimed that his government would deal with the corrupt and the state capture, might have dealt with Sattar. The MDF, still dealing with Sattar regardless of the cases in court against him, shows a lack of backbone and further raises questions if Sattar and his companies are the only ones that could procure armory for the force.

It is also against what the Attorney General, Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda, said when he declared that the Malawi government had terminated all their contracts with Sattar and any of his affiliated companies.

However, a few days ago, Gregory Gondwe wrote on his Facebook that he was a wanted man by the Malawi Defence Force and that he was in hiding. On February 3rd, it was reported that he had safely gotten out of the country.

Press Freedom: Gregory Gondwe shares how he is wanted by the MDF

Ladies and Gentlemen, that is the current state of press freedom in the country.

Kamuzu era enacted

When the story broke that Gregory Gondwe was in hiding, one of my colleagues said something that caught my attention. He said this was the Malawi Congress Party’s playbook being acted out. I thought of how right it was.

If we were to rewind, I would stop the film at the firebombing that took place in Zambia on October 13, 1989, that claimed a Malawian journalist by the name Mkwapatira Mhango and his family, who had been exiled due to his writings about the misuse of funds by Kamuzu Banda and Cecilia Kadzamira.

Read more stories on Kamuzu Banda:

The Unknown Prisoners of Kamuzu Banda

Review: Political Prisoner 3/75 by Sam Mpsau

Review: Fearless Fighter by Vera Chirwa

At the time of his death, his brother, Goodluck Mhango, had been in detention since 1987 because of the same. Several other journalists either faced detention or were forced out of their homes during the one-party rule if they dared write anything negative about Kamuzu Banda and his regime.

There was never any press freedom then, he ruled everything and censored the media so they could only write the good about it to brainwash the masses.

To be fair, no Malawian journalist, especially those who write political pieces, can ever say they have enjoyed press freedom even after the Access to Information bill was passed. While it does not get to the extreme of journalists seeking asylum as it has happened now, we have seen them get pettily arrested when political figures do not agree with what they’ve written.

This has been a long battle between the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Malawi Chapter and the government. They arrest journalists, MISA Malawi complaints and appeals, and then the journalists are bailed. Such a toxic vicious cycle that is now threatening to become extreme.

Sattar Makes Me Lose My Mind

Let us go back to the words of Chakwera in 2022 during the World Press Freedom Day,

“But we must never seek to harm those who offend us in this way or try to deprive them of their freedom through illegal searches, seizures, arrest or invasive acts like hacking, harassment and Cyberbullying. These things have no place in a free society, and this is a free country.”

What does it say when a journalist claims his life is in danger because they exposed corrupt dealings in the government? Does that reflect how much of a FREE COUNTRY Malawi is?

What was even worse in 2022 was that a month after His Excellency spoke highly of Malawi being a free country, with the press having freedom, the same man in hiding now was arrested for exposing Zuneth Sattar’s dealings with the country. In April 2022, he was arrested and the Platform for Investigative Journalism offices were raided by the Malawi Police.

Their phones and computers were confiscated, with the hope of finding the sources that had fed them the news about Sattar. He was released that same day with no charges against him. However, that was the message that Malawians needed to know that we still have years to gain proper press freedom and freedom of speech.

Two years later, here we are again. Another Sattar story was exposed, another mayhem unleashed on the journalist, whose wish was for Malawians to know that the government was still feasting with the man they portrayed to be a devil. Only this time, he is not being chased by the police, it is the MDF. One thing we all know is how thorough they can be with their operations.

What truly is concerning is that instead of trying to curb the corruption, they are trying to silence those exposing the corruption. That is how we know this country is rotten to the core.

Press Freedom is a myth in this country. Share your thoughts below.

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