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Persecution of civil society and education campaigners in Malawi

16 August 2011: Global March is concerned following a report from the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) over challenges facing civil society organisations in Malawi. It would appear that members of the education coalition CSCQBE (the Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education) are now facing prolonged and unprecedented discrimination and persecution by the government. As a result, the GCE and the Africa Network Campaign on Education For All (ANCEFA) are calling for an immediate end to this discrimination and sending messages of solidarity from around the world to activists in Malawi.

The Coalition has been at the forefront of campaigning, monitoring and implementing education in Malawi for many years. However, during this time it has received regular threats and suffered from persecution that have impacted on its ability to carry out its vital role. Nevertheless, the coalition has promoted quality, equity, access and management of the education sector in line with Malawi Vision 2020, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) and the country’s education sector strategy. The coalition is also widely known for its contribution towards transparency and good governance in the education sector through its budget tracking and advocacy initiatives.

The coalition, a number of civil society organisations and their leaders have received recent verbal and physical threats. These threats not only affect the rights of these individuals but also greatly restrict their meaningful contributions towards ensuring quality education for all. GCE reports that CSCQBE Executive Director, Mr Benedicto Kondowe, has received threats to his personal safety.

With an estimated population of nearly 14 million people, Malawi is a land-locked country in southern Africa. Compared to other African nations, it has a relatively low adult literacy rate of 35 per cent and faces several social problems including poverty, where 63 per cent of the population lives under US$2 a day, and a high HIV/AIDS infection rate. The country is also prone to repeated inundation by floods from continuous and heavy rainfalls. Given these significant national development challenges, it seems incongruous that the government is turning its attention to withholding fundamental rights of freedom expression, including through peaceful demonstrations – rights which are enshrined in the country’s constitution. GCE is also concerned that there does not appear to be any willingness on the part of the Malawian authorities to address the rift that has arisen between the government and university lecturers over the exercise of academic freedom – the cause of some of the demonstrations.

The government’s approach flies in the face of the need to prioritise socio-economic development in Malawi. The fight to educate nearly 5 million illiterate youth and adults and 600,000 out‐of‐school children cannot succeed if civil society cannot work or voice their concerns without fear of persecution. “Surely the government must realise where its priorities must lay and where its focus should be,” said Kailash Satyarthi, Chair of Global March. “The civil society coalition on education for all is interested in one thing only – to ensure that all children can benefit from a good quality, accessible and free education. This goal is a shared goal with government – education for all is central to lifting Malawi out of poverty and ensuring a decent and dignified future for its citizens. We urge the government of Malawi to cease its persecution of education activists and educators and focus on the needs and expectations of their children and people.”

GCE and ANCEFA have extended their congratulations to the coalition in Malawi on their work and achievements. In addition, they have called upon the government to take a lead in providing good quality education for all and a good working environment to enable civil society organisations, activists and academics to participate in a safe, meaningful, and constructive way to national development.

For more information on CSQBE in Malawi, click here

For more information on ANCEFA, click here

For more information on GCE, click here