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Constitutional crisis in Malawi averted, Bishop reports: The Church of England Newspaper, April 22, 2012 p April 26, 2012

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Bishop James Tengatenga

Church leaders have joined Southern Africa’s first female head of state in calling for calm in the wake of the sudden death of Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika. The chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council, Bishop James Tengatenga of Southern Malawi told The Church of England Newspaper the “situation is hopeful” as a constitutional crisis appears to have been averted. However, “we would appreciate more prayers and support in whatever possible ways in influencing decisions” to restore “relations between the UK and Malawi.”

On 12 April 2012 the 78-year old president was reported to have died after a heart attack. However, the government did not confirm the president’s death for three days, prompting fears of a potential coup.

Concerns over a democratic transition of power to the then Vice President, Joyce Banda, were heightened after Information Minister Patricia Kaliati on Friday said Mrs Banda could not take over as head of state because she had gone into opposition. Elected vice president in 2009, in 2010 Mrs. Banda broke with the president and his ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP). The DPP subsequently expelled Mrs. Banda from the party, but she retained her office in government and formed the opposition People’s Party.

The UK, US and African governments pressed the DPP to honour the constitution, and Mrs. Banda was sworn in to office after President’ Mutharika’s death was announced. Among her first actions was the sacking of government and police officials responsible for the harsh crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Mr Mutharika governed Malawi for eight years, but had come under pressure from church and civil society leaders for mismanaging the economy and adopting an increasingly autocratic rule. The president expelled the British High Commissioner last year, after wikileaks published a harsh appraisal of the president sent by the High Commissioner to London. The Cameron government responded by cutting off direct aid.

Bishop Tengatenga told CEN that “all is well with us after a trying tridium. The Lord who loves the people and the land of Malawi saved us from a possible chaotic situation after the death of our president.”

“Our hope is that peace continues in our land and that the leadership works for the good of the nation,” the bishop said, adding that it was the hope of the country’s civil society leaders that the new government will take quick steps to address the “challenges facing our nation.”

“The economy needs to be set on the right path of recovery. That will require mending the fences and rebuilding the bridges that the former leadership burned as a first step. In that we hope that we can get the help that the country badly needs. It will certainly take a long time to bring the country to even keel but the first steps have to be taken. Secondly in this matter of economy, it is imperative for the new government to consult with all stake holders in order to find common solutions to our problems. Solutions exist if only the leadership will make use of all the brain power we are blessed with,” the bishop said.

Bishop Tengatenga, who was the keynote speaker at a pro-democracy conference last month stated the new government knows “what the people’s agenda is and they need to listen to the people and do their best to keep the rule of law.”

“If they will not heed that call they will find it difficult to lead the nation and we will have a turbulent two years before the general elections. They have no choice but to fulfill the necessary calls for reform,” he added.

“As we mourn our late president we cherish your prayer support so that all goes according to plan and he is buried with all the dignity he deserves,” the bishop said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Bishop rejects govt charges of sedition: The Church of England Newspaper, March 23, 2012 March 23, 2012

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Bishop James Tengatenga

The Bishop of Southern Malawi has repudiated government claims that a meeting of the country’s religious leaders last week sought to foment a coup against President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Bishop James Tengatenga told the opening session of Malawi’s Public Affairs Committee (PAC) held at the Limbe Catholic Cathedral parish hall on 14-15 March 2012 the stated theme of the meeting: “Time to reclaim our destiny-seeking redress to our political and economic challenges,” was not a call for insurrection.

The meeting of church and civil society leaders, academics, and aid workers and businessmen sought to find “effective solutions and plans” to resolve the economic and political “plight” of Malawi.

“Reclaim does not mean remove…the word does not imply any intention to stage a coup on the current regime,” the bishop said, according to reports of his speech printed in the Malawian press.

However, the Church of England Newspaper was told that police searched those entering the building, and throughout the conference riot police patrolled the streets of the country’s two principal cities: Blantyre and Lilongwe.

Last week presidential spokesman Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba told reporters the PAC meeting was a gathering of “plotters and opposition politicians who are plotting regime change” with the help of foreign aid donors.

In his keynote address to the PAC meeting, Bishop Tengatenga said: “We gather here today to take a resolve to maintain the original vision of consolidating democracy, and to rekindle the original motivation to reclaim the future we have always wished to see.”

In a democratic a society the people had the right to question the authority and competence of “any regime at any particular time–for all leaders rule based on trust bestowed upon them by the Malawian society.”

Citing the text of the country’s constitution, the bishop said “the authority to exercise power of the state is conditional upon the sustained trust of the people of Malawi and that trust can only be maintained through open, accountable and transparent government and informed democratic choices.”

These words gave groups like PAC the right tocriticise authorities or to withdraw the authority to govern.”

Since the 2009 elections that cemented the power of President Mutharika and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party the country has seen a sharp deterioration of its economy, primarily caused by skyrocketing fuel prices.  The government has clamped down on criticism, which led to a break in relations with many foreign aid donors including the U.K.

“Things have fallen apart economically and politically,” the bishop told the meeting, and it was not time to “reclaim our destiny.”

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Arab Spring coming to Malawi?: Church of England Newspaper, January 13, 2012 p 6. January 14, 2012

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Bishop James Tengatenga

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The senior Anglican bishop of Malawi, the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, has denounced the government of President Bingu wa Mutharika as being out of touch and set on serving its own needs rather than those of the people.

It was “ridiculous” to “pretend that nothing is wrong in our country,” Bishop Tengatenga told worshipers in Blantyre on New Year’s Day. His sermon, which enjoyed wide circulation, suggests the social and political forces that unleashed the Arab Spring appear set to move south into Sub-Saharan Africa, sources in Malawi tell The Church of England Newspaper.
Popular discontent with the autocratic rule of the King of Swaziland is widespread and rumblings of discontent are beginning to be heard in Botswana. But Malawi witnessed a summer of anti-government protests with rioters looting shops and engaging in running battles with police.

Approximately 20 people died in anti-government clashes in July with police Lilongwe and Blantyre as demonstrators called for President Mutharika to resign. Tensions were eased when the president authorized a national dialogue with civil society leaders – including Bishop Tengatenga – to address anger over political and economic mismanagement.

Fuel shortages caused by a shortage of foreign currency have plagued Malawi for almost three years, but President Mutharika refused to follow the advice of the IMF and his economic advisors and devalue the Malawian currency, the Kwacha, to reflect is real value. The president has blamed speculators and the IMF for the currency shortage, which is likely to become a crisis as foreign aid donors, including the U.K., are withholding $400 million until economic and democratic reforms are implemented.

In his address, Bishop Tengatenga called upon Malawians to be patient, but also warned that this patience should be predicated on the government accepting its responsibilities to repair the “malfunctioning system” of governance.

“As we enter another New Year on our long journey of waiting for the coming of our Lord, I urge you to be your best and wait with a purpose,” the bishop said, but “any person should be waiting with a purpose and that nobody should cheat another that things in our country are okay when the opposite is true.”

“Leaders ascend to power because of our votes. If they cannot serve us today, if they cannot solve the problems we are facing today, if they cannot take the responsibility bestowed on them by us now, when and where will they do it?” he asked.

“And if we do not take them to task now when we are suffering, when and where shall we take them to task to address the issues,” the bishop said.

Mugabe meeting for Dr. Williams: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 14, 2011 p 1. October 18, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Central Africa.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has presented a dossier to President Robert Mugabe chronicling the oppression of Zimbabwe’s Anglicans at the hands of the security services and thugs in the pay of breakaway bishop Dr Nolbert Kunonga.

During his two-hour meeting with President Mugabe on 10 October, Dr Rowan Williams urged the Zimbabwe strongman to halt the attacks. President Mugabe professed ignorance of the persecution, but countered by asking the Anglican Church to condemn the sanctions imposed by the West against his regime and for the church to take a firm stand against homosexuality.

Speaking to the press after the meeting, Dr Williams – who was accompanied by Archbishops Albert Chama of Central Africa, Thabo Makgoba of South Africa, Valentino Mokiwa of Tanzania, and the bishops of Harare and Botswana characterised the meeting as having been “very candid” where “disagreements were expressed clearly, but I think in a peaceful manner.”

Dr Williams also clarified the Anglican Communion’s stance on homosexuality, disavowing recent moves by the American and Canadian Churches to authorise gay bishops and blessings stating the church does not allow same-sex relationships and that is common ground across the Anglicans.

“On the practice of homosexuality by bishops in the US and Canada, these are provinces, which do not represent the general line,” he told reporters.

A statement from the bishops said the dossier presented to the President “gives a full account of the abuses to which our people and our church has been subject. We have asked, in the clearest possible terms, that the President use his powers as Head of State to put an end to all unacceptable and illegal behaviour.”

Archbishop Makgoba reported that “although moving on in age and forgetful in certain instances, the President was aware of our pain, frustration and disappointment at the police-aided church conflict and violence by Kunonga.”

The archbishops “appealed to his heart and his Catholic conscience, and asked him to stop the suffering of his people,” Archbishop Makgoba said, adding that “President Mugabe asked that we also pray and intervene to end sanctions, as they were hurting all Zimbabweans. He also said Britain had dishonoured its pledges in the implementation of the country’s post-independence land reform programme.”

After introductions and pleasantries, the meeting began with an hour-long presentation by Dr Williams and his team on the problems facing the church. According to the government-run Harare Herald, President Mugabe said he was unaware of many of the incidents cited by the bishops, but stated the courts would have to sort out the dispute.

President Mugabe then launched into a 30-minute soliloquy, denouncing homosexuality, Western sanctions against his regime and the evils of white colonial rule. He also urged the two Anglican factions to engage in dialogue to resolve their differences.

“He said it would be better for everyone if they united. The President said he hoped the Anglican delegation did not come to Zimbabwe under the impression that the disharmony is the act of Government,” a source told the Herald.

Archbishop kicks off Central African tour in Malawi: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 12, 2011 October 12, 2011

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President Bingu wa Mutharika with Dr Williams

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged Malawians to embrace Christian ambiguity, setting aside their certainties in order to be reconciled with the world.  Anglicans “must be always a church that is on pilgrimage towards the Christ,” Dr. Rowan Williams said, a Christ “who can be discovered in the most needy and helpless.”

On the first stop of his 5 – 13 October Central African tour, Dr. Rowan Williams met with the President of Malawi and led services to mark the 150th anniversary of the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA).

Political relations between Malawi and the UK –  Malawi’s largest aid provider – have been tense since the country expelled the British High Commissioner earlier this year after his remarks critical of President Bingu wa Mutharika were published.  Bishop James Tengatenga and other Anglican leaders have pressed the government to restore relations, saying the diplomatic stand-off harmed the poor.

On 7 Oct 2011 Dr. Williams met with President Mutharika at the Sanjika Palace – the president’s residence outside of Blantyre.  He told reporters “we had very interesting discussions about agriculture in Malawi and problems facing the future of food production.”

Diplomatic in his comments, the archbishop spoke of the government’s work in improving agricultural output, and noted the importance of introducing scientific farming methods to “guarantee food security.”

Speaking the next day before a congregation of approximately 5000 in Magomera to mark the 150th anniversary of the UMCA, Dr. Williams spoke of the need to set aside one’s convictions in order to reconcile with others and to make a better world.  “We want to invite all people to be part of this [Christian] fellowship so that they can more effectively work with God for the healing of his world,” he said.

“The life of the Anglican Church in this country has from the very beginning been a life devoted to liberation,” he said.  The missionary imperative to end slavery that brought David Livingstone, Bishop Mackenzie and other missionaries to Malawi was founded on the belief that slavery caused suffering to slaves and slave-owners, Dr. Williams claimed.

Slavery “was also something that made slave-traders and slave-owners less than properly human.  It degraded everything and everyone it touched.  When Mackenzie and his companions battled against the slave trade, they did so in order that slaves and slave-owners alike might be free.”

The message of the Sermon on the Mount, the archbishop’s text for his address, was that “human lives are blessed by God when they are devoted to justice and peacemaking; when they are lives without arrogance and greed; when they are lives concentrated on the love of God and ready to take risks for the sake of God, not worrying about hostility even when it is violent.”

Christians, he said, “must always, always, seek to be reconciled with one another and must always, always, take the first step to make peace with their enemies and pray for them.”

Archbishop Malango to mediate Malawi crisis: The Church of England Newspaper, Aug 26, 2011 p 7. August 27, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Central Africa, Politics.
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Archbishop Bernard Malango

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The former Primate of Central Africa has been appointed chairman by the Malawi government of the mediation team tasked with finding an amicable solution to the country’s political crisis.

However, opposition leaders and the media have questioned the independence and effectiveness of the Presidential Contact and Dialogue Group (PCDG), noting that its members were all linked to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and were government stooges.

On 13 August President Bingu wa Mutharika named Archbishop Bernard Malango as chairman of the (PCDG), which has been charged with acting as a “platform for contact and dialogue between government” and opposition groups.

The PCDG will “mediate, guide and propose ways of amicably solving any disputes and suggest how the people of Malawi can be united” with the “view to safeguard the peace, security and stability of Malawi.”

The committee was formed after weeks of political and social turmoil in the Central African nation. The protests took a violent turn on 20 July after a 20-point of concern petition was presented to the government by civil rights groups. Civil rights groups demanded the president declare his wealth, address foreign currency and fuel shortages that have all but shut down the economy, and restore diplomatic relations with Britain.

Street protests ensued on 20-21 July, and the security forces used live ammunition to disperse anti-government demonstrations, killing at least 18. The United States has frozen $350 million in foreign aid to Malawi, and the UK cut off its financial support of the impoverished nation after its high commissioner was expelled in May.

The PCDG and opposition leaders held a preliminary meeting on 16 August, facilitated by UN officials, to set guidelines for the talks.

According to a joint communiqué released after the meeting, “mutual respect, transparency, confidentiality and integrity were some of the shared values that emerged” from the talks. “Both parties recognized that dialogue must be pursued for the common good of Malawi,” the statement said.

The negotiators also agreed to permit a public vigil “within a period of four weeks,” allowing the opposition the opportunity of making a public statement of their concerns.

However, the Malawi press took a jaundiced view of the talks. A Nyasa Times editorial stated that while Archbishop Malango and the members of the PCDG were “well meaning and generally good people, this committee is doomed to fail even before it starts working.

It argued that the Malango committee was controlled by the president, who was politically “deaf.”

The president “subscribes to the out-dated philosophy that flexibility and a predisposition to compromise is a sign of weakness or a sell-out,” it said.

President Mutharika was in a weak political position, and the mass demonstrations were “here to stay for the remainder” of his term. The “creation of these useless committees is just another attempt to buy time, favours and sympathy,” the newspaper argued.