Let me start by apologizing to readers and followers of this blog for the long period of silence. I could not believe it myself to find that my last post was in August – three months back. I have no strong reasons to offer for this silence and can only apologize.
Now to my two topics, starting with the introduction of quota system for University selection.
I must say I agree with President Mutharika on one aspect of this issue: the imbalance in University selection needs to be addressed to malke it more representative. However, I do not agree that the quota system is the way to addressing the root causes of the imbalance.
The solution, in my humble view, rests in the answer to question: why do students in one particular region (the north) fare better in our national exams than those from the other two (and more populous regions)? The fact that our brothers and sisters from the northern region have time and again demonstrated an ability to perform well in national exams is something worth celebrating. To accuse them of cheating – as the President implied in his recent address when he argued that University Lecturers from the north leak exams to northern-students – is not only cheap of the President, but is also demeaning and contemptuous to the professionalism of our esteemed Lecturers from the north – whose dedication and intellect I can personally vouch for any time, any day.
We should look at the strong performance of the students from the northern region as an opportunity, one that we should replicate in the other two regions. In my view, students from the central and southern regions are no less intelligent than those from the north. The question to be addressed by any policy therefore has to be to work towards bringing out this intellect from central and southern students to enable them to stand up on their own with their northern counterparts. The quota system, in my view, merely addresses the superficial aspect of the imbalance, not the root causes.
I do not have solutions to the problem, which needs some deeper research. But I dare say among the issues to be considered are the student-pupil teacher ratios. It is a known fact that there is more congestion in schools in the more populous central and southern districts, with some statistics suggesting that there are twice as many students for every teacher in the central and southern regions than there are in the north. There are also more students sharing a classroom in the central and southern regions than there are in the north. Clearly, these factors contribute to undermining performance of students from the two regions in national exams. A real solution to addressing the imbalance in University selection therefore needs to address these underlying issues - by improving the student-teacher ratio, increasing the number of classroom space and generally making the education system more conducive than is currently the case. Others might argue there is also a need to change the attitude towards education in the central and southern regions, but I am no expert on that.
Otherwise, to the extent that quota system does not address the underlying problems, I would say it is no solution at all.
On elections for Leader of Opposition
I must say I am very saddened to see the turn of events and the direction that our politics is taking. While many celebrated the DPP's landslide victory in the last elections, there were some of us that feared the consequences of such an absolute majority on our young democracy.
There is simply no way I can agree to the view that the ruling party should have a say on who should be the Leader of Opposition. It is a joke and a mockery to our democracy that a Parliament that some had argued had the best brains on the land has chosen to go down this path. The government side should have no say on who should lead those opposing it, much in the same way as the opposition currently has no say on who should be the leader of the government side in the National Assembly.
The recent changes that have allowed the government to have a crucial say in the choice of the Leader of Opposition demeans the value of that office, as the holder now becomes beholden to government and has to answer to them to keep his/her seat. For a government that already has a strong majority in numbers, they could have demonstrated some maturity by keeping out of the infighting among the opposition.
For those who argue that this move serves to teach MCP strongman, John Tembo a lesson – I would say you miss the point. Laws/ rules should not be designed to target a particular individual. They are meant to be timeless. This was the reason some of us strongly objected to the efforts to remove the presidential term limits in 2001/2002. The argument by the UDF at the time that Muluzi was a good leader and a performer (????) was never enough to justify changing a law that applies to all future presidents of the country.
Removing Tembo from the position of the Leader of opposition should have been an internal MCP matter. Those MCP MPs/members not happy with Tembo's leadership should have taken their battle to a party convention. Otherwise, in my view, despite the validity of their protestations about lack of democracy in their party, they are no better than the man they accuse by choosing to take a non-democratic route themselves. Those who celebrate that Tembo's removal is good for democracy, I would: what democracy? The people that have orchestrated Tembo's removal are not democrats themselves. I personally would rather live with people that are democratically elected, even if their democratic credentials are questionable than applaud the removal of a democratically elected leader by non-democrats.
It is a sad day for democracy in Malawi and I for one, am not celebrating.