The resistance of the executive against the Access to Information (ATI) bill is interesting. Their total butchering of the bill before tabling it in Parliament shows that they do want to stop the population from getting the information they are constitutionally mandated to. The strategy is clear: until the bill is passed into law, the issue will remain over the ruling classes head like Damocles’ sword: it can strike at any moment. But when a totally impotent bill has been passed into law, the issue can be put at rest, while the law is impotent: the information can be refused referring to one of many provisions in the law. And the recourse, going to court, is going to take forever, especially considering that the executive hold the power over the judiciary in the Malawian situation: the head of the judiciary is directly appointed by the President. (And as Bingu wa Mutharika has said: How can you be independent of the person who appoints you?).
However, the fight over the ATI bill illustrates the situation in Malawi quite clearly: it is a fight between the ruling class (conservatives) and the middle class (or bourgeoisie) . While Tom Khanje of MISA maintains that the ATI law will be for al Malawians, it is hard to see how it will be used by the smallholder farmer to improve his situation and relieve the stress of imminent hunger that looms over every one of them currently.
In the long term, the middle class ruling may give a better situation for the smallholder farmer, but that is far from clear. When the middle classes of Europe took power, through the French Revolution in France and step by step in Britain, the proletarian class was no better off than before, until they put up a long and bitter struggle. The improvement of their situation was achieved step by step, through political and trade union work, but that was far from peaceful, and it took a long time of suffering. The end result was that the working class I Europe got to improve their situation, paid for by the population in the third world, first through colonialism, now through neo colonial rule, according to neo liberal standards. The local ruling class is made to implement neo liberal policies in exchange for a luxurious lifestyle. The proletarians here are paying the bill. The resolution is hard to see. There is no other part of the world left to replace the current proletarians in the third world, who can create the wealth that is consumed by the first world.
In Malawi, the challenge is to involve the majority of the population: the small holder farmers (and other oppressed groups). Generally, small holder farmers are very lowly educated because the education system is kept in a sorry state. This robs the class of the intellectuals that could provide leadership for a small holder farmer movement. The few who manage to get a decent education tend to forget about the whole class and, according to liberal logic, opt for individual betterment of their lot (and pass on some to their family). We cannot blame that for this choice, especially in the current times. But it does little for the improvement of the situation of the lowest earning group in Malawi, the small holder farmer. Ideally we would have some intellectuals from the middle class devoting themselves to improvement of the education, including political consciousness, for small holder farmers and their children. This could conceivably create a group of intellectuals from the farmers’ class who can create a core of a movement that does not originate from the middle class (with all their concurrent values) and make change for the better possible. Top down organization is not good enough. Look at the recent “all inclusive” indaba organized by the top down thinkers of PAC: some token representatives of encapsulated women and youth organizations were let in; the decisions were taken by rich old men (and very few rich old women). We do not need middle class people speaking on behalf of the oppressed classes, we need platforms for the oppressed to speak themselves. The proletarian is the expert, and we need to make the ruling class listen, instead of mediating, and disforming the messages from the field.
The current top down thinking prevalent in Malawi does not provide this needed perspective. Bottom up, farmers need to rule for themselves.