U.S. Ambassador talks politics, democracy with Malawian university students

United States Ambassador to Malawi Jeanine Jackson visited the Malawi Polytechnic on Wednesday, April 4 to engage a turnout of approximately 25 students of the university and the Malawi Institute of Journalism on political campaigns, the role of the media in covering elections and the role of the youth in the future of democracy.

The open discussion, entitled “The Impact of Elections on the Development of a Nation,” was led by Ambassador Jackson along with U.S. Embassy Economic Officer Chris Nyce, U.S. Embassy Economic/Commercial/Labor Specialist Priston Msiska and vice principal for the Polytechnic Dr. Grant Kululanga in the university’s Blantyre American Corner room.

U.S. Embassy Economic/Commercial/Labor Specialist Priston Msiska, U.S. Embassy Economic Officer Chris Nyce, United States Ambassador to Malawi Jeanine Jackson and vice principal for the Polytechnic Dr. Grant Kululanga (left to right) lead an open discussion on “The Impact of Elections on the Development of a Nation” at the Malawi Polytechnic Blantyre American Corner room on April 4. The discussion was attended by approximately 25 students of the university and the Malawi Institute of Journalism.

With coverage of the Republican U.S. presidential nomination race dominating American news, Msiska began the discussion at the beginning of the campaign trail – the nomination process.

Students responded that “the voice of Malawi hasn’t been heard insofar as (political) conventions go,” arguing that simply holding political conventions to choose party leaders overlooks the opinion of “people on the ground” and that the “show of hands” voting procedure characteristic of Malawian conventions is less democratic than the confidential ballot procedure utilized in the U.S.

According to the students, the public practice of taking a show of hands to nominate a party leader puts nominators more at risk of being influenced by political pressure or the perceived threat of political retaliation based on their nomination.

From comments on the nomination process and political convention best practices the discussion progressed to the topic of party politics, wherein students argued that Malawian parties are led by individual personalities as opposed to a clear ideology.  Students also voiced out on the proliferation of political parties in Malawi, which Kululanga said points to the fact that the only political ideology at work in the country is “an ideology of removing (other parties).”

Jackson responded that “understanding democracy and understanding individual rights and responsibility is very important” in democracy and added that civic education is an important tool in teaching people to “feel responsible for doing the right thing for their country.”

To conclude, Jackson emphasized that the U.S. is “very interested in the youth of Africa,” and asked the students, “what do you think Malawian youth can do together to make their voices heard?”

The first student to respond told a story about a young “extraordinary” minister that served under Kamuzu as “a lesson that maybe youth are overlooked when it comes to public office, serving the public.

“We only need to be given an opportunity,” he said.

“If we just leave the youth out and say that they don’t have experience, we are doing harm to our country,” said another student who then called on experienced politicians to “work hand-in-hand” with inexperienced young people who show an interest in politics.

“I should like to be able to believe that the older (politicians) should be able to open up to the youth,” another student agreed.  “We should not take a political career as something for someone who has retired.  A political career should be something you could enter into out of university,” he said.

“The time has come for young people to stand up.”

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About karissagall

Karissa Gall is a Canadian journalist.

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