Monday, 14 March 2011

Academic freedom threatened in Malawi

Lecturers at Chancellor College, University of Malawi, have refused to return to classes as instructed by President Bingu wa Matharika, also chancellor of the University of Malawi. The lecturers have said they are continuing to carry out other duties but refuse to teach until they have a written guarantee that they will not be targeted by the Inspector General of Police over what they say in their classrooms. Academic staff at Polytechnic College, University of Malawi, have now voted to suspend teaching in solidarity. This all began when a political science lecturer was taken in for questioning by police after he referred to the uprisings in Egypt in one of his classes. Students have also been arrested and one charged with sedition.

Repressive governments fear academic freedom. It is almost as dangerous as a free press. The recent uprisings in North Africa have been youth uprisings. The various freedom struggles in Southern Africa (first against colonizers and later against first-generation post-colonial dictators) were driven largely by youth, often inspired and guided by teachers. In all these struggles, academic freedom was a target of the government. Malawi isn't a dictatorship but it is very worrying that the president - especially as Chancellor of the University of Malawi - refuses to act to protect university staff. It's also awesome to see how the staff and students in Malawi are willing to act quickly and decisively, at personal risk, as soon as academic freedom is threatened. It would be great to see civil society organisations and university and student bodies in the region speaking out in support of their cause.

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