Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Activist Seodi White's public dislike for Rev. Chakwera unfortunate

I am having problems with Human Rights activist Seodi White's public expression of her feeling about Rev. Chakwera's accent.
Nyasa Times is reporting that Seodi White says Rev. Chakwera's American accent irritates her. According to the online news site, Seodi’s argument on her face-book page is that she is only exercising her right to free speech. Well, that is not disputable. She is indeed entitled to her right to free expression as granted by the country’s constitution.
Where I see a problem is the implication of her freely expressed speech on her credibility as an activist.

First, in Malawi, the clergy have been very instrumental in shaping public issues. Rev. Chakwera is president of the Assemblies of God in Malawi and is definately among those whose word on public issues cannot just be dismissed without giving it enough thought.
Second, there have been media reports suggesting that Rev. Lazarus Chakwera intends to contest for the presidency of the Malawi Congress Party, the country’s main opposition party. The party will be holding its convention in a few weeks. If he contests and gets elected, Chakwera will be the former ruling party’s presidential candidate at the country’s 2014 polls.
Credibility implications
Seodi White is a renowned human rights activist in the country and I would not be afraid to say that when she speaks, policy makers and other people that matter in society stop to listen. They may not necessarily agree with her position on issues. Her activism examines issues across a wide spectrum i.e. the interrelationships between culture, traditions, politics, law, religion etc on one hand and human rights on the other.
Such a role in society demands that one’s credibility remain intact. Although there are several factors that can determine an activist’s credibility in the public eye, that standing is largely secured if the activist is seen to be objective in their analysis of issues and in their advocacy. Any allusion to subjective analyses of issues simply serves to erode the authority such a figure might have earned on public issues.
Now, is Rev. Chakwera public figure? We may not have to argue over this. However, one thing for sure is that as president of the Assemblies of God in Malawi, he holds an influential position in the country. He can influence policy at different levels.

That aside, imagine a scenario where the reverend stands for the MCP presidency, wins and gets elected as president of this country.

The question I would like considered is: Should Rev. Chakwera, whether as a religious leader or - if he is lucky - as president of this country,  be involved in some human rights issues deserving the intervention of minds like Seodi's, will the activist's word  be viewed objective and credible, especially if her's is not Chakwera's stand?
My bet is that in such a scenario her objective look at the issue will not be accorded the attention it is supposed to earn. By commenting on the reverend's accent, such a useless thing, Seodi has attached herself to an issue that I dare say is not what a person of her stature should be seen to spend her energies on, at least not in public. The public will judge her analysis as a personal attack against the reverend. Why? She may not have intended it but Seodi's comments  have surely prompted serious minded Malawians to view her as an ordinary person who concentrates on personalities not real issues.
Final thought
Yes, she is entitled to her free speech but as a public figure herself, Seodi White could do better by confining her public comments to issues, not trivia like people’s English accents. Her dislike for public figures’ personalities could be privately shared with her siblings and friends, no?

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