The University of Malawi is closed again.
But let me back up.
In March, as the Arab Spring was heating up, a Professor of Political Science, Dr. Blessings Chinsinga, gave a lecture that drew parallels between what was happening in Tunisia and the fuel/forex shortage in Malawi. As a result, he was detained and questioned by the head of the police in Malawi. Then he was fired. The rest of the lecturers at the main campus, Chancellor College (in Zomba), stopped teaching classes in protest of this assault on academic freedom. The original lecture was reported to officials by a “spy” planted in the classroom.
When the lecturers refused to go back to classes, three more lecturers were fired, as they were the ones heading up the faculty organizations. Lecturers and students started holding protests in Zomba. With four lecturers fired, and most others refusing to hold classes, the University was closed on April 6, and the students were sent home.
The college reopened on July 4th, and students were called back to campus. But, the four lecturers remained fired, so the lecturers union continued their strike. Since I arrived in early July, the campus has been filled with idle students. Some lecturers “crossed the line” so some students had a class here and there. But mostly they sat around, partied, and waited.
And they also protested. Just last week, there was a series of protests and vigils, and we were able to witness most of them from our house. But, apparently, the government is unwilling to compromise (by rehiring the four fired lecturers) and is tired of the protests (and wasting their teargas on students). So, on Friday, they closed the University again. They gave the students four hours to get their things and get off campus.
From here it is not clear what will happen. Students have been denied the instruction they paid for now for almost six months. And maybe I’m biased by my choice of profession, but I really think a society that does not support its intellectuals and the intellectual development of its youth is bound for failure.