The  history  of  PAC  in  dialogue  processes  is  unique  as  it  captures  both experiences of  advocacy  and conflict management  depending  on  the emerging  issues in  the  country .  In 1992, it   advocated  for  political  and  economic  reforms  and  maintained  dialogue  with  Dr.  Banda’s  regime  through  Presidential  committee  on  Dialogue(PCD)  which  resulted  in  multiparty  system of government.  This  was  after it  took  a  clear-cut  position towards  political  change  in  Malawi. In  2003,  it  spearheaded  a  campaign  against  open and  third  term  constitutional  amendments. In  2007, PAC  maintained  dialogue  with  major  political  parties  on  S65  and  Budget.  In  2014  and  2019 ,  PAC  undertook  dialogue  facilitation  engaging Presidential  Candidates  through  the Signing  of  Peace Declarations . The latter formed  a  basis  for  dialogue  during  the  2014  and 2019  electoral  stalemates. In 2020, the organization undertook a  high-level dialogue  facilitation  on disputes  involving  Christians  and Muslims on dress code particularly  Hijab. Currently, PAC  has  a pool  of  insider  mediators  training  in dialogue  and  mediation  facilitation.

PAC Conflict Management Interventions

The Alliance for Democracy (AFORD)– United Democratic Front(UDF) and later AFORD–Malawi Congress Party(MCP) party alliances created considerable confusion in Malawi’s political scene, especially among the electorate. That AFORD left MCP and joined the UDF government (a party AFORD leadership described as ‘full of recycled politicians’) is one source of confusion; that the ‘marriage of convenience’ between UDF and AFORD broke up abruptly is another source. The collapse of the latter alliance created an unprecedented parliamentary boycott. AFORD and MCP were the main opposition parties in the National Assembly and the UDF was the party in power. When the UDF–AFORD coalition collapsed on 2 June 1996, the AFORD leadership expected its party members serving in the government to immediately quit. However, this was not the case (Phiri, 1998) . When the six AFORD members in the Cabinet were requested by their party to resign or face dismissal from the party, only two complied. Later, the Head of State appointed two more MPs from the AFORD camp into his Cabinet. Thus, AFORD resolved to boycott Parliament and MCP decided to do the same in solidarity with AFORD. The prolonged boycott resulted in some Bills being passed without opposition parties in the National Assembly (PAC Interim Report 1997). This development sparked legal suits against the Speaker of Parliament and the government, arguing that the Bills had passed without a quorum. Political governance became unmanageable. The political crisis required an organisation with a clear vision and strategy in mediation. In its initial attempt, the PAC completely lacked this requirement, having lost its neutral position in its watchdog role. Nonetheless, through the creation of the Clergy Committee on Dialogue (CCD), the PAC brought the political impasse to an end (PAC, 1997). This type of approach, which PAC terms ‘mediation by substitution’, seemed to have been effective in resolving the political dispute.

The political transition did not just end with political disputes. The economic hardship that emerged from economic liberalisation rocked the country culminating into economic hardship. In 1997 Malawi witnessed one of the longest labour strikes when civil servants across the board downed their tools in protest against the government’s inaction over recommendations in the Chatsika Report for pay adjustments (Malawi Government, 1995). The strike, which lasted several weeks, affected essential services, including the health sector. The PAC was concerned that if left unchecked, things would get worse. Members of the PAC therefore sought a meeting with leaders of the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), the umbrella body behind the strike, to gain insight into the complaints and interests of the workers. The government’s lack of transparency, intimidation and arrests of striking workers and, more importantly, refusal to come to the negotiating table made workers unhappy, leading to the PAC engaging with officials from the Ministry of Labour concerning their perspective on the problem. It was clear from the discussions that the government considered the strike illegal and accused the striking workers of vandalism. The clergy advocated for dialogue, and subsequent meetings therefore persuaded both the MCTU and government officials to engage in a round-table discussion, which resulted in a settlement.

Constitutional amendments ought to be  seen in light of AU policies. Section (95) (1) of  the AUTJ  on  benchmarks and standards for successful political and institutional reform  may include: “Constitutional and legal reforms based on inclusive and fully consultative processes…..”. In early 2000, UDF-led government hatched plans without consultation to amend Constitution to allow the President in Malawi to stay in office with an open tenure. In the pursuit of transitional justice, FBOs and CSOs fought against such plans. In 2002, Parliament debated a proposal to amend the constitution to remove the limit on the term of office of the President (Open Term Constitutional amendment). Section 83 (3) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi deals with presidential terms. Between 1993–1994, Malawi drafted a new constitution enshrining a Chapter on human rights. In its original form, S83 (3) states that: ‘The President, the First Vice-President and the Second Vice-President may serve in their respective capacities a maximum of two consecutive terms’. The proposal tabled in the National Assembly was  therefore intended to repeal S 83 (3) by replacing it with the following words: ‘The President shall be eligible to hold office for more than one term of office of five years.’ After this defeat most political commentators thought it was the end of the proposed amendment to S 83 (3). In a surprising twist, rumours spread in the month of September 2002 that the Government intended to amend the same provision but now to enable any President of Malawi to serve a maximum of three consecutive terms (Third Term Constitutional Amendment) (Kanyongoro 2003, Ross 2004) . In a bid to  counter  such   moves,  national  consultation conference on constitutional matters, presentation of petition to the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee; and  issuance of press releases  were  carried out by  faith based organisations  and  CSOs. Maintenance of constitutional order and  the enhancement of  constitutionalism  significantly became the core business  of  religious bodies  in Malawi  through PAC initiatives,  noting that one of the tenets of  transitional justice is the  maintenance of  constitutional order for justice and peace to prevail.

The UDF delayed the passage of the budget as a mechanism to force the Speaker to table floor crossing by parliamentarians who joined Dr Bingu wa Mutharika’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), citing Section 65 of the Constitution, which bars legislators from switching allegiance from their sponsoring parties. The DPP welcomed 60 defectors, bringing its total number of members in Parliament to 80. Civil society groups, including the Malawi Economic Justice Network, a coalition of more than 100 CSOs condemned the tactics around the budget and rallied behind Mutharika in criticising the opposition for prioritising the floor-crossing issue at the expense of development. The departure of Mutharika from the UDF (led by Dr Bakili Muluzi), the party that sponsored Mutharika to presidency, and the formation of the DPP, created a lot of challenges and destabilised the democratic consolidation of Malawi. The relationship between Mutharika and Muluzi broke down after Mutharika left the party. Following the fallout between the two, a number of unsettling political trends emerged. Antagonism between Parliament and the Executive, as demonstrated in the opposition party’s attempts to block the national budget and later the move to impeach the President, became a weapon to bring back parliamentarians that had joined the DPP. The government tried to fight back by digging up criminal cases against opposition members and arresting them at will. It is within this context that the PAC extended its mediation efforts. In view of the problems with the budget session of Parliament during the period, the mediation process was divided into two phases: the short-term issue of passing the budget and the long-term value placed on political coexistence. Civil society and PACinterventions ended the impasse after holding several dialogue meetings.

In 2019, the Ministry of Education requested the PAC to intervene in a dress-code dispute following a conflict between Muslims and Christians at Mmanga Primary School in Balaka District, Malawi. According to media reports, the cause of the conflict was the dress code known as Hijab. However, in its request the Ministry of Education expanded the scope to cover Rastafarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In its letter dated 29 October 2019, the Ministry appointed  PAC to facilitate dialogue on the religious dress-code dispute and make recommendations to the government. In a separate note, the Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity also requested  PAC to mediate on the billboard dispute in 2020. The conflict management initiative focused on a dispute between the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) and the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) and, by extension, between concerned Islamic and Christian followers. The dispute emanated from a billboard in Blantyre which stated: ‘if you have read the Old Testament and the New Testament, Now read the last Testament, The Quran, and the ultimate Miracle.’ The billboard dispute was amicably settled, and schools that had closed as a result of the dress-code dispute reopened, with the exception of one. During the signing ceremony of the MoU on the dress code, the Minister of Education committed herself to reopening that school as well. The MoU between Christians and Muslims was signed by five mother bodiesand contains provisions on the settlement of the dispute. It was officially submitted to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity. The need for popularising the MoU became urgent to avert selective implementation of recommendations among school proprietors that banned the Hijab dress code. A joint press conference in this regard demonstrated that major faith networks were committed to peace and unity.


The post-election violence of 1999 also marked a watershed moment in multiparty democracy. The 1999 general elections were tightly contested between Muluzi’s UDF and the MCP–AFORD Alliance, led by Gwanda Chakuamba. The UDF won the presidential election with a margin of about 350 000 votes. The MCP–AFORD Alliance disputed the election results, thereby creating tension in the election’s aftermath. Prior to voting, the media was dominated by intimidatory language from the opposition, including threats of violence and war should the elections be rigged by the UDF. As a result, some people attacked mosques in the northern region to express their grievances after the election results were announced. The tension resulting from this affected the operations of the government and threatened social, economic and political stability. Besides these actions, the opposition also took their battle to court. Intervention by way of mediation in the post-election dispute was thus set in motion. A special mediation committee to carry out a mediation exercise that included PAC board members was constituted. Integrity, reputation and influence in society became strict requirements for the type of mediators to be engaged during the planning meeting that took place at the Catholic Secretariat for a successful mediation exercise. This first significant electoral dispute in the early stages of the multiparty system of government provided lessons ondialogue facilitation.


The second term of Mutharika’s DPP was met with a lot of dissatisfaction. Indeed, by mid-2011 much ink had been spilt on the general consensus that the DPP-led government had lost direction. Some of the Bills in the National Assembly passed without extensive consultations, such as S46 dealing with media law, the injunctions Bill, an amendment to empower the President to set the date for local elections, and the Bill to modify the Malawi flag. Total control of the state-owned media, failure to hold local government elections, acute shortages of forex and fuel, and disrespect for the Office of the Vice President were some of the triggers for the CSO advocacy interventions that raised people’s awareness of the challenges facing Malawi. While all these developments constituted a major setback in Malawi’s democratic consolidation, the 2011 expulsion of the British High Commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, compounded the perception that the country was sliding back at a fast rate. The expulsion signalled that the regime would not spare any development partner who seemingly sided with the position of non-state actors on issues of political governance. The Malawi government’s argument on its sovereignty was maintained in defence of its decision. In this dispute, the PAC was part of the CSO dialogue team which aimed at ironing out differences between CSOs and the Presidential Contact and Dialogue Group (PCDG), following a mass demonstration which left 19 people dead (Dzinesa, 2022). Consequently, CSOs and the PCDG agreed on some benchmarks following the 20-point petition that was handed over to the government on the demonstration day.

The 2014 elections were unique as they were the first tripartite elections in the history of Malawi. And the very reason that the political landscape failed to determine who would be the automatic winner for the 2014 tripartite elections was a justification for the PAC to design a preventive mechanism to deal with anticipated violent acts. Twelve presidential candidates with potential winners from the UDF, the People’s Party (PP), the DPP and the MCP were fielded in the 2014 tripartite elections. Three scenarios were identified: scenario oneheld that the electoral process would be free, credible and fair, with acceptance of election results and little PAC mediator’s Scenario two represented the position that the elections would not be entirely free and fair, with election results rejected. In this case, PAC mediators would intervene to encourage parties to go to court to challenge the results and respect the rule of law. In scenario three, parties and the public in general would reject the outcome of the elections based on who triumphed on the day. This could go beyond court interventions, and perhaps demand a political settlement. Four candidates – Atupele Muluzi (UDF), Lazarus Chakwera (MCP), Peter Mutharika (DPP) and Joyce Banda (incumbent) (PP) – were the main competitors. If the incumbent or DPP won, the likelihood of widespread violent acts would be high. A comprehensive conflict prevention and management strategy was designed.


Subsequent agreements between mediators and presidential candidates involved three issues: (i) agreement to meet at a round-table meeting at a hotel; (ii) agreement to condemn violence, based on the Lilongwe Peace Declaration (LPD); and (iii) accepting PAC mediators to facilitate the dialogue. The impact of the LPD was tremendous. All candidates made reference to the LPD and recognition of the role of the PAC during the 1992 political transition was flagged. In 2017, the PAC’s work was also recognised at a high-level UN meeting, which applauded the PAC on the enhancement of conflict prevention in Malawi: “Moreover, in many contexts, so called infrastructures for peace (I4P) can complement the contribution accountable and transparent institutions make to enabling peace. In Malawi, UNDP and the EU provide joint technical and financial support to the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to play the role of ‘insider mediators’. By strengthening systematic national-level mediation capacities to enhance public dialogue and facilitate consensus on issues of contention, we build local capacities for violence prevention and conflict transformation.” 


The 2019 electoral dispute was a complex one, characterised by massive irregularities. Interventions mimicked the same strategies outlined above. Terms of reference, scenarios and strategies were revised, noting that rejection of results was likely in the event of a narrow margin between the winner and the second in the race. Defining a framework for dialogue and mediation facilitation entailed drafting a Peace Declaration for presidential candidates’ signatures. On 4 May 2019, six out of the seven presidential candidates signed a Peace Declaration at Bingu International Conference Centre, Lilongwe. The incumbent shunned the national prayers meant to facilitate the signing of the Peace Declaration. He delegated his running mate instead. Eyebrows were raised in the public arena and the international community, which speculated that the worst could come should he lose. As was anticipated, an electoral stalemate emerged, and two rounds of dialogue facilitation were carried out.

Development of a common understanding: Following the announcement of the May 2019 election result, protests ensued, signified dissatisfaction from some sections of society over the outcome of the tripartite elections. While the matter was being heard in court, there were fears that the outcome could trigger more acts of violence if the public was not properly prepared. Churches, mosques and other religious institutions joined hands with political stakeholders to disseminate the slogan ‘Accept the court ruling’, which they hoped would result in welcoming the court verdict. Two actions were prioritised: dialogue facilitation, and messaging to prepare Malawians to respect the court ruling. Establishing parties’ position on the electoral stalemate based on the LPD signed by the presidential candidates formed the basis for dialogue engagements. Mediators engaged the MCP and United Transformation Movement (UTM) soon after election results were announced. A meeting with the Head of State did not materialise for some time, despite attempts. This constituted a gap in the initial dialogue facilitation (PAC, 2019). Eventually, on 2 August 2019, the mediators engaged the incumbent, who requested them to reach out to the rest of the aggrieved parties – the MCP, UTM and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC).

Dialogue feedback meetings: At least two months elapsed before re-engaging the Head of State. Meetings with UTM, MCP and HRDC depended on feedback from the Head of State given that it was the leadership that had requested the mediators to consult them. On 9 December 2019, a second dialogue meeting with the incumbent took place, which saw a reversal in the commitment to meet face to face with other parties. The PAC undertook dialogue on the 2019 electoral stalemate with two clear objectives: to preach peace to presidential candidates, and to lobby leaders of the political parties to hold face-to-face meeting based on the signed Peace Declaration. Despite the challenges faced in securing face-to-face meetings between presidential candidates in disputes, there is no doubt that peace declarations in Malawi form an entry point for dialogue and mediation during electoral stalemates.

Training and sensitization on GBV, Covid-19, early marriages, governance  issues and polio vaccination.


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