Malawi: Minister Mtambo Orders Blantyre City Council to Apologize to Muslims, Christians Over the Billboard

10 August 2020

The Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity has order the Blantye City Council (BCC) to apologize to Muslims, Christians and the entire Malawi nation for risking the country a civil strife between co-existing religious communities.

The council is being accused of failing to resolve a misunderstanding between the Muslim community and the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) over a billboard the Islamic Information Bureau (IIB) erected in Blantyre.

IIB had duly obtained permission from BCC and met its fee obligations to erect a billboard, which the Christian community felt was tantamount to "comparison between the Bible and the Qur'an' and, therefore, considered as a recipe for religious conflict in Malawi.

The misgivings the EAM had expressed prompted the council to remove the billboard on the night before July 29 2020, much to the dissatisfaction of the client (IIB).

This has prompted the Minister of Civic Education and National Unity, Timothy Pagonachi Mtambo, to write the Chief Executive Officer for BCC, Alfred Chanza, to express his disappointment over the way the council authorities handled the matter.

Mtambo has chastised the council for failing to engage both parties in a discussion to appreciate each party's concerns and arrive at a common agreement amicably.

"If the BCC met and found merit in the complaints by EAM, it was not upon the council to unilaterally remove the billboard without informing IIB," says Mtambo in the letter.

He emphasizes that while the ministry has engaged the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to facilitate discussions with the two parties for an amicable solution and to safely and sustainably defuse the tension and all latent issues, the council should, in the interim and within 48 hours from receipt of the letter, apologize to Muslims, Christians and the entire nation for the mishandling of the incident and risking civil strife between coexisting religious communities.

"This apology becomes necessary and due because BCC failed to engage the two parties into a discussion to safely resolve the contest; BCC failed to inform its client of its decision to remove the billboard; BCC allegedly removed the billboard during night and failed to communicate either to the public or its clients, thereby creating room for suspicions that the party that entered the complaint was responsible for the removal. This is a recipe for further antagonizing the two parties," says Mtambo.

The minister adds that as a matter of recommendation, he has suggested that approval of outdoor advertisements in all cities and municipalities should pass a vetting test where contents of adverts should be confirmed free of conflict liabilities.

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