MALAWI: Anger mounts over higher education crisis

Pressure is mounting on Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika and his brother, who is the education, science and technology minister, local media has reported. Malawi is experiencing a higher education crisis, which has ignited debate on academic and other freedoms amid fears expressed by analysts and diplomats that the country is sliding back into dictatorship.

Last month a stand-off between the state and academics, after a political science lecturer was questioned by the police over statements he made during a lecture, triggered a strike, academic staff suspensions, arrests of students and court cases.

Leading Malawian professors petitioned the government to set up a committee that would preside over higher education reform.

The crisis has since seen students, opposition parties and ordinary citizens demanding that both Mutharika - who is the chancellor at most state-run higher education institutions - and his education minister brother Professor Arthur Mutharika resign.

According to the Nyasa Times, spokesperson for the University of Malawi student union Harrison Chamasowa said students are now demanding Mutharika's resignation as "he has lost the mandate to government in a democracy".

"We are demanding President Mutharika to go. It is time for him to step down," Chawasoma said, adding that students are also urging Malawians to join "the growing chorus of voices calling for an end to Mutharika's tyranny".

The opposition People's Progressive Movement, or PPM, has also asked for the resignation of the education minister, who intends running for president when the tenure of his brother expires in 2014. The party said in a statement:

"There are a lot of Malawians who can manage the education ministry. We in the PPM feel sorry that things are completely falling out of hand economically and socially because of minor issues like arguing with lecturers, which can be resolved easily and amicably."

The Malawian media has also been flooded by letters demanding that the education minister resign.

One writer went further and accused the minister of corruption. In an opinion article in the Nyasa Times Ambuje Tom Likambale, a Malawian commentator writing from Canada, claimed that the minister was part of a housing scandal in which ruling party politicians have been implicated. The president's brother is alleged to have bought a house at half its market value from the Malawi Housing Corporation at the expense of the country's poor.

As debate over civil liberties rages on, Malawi has since expelled British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet after he was quoted in a WikiLeaks cable as saying Mutharika was autocratic and intolerant of criticim. The UK reciprocated by expelling the Malawi envoy in London, Flossie Gomile-Chidyaonga.

The European Union and the US have warned Malawi that they are "watching" events in the country, which depends heavily on donor funds.