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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 22:02 GMT
Are Africans abusing their freedoms?
Voters in Nigeria exercise their democratic right
Elections, a chance to have a say in democracy
Africans are eager enough to grasp their democratic rights, but are they equally prepared to take on the responsibilities that come with those rights?

That's the question on many lips in Malawi, where Africa Live will be broadcast from this Wednesday.

In the days of former President, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawians were bound by very strict rules governing most areas of life. Many thought these infringed on personal liberty.

For example, women were forbidden from wearing short skirts or trousers and men could have untidy beards shaved off by the police.

It is now more than a decade since the death of President Banda, and, of course, initially, Malawians celebrated their new found liberties.

But now, many are saying, things have gone too far the other way. Emmie Chanika is a women's rights campaigner based in Blantyre: "Take some men", she says, "they feel it is their right to just grab any woman in the street".

She says it is time society stopped tolerating this kind of lax behaviour.

How typical is this Malawian situation? Do you see parallels in your country? If so, who is to blame, and what should be done?

Join the BBC's Africa Live programme Wednesday 12 November at 1630 and 1830 GMT.

Use the form to send us your comments, some of which will be published below.

If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number, which will not be published.


Your comments:

Who is to blame? Democracy is to blame. There is a difference between a culture and a system of government. Many African people do not quite appreciate these differences. In many parts of Africa, it is not right for a woman to expose her thighs or breasts to strangers (except during festivals which is momentary). On the other hand democracy says you have freedom to do what you like provided it does not hurt others. Africans can adopt democratic systems such as elections, party systems, transparency, equality, freedom of association, movement, speech etc, without short skirts or bikinis.
James Obrenyah, Ghana/UK

I think the example from the Malawi women who are attacked by men in the streets in the name of freedom is ridiculous. Freedom does not mean lack of laws. The freedom which Africans never had before and which they should never let go of is freedom of speech and association. Their right to basic human rights should be protected. Women abusers, wife beaters, corrupt leaders e.t.c all should be jailed. Otherwise democracy will die if laws are not created to safeguard the rights of citizen.
Evaristo Sanga,Tanzania

There is nothing as abusing one's freedom, period!! I think this article's title needs to be changed. Women and people get groped everywhere in any part of the world, even USA. Freedom is irrespective of behaviour. All in all freedoms need to be treasured, cherished and respected whilst bad behaviour should be rooted out.
Leo, Zimbabwe/US

I do not really think that Africans are ready to grasp their democratic rights since they have not yet been made aware of their responsibilities alongside their rights. In Ethiopia, people think a democratic right is a right to do whatever they please including cheating, being unfair to their fellow citizens, bending the rules and getting away with crime. All in all, if you would ask me or anyone in the street if they really understand what democracy is, I do not think you will meet anybody who will answer YES.
Belatchew Nadew, Ethiopia

In my opinion educating the people should come before full democracy. In African countries the mass knowledge is not good enough to make decisions between good and bad governance for the society at large. For example people's choice for a leader is not on how it will impact on their lives and the country but how the leader is related to them either on tribal or religious grounds.
MI,UK

It seems to me that there has never been freedom in Africa but a change in the style and degree in the abuse of human rights.
D. Chimunda, Spain

Who gave who the freedom. I think freedom is for every body. People should choose what they do with their freedom.
Mac-Darling Cobbinah, Ghana

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that African governments themselves are not democratic in the sense that they do not listen to the people. So misusing freedom is a way of expressing unhappiness with the way things are. As the saying goes freedom is where people can talk, democracy is when government listens - something that is not happening in Africa. These governments are not interested in teaching people the dos and don'ts of democracy for this very reason that they are not democratic themselves.
Dev, Malawi

Western democracy and African traditional values cannot be in the same plate. No African country will tolerate seeing women in Bikini walking in the streets.
Sale Man, Canada

This situation is comparable to the chauvinist liberty Italian men exhibit towards women. Democratic rights should not be mistaken for male aggressive behaviour. If this is the case, Italians have not been successful in taking on their " democratic responsibilities".
Ammanuel Tekeste, US

The freedoms sought by most Africans are based on inflated Western ideals. In the real world, the foundation of all governments is control and violence, as evidenced by the huge armies and police forces in the most "democratic" and "free" countries. Censorship exists in all countries in one form or another. There is also more than one kind of freedom. A freedom cherished in one society is worthless in another. Americans value political freedom but have ceded most parental authority to the state - something no African would do. Also, while Iranian women fight for the right to cover their heads American women celebrate their freedom to show off their beauty. African civil rights groups seek a fantasyland of freedom. They abuse and squander anything their governments can offer within realistic bounds. Individual freedom is a parasite that feeds on society's freedom to control the individual to ensure social harmony.
Cletus T. Mpofu, US

What freedom with the likes of Mugabe and Taylor and the Rwanda genocide just to mention a few. if that is freedom then they are all in trouble.
Mike Lazar, Canada

It is a shame that women are just regarded as objects for lust and denied basic rights compared to men. It is time to put a stop on this and give them equal rights.
Monty, India

I don't think that Malawi's real problems lie in an indulgence in liberalism. They stem from a corrupt leader, an over-reliance on foreign aid and unfair trade dictated by richer nations. A bit of groping and dope smoking isn't going to bring the country to its knees, Western politicians ignoring the real issues will, for example Tony Blair re-directing foreign aid to Iraq instead of the countries which he DIDN'T invade.
Joe Poole, United Kingdom

Malawian issues will be and are being discussed in Malawi. The idea that affairs of an African country somehow should be discussed on a radio of a foreign imperialist country is ridiculous.
John Malamba, Malawi

Your choice of topic is very condescending to Africans. I wonder if the English are abusing their freedom with their yob culture or the Germans abusing theirs with their Nazi skin heads? Please stop wasting valuable space on your website and talk about real issues!
Godwin Mukoro, UK

African freedom is being suppressed by their own political regimes. Even if the society is dissatisfied with some elements of government regulations they cannot demand an accurate and responsive form of representation. Freedom has little to gain from talking the language of civilian representation in Africa. They have confused democratic politics with individuals' right.
Jimmy Morchinkegem, Sudanese in US

Having been born and brought up in apartheid South Africa, and lived through the transition, it has to be observed that the native inhabitants of SA, as well as the majority of other African "free" countries certainly abuse "Freedom". Freedom from what? Safe, economically sound, export producing, tourist attracting and democratically run countries? Countries where you can walk the streets, run a business or drive your car without fearing for your life because you are white? If the price of freedom means the loss of these values for the people with whom you have to share your country, then we must ask if it is worth it. Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia...... Is that FREEDOM for the inhabitants? It is an abuse of freedom by the "Elected" Government!
James Curry, UK

The rejection of our well balanced ancient African value system and our wanton adoption of everything Western is the real threat to our freedom. Without wishing away globalisation we can inculcate our decent African values in our people. Asians have done a good job at this.
John Makau, United Arab Emirates

The day we Africans realise the difference and therefore a clash between the Western and African concepts of democracy will be a happy day for all of us. To the African woman exercising one's democratic rights involve discarding traditional values and copying foreign cultures. While to the African man enjoying democratic rights involves exercising traditional cultural practices which place him above the woman. Hence the persistent cries against continued oppression and counter extremist reactions to the injustices.
Rose Nassali-Lukwago, Uganda

Most Africans are blatantly abusing the so-called 'new freedom'. The uphold of responsibilities 'sine qua non' in free societies is not in the mentality of most Africans. If one looks closely in small and large African organisations, 99% or more of those involved will not respect their own constituted rules. Most people think freedom means to be served at all cost, thus stepping-in on where the rights of others begin. In Singapore and most of Asia for example, measures were radically taken to make people change their 'archaic mentality of false freedom'. Most of those societies are fast moving towards sustainable development.
Peter Bonjie Ngabesong, Cameroon

Italians have been known to grab female strangers in public. It wasn't until sometime this year that a law was passed to discourage that disgusting chauvinistic behaviour. Why is the BBC reporting this as if Africans are savages, not worthy of a freely democratic society, when the same exists right there in their backyard?
Kobby, Ghana/US

We are only talking about political freedom here. Democracy will not free you from the constraints of your culture or allow you to impede the freedom of others. I can influence our government but I can't grope a woman on the streets. Nor would I be allowed to eat without a knife and a fork. It is important that people do not have too high expectations of democracy.
Chris Winks, UK

To make the answer short they are not ready, people need to be empowered first in some parts of Africa. That will take time.
Shery, UK

It is a pity that we can take a few misfits who have acted wrongly (and they do exist in every country and every culture) and give that as label to all Africans. Why too is it felt that Africans need to be monitored on things that the rest of the world take for granted? How many rapes have occurred in the UK and US but I don't see a forum on the Brits handling democracy.
Tulani, USA

Freedom is for everybody. I think people should be able to do what they want.
Cheick Turay, Guinea Rep/US




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