By Wanangwa Tembo:
When Programmes Manager for National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Public Trust Gray Kalindekafe asked the packed conference hall in Rumphi to rise and observe a minute of silence in remembrance of those that died or lost their property in various acts of violence countrywide, it was clear that the participants had long forgotten the sad events that had befallen their nation.
Their faces were not as gloomy to reflect the sad realities of death.
But the mood quickly changed as Kalindekafe, in a repetitive tone, started narrating the stories of horror which a large chunk of the participants was oblivious to.
“In just a few months, a police officer was brutally killed by a mob at Msundwe in Lilongwe; in just a few months, two people have been killed in Mwanza on allegations of witchcraft; in just a few months, a certain family has been living in the bush for fear of being killed on witchcraft-related allegations.
“In just a few months, six people have been killed and 25 houses burnt in Nkhata Bay; in just a few months, there has been violence in schools resulting in many of the institutions being closed; in just a few months, we have seen violent clashes along religious lines in which some people have been injured and property has been destroyed,” he said.
As Kalindekafe continued giving the horrific account, reality dawned on the participants; the hall went quiet – there was cathedral silence with faces cast down.
There has been an unprecedented wave of violence in the country especially after the May 20 polls whose results are being challenged in court. The courts are yet to make a ruling on the matter but analysts have warned the case outcome is likely to plunge the country into more chaos if leaders do not prepare their supporters to accept the outcome.
“Whichever way the ruling will go, Nice Trust is appealing to all to celebrate with dignity to avoid violence. We, therefore, appeal to all stakeholders and the general public to peacefully accept the ruling on the election court case when delivery of judgment happens and thereafter.
“Whatever the decision of the court, it will have to be respected and if any party is going to be aggrieved with the outcome, there are lawful means of dealing with that,” a statement from Nice says.
The wave of violence and intolerance has so far already threatened important developments including the conducting of by-elections in some parts of the country. Property damage, deaths, injuries have all been recorded.
Already, the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) was forced to postpone a parliamentary by-election in Lilongwe South in November citing volatility of the political environment.
“Mec wants more time to review the political environment there and attend to complaints by stakeholders,” a statement from the commission said. “On October 25, one of the commissioners was blocked and stoned while on a campaign monitoring exercise.”
Principally, the post-election violence mirrors the violent wind that blew during the campaign trail prior to the May elections.
Despite a series of peace meetings by various electoral stakeholders plus the national prayers organised by faith institutions, the campaign period saw a fair share of violence largely targeting opposition parties.
The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has been organising demonstrations to force Mec Chairperson Jane Ansah to resign for allegedly mismanaging the last year’s polls.
Largely, the demonstrations have ended up being violent, leading to looting and destruction of both private and public property leaving towns such Mzuzu and Karonga resembling Benghazi – a war-torn Libyan town – due to violence.
In Karonga, council offices were completely razed down in a fire set by angry demonstrators. The offices will need about K500 million to renovate, the council’s authorities say.
There have also been clashes between the police and vendors in Karonga leading to the torching of roadblocks and police formations. Several police officers have also been injured in those clashes.
Demonstrators have also damaged a lot of property in Mzuzu – Northern Region’s biggest urban centre. Most buildings along the 1.6-kilometre stretch from Katoto to the courthouse have been smashed with government offices being the most affected.
Apart from the political violence, there have also been incidences of inter-community fights and inter-faith clashes in which lives and property have been lost.
In November, several people including a sheikh were injured at Mangochi turn-off in running battles between Muslims and Christians. The warring factions went on rampage in the process destroying schools, houses, a church and a mosque.
Kalindekafe says the violent environment in the country has also corrupted the minds of young people leading to more acts of violence and vandalism in schools.
At least, five secondary schools were closed owing to violence by students. They include Blantyre, Thyolo, Lunzu, St Michaels Girls, and Rumphi secondary schools. The Polytechnic, a public university, was also closed due to demonstrations by first year students demanding better security. A hostel was razed down by an inferno in the process.
More recently, there have also been community clashes in Rumphi due to disagreements on the succession of Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe in which several houses including the chief’s headquarters were burnt.
The ubiquitous lawlessness has also seen the killing of four senior citizens namely on allegations of witchcraft. Three more people have also been brutally killed in Karonga in December on similar allegations.
Another case of lawlessness presents itself in the Dowa saga in which a mob set ablaze a vehicle belonging to a nurse. The mob accused the nurse of refusing to treat a pregnant woman.
The cases are many and keep occurring each day.
As tension shows no sign of abetting, Nice says it has been following the events with keen interest and is committed to contributing towards the peace-building processes.
“Malawi has witnessed lawlessness, increase in violence and protests in recent months as the election case is still in the Constitutional Court. There have also been anxieties and uncertainties among some Malawians resulting in violation of human rights – including those of women and children – loss of lives and property.
“The situation is not yet stable, as there is still a lot of tension. In view of such tension and potential escalation of political violence, it is critical that key actors in the electoral process and Malawians in general, should be engaged at various levels on the need to keep peace and order,” said Kalindekafe, opening a peace stakeholders training in Rumphi.
“We are undertaking capacity building of community peace building structures, sensitisation campaigns and facilitating stakeholders’ engagement and dialogue at community level to promote peaceful coexistence in line with one of our strategic plan pillars of promoting peaceful coexistence and social cohesion among Malawians,” Kalindekafe added.
The activities are being funded by the European Union and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Kalindekafe appealed to traditional, political, religious and civil society leaders and all stakeholders to contribute to restoring peace and social cohesion in communities.
“Everyone should take responsibility to safeguard the nation’s peace and promote peace at all times. In particular, we urge political leaders to demonstrate the spirit of statesmanship by putting Malawi first. They should be seen to promote national peace and cohesion,” he said.
He also called on HRDC, District Commissioners, and Chief Executive Officers of cities and towns, and the police to ensure that their actions in management of any form of demonstration leads to peace, orderliness and adherence to the Constitution and laws of Malawi.
Speaking earlier, Senior Chief Mwankhunikira of Rumphi, asked the youth to refrain from being used by leaders in perpetuating violence. He also appealed to fellow traditional leaders to be impartial in their actions to prevent violence in their communities.
“We also need to respect succession plans as agreed by royal families to prevent succession disputes about chieftaincy. We are not happy seeing violence because of issues that can amicably be resolved through dialogue,” he said.
It remains to be seen whether the step taken by Nice will have tangible impact; but it is clear that the path the country has taken begs for such interventions before the nation plunges into a chasm of trouble where mob justice, violence and general lawlessness reign.