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Called by our names

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Yesterday was pretty of an eventful day in Lilongwe. While Goodall Gondwe and Thom Mpinganjira were signing papers on the sale of MSB, elsewhere, vocal activist, Billy Mayaya, was out in the cold and looking more of a loner.

Mayaya, I am told, was organising a demonstration against the exorbitant telecommunication tariffs and the proposed Electronic Transaction Bill Sadly, the demos— if at all they qualified to be called so— registered a demoralising low turnout. Mayaya, I am sure, was left fuming inside at Malawians’ seeming disinterest in speaking out when it matters.

Earlier in the year, some well-wishing Malawians took to the streets to protest the then proposed sale of MSB. Mayaya, I think, was also one of those people who felt the sale of the bank was mere subterfuge intended at repaying bad loans on behalf of people who are so close to government. I must confess that I sometimes envy Mayaya’s tenacity when it comes to pointing at the dark spots of the nation. However, I sometimes feel pity for him because, just like most of us, all our efforts simply vanish and our hopes vanquished.

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Look at the irony of yesterday’s events. While some were attempting a demonstration, albeit on other matters, right in the Capital City, a few kilometres in the same city, government was finalising paperwork for the sale of the bank a move which had earlier attracted disgruntlement from citizens. Whether selling the bank is a good decision or not is fodder for another day, but I am interested in the manner of the sale.

What I have read here is that the government is machinery that is lifeless and devoid of emotions such that it cannot be easily moved by people’s concerns. I was particularly not surprised when I heard that the government has proceeded with the sale of MSB because I already knew that whatever ideas people would bring in would mean nothing since government was determined to make the sale. I even told my peers that President Peter Mutharika’s earlier announcement of the suspension of sale of the bank was fake and only meant to get the budget passed. Sadly some people thought I was just being too cynical.

I am sure those who started waxing lyrical about Peter’s perceived character of being a listening president are now thinking otherwise. Moral of the story is never to trust government in whatever form it comes.

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I particularly feel pity for those who earlier held demonstrations against the sale of MSB. I am sure they are now feeling dejected, cheated and defeated. I do not envy being in their position. To be honest, those who marched in protest of the sale had genuine and convincing reasons. To any curious citizen the initial announcement to sell MSB was suspicious bearing in mind that some of those who nearly collapsed the bank because of their failure to repay loans were so close to the ruling party. I too had my own protest but, as I said earlier, the government has beaten us clean.

Earlier, I talked about yesterdays’ march against ridiculous telecommunications tariffs, services and the Electronic Transaction Bill. I was not surprised to hear that the march looked more of a Sunday school big walk rather than what it was meant to be, and I feel bad about it.

Truth be told our telecommunication sector is a fine example of how telecommunication must never be like. From networks that are mostly off to tariffs that hit mars our telecommunication sector needs some serious beating. And then, the proposed Electronic Transaction Bill is one gory monster that most of us do not know about. That proposed piece of legislation is designed to put us under strict government surveillance. We will only realise later that we have turned into another China where the internet is heavily under government monitoring. That bill is the latest attempt of government to rob us the last of our liberties.

Looking at the low patronage of the march yesterday, I am sure government is punching the air in jubilation after people’s seeming indifference to matters. The multi millionaire question, however, should be: Why did people decide not to take part in the demos?

One would argue that it is not the number of people that matters but the grievances presented. That, I think, is cheap thinking. The weight of protest is always in the number of protestors. The 1992 and July 2011 anti-government demos stand out not because of the contents of the petitions that were presented but because of the number of people who took part. Those days, demonstrations were not a common occurrence like today.

The reason people decided to ignore yesterdays protest is that they are simply tired of marching every week. The grievances raised by organisers of the demo yesterday are genuine and as a nation, we need to do something.

But then we have a challenge that some people think demonstrations are the only way to remind the nation of their existence. Demos are steadily losing relevance because they have just become too common. What I am very afraid of is that there will come a time—if it hasn’t already— when we will be called to demonstrate against being called by our names.

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