We must admit as a people that what we have been witnessing in our country in recent times has never been seen before in as far as the history of Malawi’s multiparty politics is concerned. Yes there might have been relentless forces at times, say for example at the dawn of democracy but I do not think we had, for days on end, people in their hordes taking to the streets, up against election authorities for alleged mismanagement of results as is the case today.
Even back when late Gwanda Chakuamba had lost presidential elections to former president Bakili Muluzi after he stood on Mgwirizano Coalition’s ticket, though we lost the innocent life of little Epiphania Bonjesi on May 23, 2004 (God bless her soul) who was hit by a stray bullet (courtesy of Malawi Police Service) while playing on the verandah of her parents’ house in Chilobwe, things did not get this far where the country is literary on fire as people in all parts of the country keep coming out in large numbers (I understand they call it million-man march?) Agitating for resignation Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah, who, judging by the look of it, is not willing to offer her head on a silver platter.
When things got heated back in 2004 after elections, people were so critical of the then Mec Chairperson Justice James Kalaile who ended up resigning from his position, paving way for President Bingu wa Mutharika to appoint Justice Anastaziah Msosa two months later to the position for another go (She was Mec Chairperson from 1994 to 1997). Kalaile faced intense criticism from civil society and Public Affairs Committee for both 1999 and 2004 elections until he resigned.
Fast forward to 2014: On one hand, we have those who believe they won the May 21 Tripartite Elections who wield the axe of power but cannot dare flex it or come down hard on the demonstrators because they know a majority of the population rejected them at the poll (only 38 percent gave their seal of approval to President Peter Mutharika). That is not all, if the powers-that-be were to take a hardline against the current wave of demonstrations, then that would defeat the essence of democracy, which is to be tolerant of different views while being true to the slogan of power to the people. And then you have Democratic Progressive Party cadets, who, in the midst of the confusion, feel the best way to come to the aid of their leaders is confronting those who have lately besieged the streets in an act of, as their Southern Region governor put it the other day, defending their territory. The bloodbath in Blantyre the other day is something that was unthinkable.
On the other hand, we have opposition leaders Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima who are waging a legal battle over the same matter of May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections. It is evidently clear that they believe they were robbed of victory and, in their view, have a solid argument in court as they even went on to rally their supporters to march with them to courts during hearing of their case. That act alone, of marching to courts is quite intimidating. Instead of patiently waiting to hear what the court outcome will be, supporters of these leaders are, without a shred of doubt, patronising the demonstrations that are being orchestrated by civil society. Come on, you do not believe that all those million Malawians that pour out onto the streets every time demonstrations are held are supporters of civil society leaders, do you?
And then; enter Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC). Just when people had lost trust in civil society a few years ago after some of the leaders had allegedly been silenced through public positions and other rewards, the current crop seem determined to restore civil society’s legacy by doing what is right in the eyes of the people and standing for what they believe in. The danger therein is that sometimes, others can be overzealous which can cause them to lose the plot. Let us hope it will not get to that point.
Last but not least, we have the Malawi Police Service, whose personnel has been hogging the limelight for all the wrong reasons in recent week. Much as the law enforcers are duty bound to protect property and people (which they could not manage to do a couple of weeks ago as they were allegedly overwhelmed by the demonstrations), they ought to have learnt their lesson regarding how to conduct themselves in scenarios where people are protesting but not our good police officers! They are trigger happy such that they cannot think twice before throwing teargas to crowds or indeed hospital confinement.
When you add all these up, you will discover that ours is simply a country on fire.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).