CSOs say anti-demo talk undemocratic


Some Civil Society Organisations (CSO) leaders have said the anti-demonstrations talk from the government officials and some quarters in recent years depicts the existence of undemocratic political leaders and defenders of mediocrity.

Whenever CSOs organise demonstrations against socio-economic challenges in the country, some quarters come out to speak against them saying demonstrations lead to loss of property and life.

The demonstrations against shortage of maize and economic problems that human rights activist Billy Mayaya organised, which have since been called off, received strong resistance from Blantyre vendors committee, some CSO leaders and traditional leaders.


But Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) Executive Director, John Kapito, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) Executive Director, Timothy Mtambo and Mayaya said the recent attempts to associate demonstrations with chaos are unfortunate and uncalled for in a democracy.

Kapito said it is unfortunate that politicians have brainwashed the general public into believing that demonstrations are a recipe for chaos and hooliganism.

“Unfortunately, many Malawians tend to believe such rhetoric from politicians. What is interesting though is the continued use of chiefs, bogus NGOs and the general public to come out and discredit demonstrations organisers using public media. What people fail to understand is that public demonstrations are one way of engaging and demanding dialogue with government and that at each rally people release a petition for government to respond to.


“It’s really an insult to politicians who are normally cheated by their followers that no-one must demonstrate for fear of property and life which is cheap propaganda from weak governments with weak leaders,” Kapito said.

He said some officials behave as if they owned all assets of the country and that anyone doing a demonstration through a march becomes a demon.

“There is a hangover of the one-party state type of thinking in most of the politicians and their followers. They look at every demonstration as a sign that their leader is not performing and most of the leaders are too cheap and fragile to handle opposing views that help to make them good leaders. Demonstrations are seen as a no confidence vote and it’s unfortunate that since [the advent of] multiparty, no leadership has shown willingness to allow its citizens to demonstrate freely as provided for in the constitution,” he said.

Mtambo said the recent government’s attempts to shut down the civil space are simply uncalled for and have no room in democratic Malawi.

“Actually, during 2011 protests, government had to deliberately unleash terror on protesters so as to soil the name and essence of demonstrations in Malawi. In short, a poorly performing government will always be afraid of demonstrations, let alone, citizens expressing their views,” Mtambo said.

He said ideally, in a democratic country where leaders are genuinely and effectively engaging concerned citizens in a dialogue on socio-economic issues, demonstrations would be a far-fetched resort but the challenge in Malawi is that leaders have a strong dislike for engagement with the citizens on critical issues.

“Eventually, citizens find demonstrations as the only safety-valve to their concerns and anger against the leadership. That said, demonstrations are also part of the dialogue process, as provided for by Section 38 of the Constitution of Malawi,” he said.

Mayaya described the CSOs’ continued use of demonstrations as pragmatism and not preference, saying apart from being enshrined in the country’s constitution, demonstrations are symbolic in terms of citizens demanding justice for continued government inaction.

“The government continues to downplay the citizens’ rights to hold demonstrations because they want to defend their own mediocrity and thereby supreme people’s demands for accountability. It’s a failed attempt to hide the dictatorial tendencies which people are already aware of. We have an emergent democracy where people are increasingly demanding more accountability through various channels including demonstrations,” Mayaya said.

Chancellor College based political commentator, Joseph Chunga, says the trend emanates from people’s internalisation of the pre-multiparty culture.

“We have had instances where police have managed demonstrations professionally and I think this idea that every time one talks about demonstration should be portrayed badly is not good for our democracy,” Chunga said.

He said during the 2011 demonstrations, when 20 people were killed, it is the state machinery that killed demonstrators not demonstrators killing fellow demonstrators and if anything the country should look at how police treated demonstrators.

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