Amid calls from people who recently demonstrated in Blantyre and Lilongwe against the rising cost of living and incessant travel by President Lazarus Chakwera, the government has announced that the first citizen has suspended public engagements until further notice.
The development comes at a time Chakwera was expected to be on the road today and Friday.
The President was initially scheduled to travel to Rumphi District in the Northern Region and, two days later, attend a graduation ceremony at Mzuzu University.
However, in a statement, Secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi indicates that Chakwera has cancelled the events to attend to other oppressing national and regional matters requiring his action.
“Until further notice, attendance to all public events by His Excellency will be delegated to other government officials who will appear at such events on [the] President’s behalf,” he says in the communication.
Both Minister of Information Gospel Kazako, who is also a government spokesperson, and State House Press Secretary Anthony Kasunda confirmed the authenticity of the statement but could not outline exact matters requiring the President’s action.
“The issues are not for public consumption,” he said.
Ironically, former UTM director of youth Bon Kalindo, who was this Friday expected to hold anti-government demonstrations denouncing the rising cost of living among other social ills, announced that he had postponed the demonstrations to pave the way for discussions with government officials.
Chakwera, who is also Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Chairperson, cannot travel to countries such as the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), European Union and Australia, among others, after those countries imposed travel restrictions on people from some Sadc countries over fears that they would facilitate the spread of a new variant of coronavirus called Omicron.
Chakwera denounced the travel restrictions on Sunday.
Political scientist Mustapha Hussein hailed the announcement, saying it would demystify the President’s absence at events he publicly announced that he would attend.
He, however, said it would have been better if the burning issues at hand were also outlined.
“Office of the President and Cabinet had released the President’s itinerary for the coming days and his absence would have been suspicious but now it is not enough just to say the President is attending to issues of national importance because these other events were also important,” he said.
Commenting on the cancelation of the presidential trips political analyst George Phiri said the President was too mobile.
“In my view the President was mobile looking at the situation in which the country is, it was important for the President to priotise the trips so that he goes only where there is no other option but him attending. What the President has done to cancel the trips simply shows he has come to his senses,” he said.
Phiri added that Presidential trips are costly which if are minimised the money could be invested in other pressing issues.
Before the cancellation of Northern Region trip, most strategic spots had been decorated with national and MCP flags.
Malawi Congress Party followers and other government officials had already lined up at Mzuzu airport as the President was expected to fly to the Northern Region ahead of the first assignment in Rumphi today.