Nipping political violence in the bud
The journey to July 2 fresh presidential election which the Constitutional Court ordered on February 3, has started amid doubts of the actual date in the wake of the proposed lockdown to try and stop the spread of Covid-19.
There are already signs however that this is not going to be a peaceful expedition.
The devil that is political violence which characterised last year’s tripartite elections is already manifesting itself.
But is the fight against political violence winnable in Malawi? Where is the country getting it wrong?
Already there is finger-pointing at the highest level with President Peter Mutharika accusing Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President Lazarus Chakwera of orchestrating violence against suspected Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters to try and stop them from registering as voters ahead of the July 2 poll.
“Many innocent supporters of the DPP have had their houses torched and their property destroyed. Sadly my heart is broken to note that the Reverend Lazarus Chakwera is encouraging these acts of violence,” said Mutharika during one of his addresses on the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mutharika’s accusat ions followed a call from United Nations for the government to deal with attacks on suspected blood suckers.
Chakwera, however, dismissed the President’s remarks as being unfounded and baseless and urged Mutharika “to operate from an informed point of view”.
The other issue which if unchecked will breed violence ahead of the fresh presidential election are reports that some people are buying national identity cards (IDs) from unsuspecting poor Malawians to stop them from registering as voters ahead of the polls.
There is clear lack of interest from Malawi Police Service to get to the bottom of the matter with the few individuals who were apprehended in the act by the communities being released by the police without even being taken to court.
MCP Secretary General Eisenhower Mkaka also claims to have been assaulted by DPP Central Region Governor David Kambalame as he was trying to follow up an arrest of one Absalom Mwale who was patrolling an area against the sale of the IDs in Lilongwe.
Just when dust was about to settle on the Mkaka-Kambalame saga, Malawians were shocked to hear or see that some unknown people vandalised Mec registration equipment in some centres in Blantyre.
The criminals, who, according to eyewitnesses at Makata Primary School registration centre, were armed with a gun, demanded that the voter registration exercise be suspended in the face of Covid-19.
Southern Region Police Spokesperson Ramsey Mushani confirmed that one of the suspected criminals who was apprehended by the public was rescued by the police and then released from custody the same day.
“Looking at the way he was beaten, we took him to the hospital and then released him on bail because we understand that everyone has a right to live,” he said.
But who are these people with such level of arrogance to break Mec’s equipment and then left to walk just like that? Do they have the mandate to stop the court ordered elections in Malawi? What are their interests?
Mkaka described the vandalism as an act of impunity of highest order, saying Malawians cannot expect peaceful fresh election on July 2.
“Some people have identified a vehicle which was ferrying these people and there is a direct link to DPP. In fact, one wonders if there is no collusion with Mec itself because it is unthinkable that an ordinary person can just wake up and destroy Mec and NRB’s property. It is possible that they agreed to destroy the equipment to suspend everything lying that the situation is delicate,” he said.
But DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi distanced his party from the violence, saying they too are against anything which can delay the election.
“Does Mr Mkaka have evidence of what he is talking about? How can he say that when he sent thugs to assault our Regional Governor Kambalame? Let us wait for the police to conclude their investigations. As a party, our responsibility is to encourage people to register as voters,” he said.
Mec Chairperson Jane Ansah said the commission reported the vandalism to the police who were working on it.
Speaking before announcing the suspension of the registration exercise in Blantyre City due to the vandalism and then the entire exercise because of the proposed lockdown, Ansah said the crime was expected to affect the electoral calendar.
“How can the registration proceed as planned when some of the equipment has been destroyed?” she queried.
People’s Federation for National Peace and Development (Pefnap) has been engaging the youth who are perceived as perpetrators of violence.
Few weeks ago, Pefnap organised a football bonanza at Nansengwe Primary School Ground in Lunzu where the message of peace was preached.
The organisation’s Executive Director Edward Chaka said it is important that the youth understand the consequences of political violence on the country and on them as individuals.
“The strategy is simple. Politicians use the youths to incite violence and we are sending the same youths to preach the gospel of peace,” he said.
The organisation is also meeting youths through religious groupings to encourage them resist temptations from politicians to incite violence during this period and beyond.
“We are being challenged to be agents of peace,” said Kisa Msiska one of the young people who took part in the Pefnap peace meeting at Soche in Blantyre.