Malawians are a very special people on the African Continent. They run their affairs of the State peacefully. In 1994, Malawians changed from a 30 year-rule of one party state to a multi-party democracy.
In fact, Malawi is a beacon of democracy in Africa. It sets the pace for other countries to follow.
The way Malawians changed to plural democracy was remarkable. The country’s founding father, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, graciously conceded defeat before the vote counting was over. Kamuzu even apologised for any atrocities that his henchmen might have inflicted on Malawians. He also offered to work with the then president elect, Dr Bakili Muluzi.
Today, countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa can peacefully change their age-old regimes.
To ensure that no-one runs with the baton stick into the hill, leaving everyone desperate in the valley, Malawians came up with a new Constitution. In that Constitution, the emphasis was on the Bill of Rights which forms Chapter four of our Constitution.
Among those rights is the freedom to demonstrate. Section 38 of the Constitution clearly states that “every person shall have the right to assemble and demonstrate with others, peacefully and unarmed”.
When Malawians went to the streets yesterday to demonstrate against excesses of the government, everything went on smoothly.
The only blot on the garment was when Lilongwe demonstrators locked horns with the police. The police tried to prevent the protestors from proceeding to the gates of Capital Hill as planned in earlier meetings.
Save for the Lilongwe incident, the police, organisers of the demonstrations and city authorities handled the protests professionally. The demonstrators also behaved well without any nasty incidents.
What the protestors taught the world is that holding divergent views is not a crime in a democracy. The variety of opinions is an integral part of democracy. Democracy is about finding the best opinion that can help to build the nation.
Malawians have made it clear that they are capable of organising themselves to demonstrate peacefully.
However, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) should accept that sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing. There was no need for the party to organise street demonstrations in Blantyre on Thursday. It was not necessary for the party to attempt to scare away Malawians from the streets the following day.
Contents of the petition by CSO led protestors were already known in advance. The issues are the usual matters that Malawians have been complaining about.
The police and city fathers had agreed on security concerns and adjustments were made accordingly. There was no need for the DPP to assure residents of Blantyre City that the party’s cadets would provide security to the residents and their property.
Gladly, sanity prevailed in the DPP camp and their cadets did not disrupt the demonstrations as per their plans.
The Malawi Police Service must be commended for managing the demonstrations in a professional manner. There was adequate visibility of uniformed police officers in all cities and major towns in the country. That gave assurance to Malawians that their lives and property were protected.
The way the police handled some misguided demonstrators who wanted to riot in Mzuzu is quite commendable. The police officers did not overreact but contained the situation professionally. This is the level of police professionalism that Malawians have been crying for all along.
Organisers of the demonstrations as well as those who took part in the protests deserve a pat on the back. They remained calm even when authorities tried to change the agreed route for the protests in Lilongwe. They never lost their heads but reasoned with the authorities not to trample on the rights of the protestors.
Now, this is a precedent that Malawians have set concerning demonstrations. Future street protests must be as peaceful and orderly as those we had yesterday. Government should also be ready and willing to facilitate peaceful demonstrations by the citizens.
Otherwise, it is well done to everyone that facilitated or took an active role in the demonstrations.
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