Malawians have spoken. Frustration over alleged bad governance bubbled out in coordinated nationwide protests across the country yesterday as citizens demanded change of direction by the administration of President Peter Mutharika or resignation of his government.
Malawians from all walks of life—young and old—rose early and braved sunbathes, threats of violence and ignored the advice of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which a day earlier had hit the streets in Blantyre to threaten the citizens to stay away. They did not.
Instead, the citizens came out in a sea of red and black. They sang, chanted, and shouted their voices hoarse, as residents of all major cities came out—in a huge turnout—to raise discontent at alleged bad governance by the Mutharika administration.
Not since the infamous July 20 2011 demonstrations—the country’s deadliest and bloodiest political protests that killed 20 people across the country—has the country witnessed such an outpouring of its citizens on the streets.
From politicians, including leader of the Opposition Lazarus Chakwera to school-going children; from a 42-year-old father clutching a one-year-old baby on his back, to a nurse who shut down a clinic to voice her frustration to the government, the streets in Lilongwe were full of people—all with grievances against government.
“I am here representing people from Malambo where I come from. I am representing farmers, teachers, ordinary people who are fed up with being poorly governed,” said Chakwera who briefly addressed the crowd before being whisked away.
The only agenda that failed to get any traction in the capital, Lilongwe, where some of the largest crowds assembled was violence.
The mostly deserted city was peaceful and orderly although it resembled a holiday than a busy working Friday. At one point, heavily-armed police officers blocked the route of the protests to Capital Hill, leading to a tense standoff that lasted over an hour.
But, eventually, authorities accepted that the will of the people should prevail; a potential flashpoint and feared confrontation was avoided after prolonged negotiations between the organisers of the protests, police and city council officials.
Throughout the route, though, songs raged against the country’s rulers; as protesters called for dismissal of ministers connected with the K4 billion saga, particularly Goodall Gondwe (Finance) and Kondwani Nankhumwa (Local Government).
Carrying anti-government placards, others chanted Alamu Mwakula Mukapume, Gogo Achoke referring to the debate on the age of President Mutharika and Gondwe. Others chanted Chaponda wakuba saliyekha. All, though, ended peacefully as it started.
Business was at a standstill in most parts of the city, as protestors marched throughout the route. Some people came out of their offices to witness the march.
All along the demonstration’s route, the sea of people swelled, as more and more people gained confidence.
The protestors delivered the petition at the gates of Capital Hill, the seat of government, not to President Mutharika or Vice-President Saulos Chilima as they had earlier demanded, but to Principal Secretary (Administration) in the Office of President and Cabinet, Cliff Chiunda.
Chiunda, who was accompanied by Deputy Inspector General of Police Duncan Mwapasa and presidential adviser on civil society organisations Mabvuto Bamusi, pledged to immediately hand over the petition to the relevant officers.
Gift Trapence, one of the protest leaders, said the civil society will watch closely the actions of the administration on how it will respond to the petition, adding that at the expiry of the ultimatum, the CSOs will decide whether to return to the streets with bigger protests or not.
“The President has 90 days to respond to all the 10 points in the petition. We know he hates ultimatums, but as [his]employers, we have given him this ultimatum,” he said.
The CSOs are concerned with alleged Executive abuse and manipulation; high level corruption manifested in the K236 billion Cashgate, the K4 billion issue, the rejected Electoral Reforms Bills, worsening water problems, high cost of living, abuse of State media and chiefs; among others.
The petition also calls for the firing of Gondwe and Nankhumwa within 15 days; end of electricity outages within 85 days; and completion of investigations into the killings of former Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) administrator Issa Njauju and Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa.
In an interview, Minister of Information Nicholas Dausi said government will respond to the matters in the petition in due course, but questioned the presence of Chakwera at the protests.
“Do they want us to resign because they want Chakwera to get in through the back door? Was that the reason they invited Chakwera, so that they ask us to resign? No. Leadership is earned through elections and Chakwera must wait for his turn if he can win elections.
“Otherwise, we are delighted as government that people heard our plea for peaceful protests and government will address the concerns,” he said.