On July 20 2011, ordinary Malawians buoyed by the poor governance of the administration of president Bingu wa Mutharika gathered in several areas of this country to express their dissatisfaction.
What resulted was 20 bullet ridden bodies of citizens, shot dead by incompetent and overzealous police officers whose training manuals clearly teach them how to handle crowds and when to discharge firearms.
On April 5 2012, Bingu collapsed in his office and what followed was a veritable comedy of errors that even The Bard himself would have applauded: A president’s doctor without his medical bag, left the patient unattended to pick up his medical kit, an ambulance was located far from the entrance to the president’s office and as if that was not enough the doctor did not have the cellphone number of the head of a central hospital in Lilongwe to inform him about the emergency.
Fast-forward to July 6 2017, the earth swallowed seven children and an adult in an event that could have been avoided. The police, in a bid to remove the burden of fault over the deaths and ensuing chaos at Bingu National Stadium instituted their own internal investigations, whose findings have pointed to shambolic organisation of national celebrations not befitting a country that was celebrating 53 years of independence.
This country loves its inquiries and there have been too numerous to mention in a period of just five years, from the inquiries mentioned earlier to the one into the merciless death of a Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa and of recent contamination of water in the Lilongwe residential area of Area 18.
However, what has become clear is that this nation does not learn from these inquiries and its countless recommendations that go with little action. The two inquiries, that of the police and the one instituted by the President tell one story. The police are always careless and unprepared, the organisers of national events such as Independence Day come up with programmes to suit political masters and not the citizens themselves.
After the July 20 incident, recommendations were made about the police in particular, ranging from equipping the police with riot control equipment not guns and ensuring the police officers responsible for the deaths are prosecuted.
Over five years after these recommendations, there has been one prosecution and the police cannot deal with a crowd of protesters armed with stones and words except to fire teargas as they did at Bingu National Stadium to control a crowd that was calmly entering a stadium.
The recommendations after the death of Bingu should have been acted on with haste. Where is the state-of-the-art ambulance on the presidential motorcade? Perhaps the motorhome bought last year in addition to the many homes for his use will act as an ambulance when such an emergency arises again.
What assurances are there that the President’s physician does not have any injuries that would impede him from administering treatment were anything to happen to the Head of State? Or that there are fully-fledged clinics at all State residences to avoid a repeat of the April 5, 2012 incident?
To cap it all, the country’s major central hospital closest to the presidential residence continues to experience shortage of essential drugs and equipment that could save lives of ordinary Malawians let alone the State President.
In other words, there have been no lessons learnt from the mistakes of the past, the past being a mere five years ago. This begs the question: what is the point of the inquiries if not to massage the guilt of a few individuals to portray the picture that they are doing something?
The inquiries have not brought back to life the children and breadwinners who lost their lives at the hands of incompetent Police and event organisers. What they have successfully done is to convince the rest of the world Malawi is one example of a country that never learns from its mistakes.