This week, we finally bid adieu to 2018, the year in which Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM party officials engaged in excessive politicking to drum up support for the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Besides politics, civil society organisations (CSOs) also influenced the 2018 power play, following their two key anti-government demonstrations in April and September over governance concerns.
It all started in early April when the CSOs demanded that President Peter Mutharika should fire his Finance and Economic Development, and Local Government and Rural Development ministers—Goodall Gondwe and Kondwani Nankhumwa, respectively—for their roles in government’s K4 billion constituency development payout to 80 lawmakers. This was widely viewed as State bribery to gain opposition votes on the then controversial Electoral Reforms Bills.
Led by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Timothy Mtambo, the CSOs condemned the payout and said it was illegal and against Malawians’ interests. They subsequently called for nationwide demonstrations on April 27 to petition Mutharika on the matter.
Leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera, who is also MCP president, promptly endorsed the planned protests, claiming he first opposed the K4 billion payment in Parliament in his closing speech during the 2018/19 Budget meeting. Ironically, Chakwera was part of an initial agreement to allocate the funds to all the 193 MPs and not just 80.
In a veiled reference to Chakwera’s U-turn, leader of Government Business in Parliament Nankhumwa expressed disappointment with what he termed as “chameleon” conduct by some opposition MPs.
Probably the most fascinating bit on the demonstrations came when the CSOs demanded that Mutharika should personally receive their 10-point petition, which the President rebuffed. On April 13, Mutharika left the demonstrations brewing at home as he flew to London, United Kingdom for a Commonwealth leaders’ summit.
Frustrated by Mutharika’s rejection, the CSOs then wrote Vice-President Saulos Chilima five days later requesting him to intercede and receive the petition on behalf of the Malawi Government. But like his boss, Chilima also snubbed the protest organisers and referred them back to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) to designate an official to receive the petition on behalf of the State.
After being tossed back and forth from one government office to the other, the CSOs joined by Chakwera and other opposition figures, finally took to the streets and held nationwide demonstrations on April 27.
In August, Mtambo and others called for another march on September 7, accusing Mutharika of failing to address the issues raised in their April 27 petition and also failing to acknowledge receipt of the petition. They also called for the President’s impeachment over his alleged violation of the Constitution and abuse of office.
But speaking through his spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani, the 78-year-old leader dismissed the calls, accusing the CSOs of championing a hate-driven advocacy against him.
The climax of this drama unfolded just before the second demos as horror visibly prevailed in the blue camp. This prompted some party gurus such as DPP Southern Region governor Charles Mchacha to discredit the organisers. It was not even surprising when Blantyre City Council (BCC) permitted DPP to hold its Blue Day celebrations on the same day the CSOs had planned their protests.
But sensing danger and a possible repeat of the deadly July 2011 violent protests, the anti-government demonstration planners moved their protest to September 21 “in the interest of peace, unity and cooperation” and to allow DPP celebrate in peace.
Still, in its constant pursuit of the anti-government demonstrations and in typical fashion of tormenting of the organisers, DPP equally cancelled its ill-conceived celebrations. In his inverted response, the flamboyant DPP Southern Region boss cleverly asserted that his party too had decided to suspend the Blue Day celebrations to pave the way for the demonstrations.
The anti-government protesters finally held their last national protest on September 21 after receiving Chilima’s boost on September 8 when the Vice-President addressed a UTM party rally at Gymkhana Club in Zomba. At the rally, Chilima encouraged the organisers to go ahead without fear, apparently in a direct reference to DPP’s barring of the September 7 demonstrations.
A confrontational Mutharika closed the chapter on October 8 when he poked fun at the poorly patronised last protest and described it as a flop. He was speaking on his return from the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York.
The rest, as they say, is history. The protests took place in Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre and Zomba and petitions were submitted to city council. n