Hon Folks, the violence that ensued from the May 21 presidential election has changed the narrative on Malawi within the donor community. All along their focus was largely trained on poor economic governance, now their fear is that we’re slipping into a failed State.
On Friday, October 11 2019 the UN human rights body issued a statement from its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, saying it was “very concerned” by lack of meaningful dialogue to address the mounting tension and violent protests in Malawi.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), which has seen similar cases elsewhere in Africa degenerating into civil strife, warns that if our case is left unattended, “there is a serious risk the situation will spiral out of control.”
Violence begets violence. That’s why DPP, the opposition and the police—who have either unleashed or retaliated in the on-going post-election violence—have all been victims of violence themselves.
The Police, notorious for being partisan and trigger-happy, have themselves already lost two officers and property. DPP and MCP have had their offices petrol-bombed in the North and the South respectively. Justin Phiri died at Mzuzu Prison of festering wounds inflicted by the brutality of the law enforcers whereas activist Billy Mayaya was stoned and left for dead simply for peacefully demonstrating in Blantyre, a city in the so-call DPP its stronghold.
But so many other innocent people have also been victims of post-election violence physically, mentally or economically. As Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) observes in its press statement issued on October 10, “the country seems to be slowly degenerating into lawlessness and anarchy.”
APM seems to bask in the false belief that he is a victim of machinations by his major rival Lazarus Chakwera of MCP who came a close second in the disputed May 21 presidential race. At the UN General Assembly the President blamed Chakwera’s rejection of the outcome of presidential election for causing the violence that has rocked the whole country.
Interestingly, he in the same breath praised his government for avoiding retaliation as proof that democracy is entrenched in Malawi.
Talk about giving Chakwera undue credit! True he complained about the election outcome and so too did Saulos Chilima of UTM and so many other Malawians who voted. In fact, Chilima was the first contestant to knock on the court’s door.
The demonstrations aren’t about Chakwera or Chilima. People want their votes to count. They want to have a listening and caring government that serves all Malawians equally. Many times in past people’s favourite candidates have lost but we’ve never witnessed so much anger and despondency has been the case this year. The people are simply fed up!
Those who have evaluated the situation without political bias, including MHRC and UNCHR, see the disputed outcome of the presidential election as a trigger factor of bitter protests against bad governance, social inequality, unemployment and social injustice—vices we thought democratic leaders won’t hound us with in the multiparty era.
The case in court will not sufficiently address these issues. In fact, there’s a danger that the verdict can come with so much disruptive force as to do more harm than good if the political atmosphere is as tense as it currently is. That’s why some civil society leaders with a discerning eye have urged government to initiate dialogue with other stakeholders even while the court case is still on-going.
That call has been echoed almost by all other organisations commenting on the situation in Malawi. MHRC says there’s need for a “sincere and constructive dialogue.” UNHCHR urges government and other stakeholders to urgently engage in a “genuine and meaningful dialogue.”
On their part, the western development partners call on political leaders to “take tangible steps” to ensure that their supporters as well as themselves respect the outcome of the court case.
I see no better way than APM sitting together with Chakwera, Chilima and other contestants in the presidential race in an indaba to thrash out issues then produce a joint communiqué clearly stating their commitment to peace, respect for the rule of law and urging their warring supporters to bury the hatchet and unite as one nation, Malawi.
These politicians should learn to share the podium at State functions and recognise each other’s role in a multiparty system of government. But in all this APM, as Head of State and Government, should take the lead and not sit on the terraces.