Demos aren’t the end, just the beginning

Honourable Folks, protests over rising costs of living took place without so much of an incident on Thursday. To me, this, rather than the 20/7 violence that claimed 20 lives in 2011, ought to be the norm.

Thanks should go to the Malawi Human Rights Commission for speaking out against government threats to citizens who wanted to exercise their constitutional right to demonstrate.

Arguing against demonstrations on the grounds that they would lead to violence and loss of life is like blaming the demonstrators of 20/7 for the actions of the police which led to the loss of life.

The Constitution stipulates that those demonstrating should be unarmed and peaceful. It does not put the burden of ensuring security on the citizens. It’s the police who have the constitutional obligation to safeguard life and property. Ironically, on 20/7 the law enforcers were busy killing people as looters were also busy breaking shops and stealing goods.

The impact of that traumatic experience on the psyche of the nation was there for all to see in the City of Blantyre on Thursday. Only Peoples, who have been targeted by thugs in the past, displayed an act of bravado by opening shop. The rest ensured their shops were not just locked but that even the windows were shielded by steel bars strong enough to withstand the assault of hooligans.

I am told some Chinese shop owners in Limbe actually removed goods from their shops to a safer place before clicking the padlock. The peace we saw on Thursday was not without a price to the economy!

The good thing is that those who did not believe in the cause for the demonstrations, stayed home. The small number of the marchers is probably a reflection of a conviction of the majority to give dialogue a chance.

I believe had there been a good enough reason to demonstrate, neither threats nor the menacing presence of armed riot police on the streets could have stopped angry Malawians from expressing themselves.

On 20/7 President Bingu wa Mutharika threatened to meet demonstrators on the street. It was clear that he meant it yet people flocked out there in large numbers. When his trigger-happy police started killing people, they simply fanned the anger so much that the demonstrations spilt over to the next day. 

It’s only when civil society leaders went on air, appealing to the demonstrators to stop and go home that we saw a semblance of normalcy in our country. Unfortunately for Mutharika, he never really regained the confidence of the majority he confronted with guns. His popularity, which saw him amass votes across the length and breadth of Malawi in the May 2009 presidential polls, went up in smoke and the wind blew up its ashes.

Which is why, instead of celebrating that the much-dreaded demonstrations are over, JB should seriously consider how to assuage hard-working Malawians who see their buying power dwindle by the day due to political and economic blunders arrogantly inflicted upon them by her predecessor.

Lately, the JB administration introduced some cost-cutting measures, including a reduction of the presidential convoy, cutting on foreign trips and selling the presidential jet. Unfortunately, coming after resisting numerous calls to do so, the gesture was seen as too little too late.

The Cama-led demonstrations on Thursday attests to the fact that there is a growing perception that it’s immoral for those in government to live in opulence when the fiscal measures they introduced have inflicted untold misery on the taxpayer.

If JB doesn’t know where else to cut, let her justify why the so-called VIPs from our poverty-stricken government fly first or club class, spending twice as much on fares as passengers in the economy class of the same plane. Should such a life be enjoyed when hospital pharmacies are shutting down due to lack of drugs?

Why is it still necessary for Cabinet ministers, who have residences in Area 10 and offices at the Capital Hill, to get fuel that is more than enough to run a minibus between Blantyre and Lilongwe every day for the whole month? And why should ministers of a country that can’t feed itself drive Mercedes Benz limousines?

Above all, JB should deal decisively with corruption. People shouldn’t use their public offices or their support for the ruling party as a get-way to clinching government contracts. We can only get value for money as a nation if the due tendering process is strictly adhered to and politics were left completely out of the procurement processes.

If this doesn’t sound good enough for those who think it’s pay-day now that they are in government, trust me, in May 2014 people may have to demonstrate with their votes!

 

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