here has been a wave of protests against the cost of living and corruption, mainly, and others have picked up issues such as nepotism and also others that stage vigils against the government’s failure to complete the road construction.
The right to protest is crucial in a democracy. It is a means for people to express their dissatisfaction with their government and leaders and also a way of making their demands heard. Protests also make change happen. It took sustained protests in 2019 to bring about the political changes we see now—the Tonse Alliance government emerged from citizens’ protests against the Malawi Electoral Commission. Basically, the Tonse Alliance government is a by-product of protest.
On the flip side, sustained protests have the potential to hurt the economy and can make the country ungovernable. But this oftentimes happens when leaders choose to ignore the voice of the citizens who are expressing their demands through protests. When leaders choose to take protesters as mere rabble-rousers, protests become the order of the day and hurt the economy because many business owners shut down their businesses for fear of looting.
A wise leader would not outright dismiss or simply wish away the protests. It is a dangerous way of dealing with people who are frustrated—which are in a majority at the moment owing to the rising cost of living, corruption which have made most Malawians’ living a living hell.
Since this wave of protests started, Malawians are yet to hear from their leader on the demands they make. What has been heard so far is a President who recites poetic verses on the public podiums pacifying Malawians whose livelihood has taken a knock due to the rising cost of living.
The President should know that disgruntled people can be ungovernable and they can make his time as a leader a living hell. The problems that Malawi is facing have been exacerbated by the global events—war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, however, some leaders elsewhere have found means of cushioning their people from the adverse effects of these global events.
Apart from the global events having effects on us, these protests are a reflection of a people frustrated with unfulfilled promises that the leaders now in government made. There are youths in these protests who were promised jobs but they are still sitting at home doing nothing. There are farmers protesting who promised cheap fertiliser and better prices for their produce but have ended up selling their produce to unscrupulous traders who buy their products at a song.
There are mothers in these protests who were promised that they will now have three meals a day yet their children are going to bed hungry.
I believe that these protests are not there to spite the presidency or government, people have genuine concerns that need an honest response from their leaders. If leaders continue to ignore and dismiss these protests, Malawi may become ungovernable, and nobody wants to see that happening. n