Hats off Judge Lovemore Chikopa!

H

on Folks, sometimes I get a feeling that we all know what’s the right thing to do for this country to get back on course and develop but for sheer self-serving reasons, people deliberately act wrongly.

Take the issue of demos: Government, with a legion of lawyers at its disposal and a law professor at the helm, chose to regard demos as a privilege they alone could grant and withdraw at will.

It had to take Supreme Court Judge Lovemore Chikopa to state what is arguably the obvious that peaceful demos are a constitutional right of the people. Chikopa again stated the obvious that the prevalence of violence isn’t a sufficient reason for government to ban demos.

Rather, the police, whose primary responsibility it is to provide security, should be deployed to work with the organisers of the demos to go after the bad guys and bring them to book.  Simple, isn’t it?

Not in Malawi. Government demanded of the unarmed demonstrators to guarantee on their own safety of life and property or be ready to meet the cost of any damage or loss, whether caused by their action or the action of anyone else that coincides with the demos.

Peaceful demonstrators, if infiltrated by others with criminal intent, are themselves victims of the violence and looting the hoodlums leave in their wake. As citizens of this Republic, they deserve police protection as much as those they demonstrate against.

Yet, government to a large extent withheld police protection. Instead, they made the police watch indifferently as the country was burning and hard-earned assets of innocent Malawians were looted, believing Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence would be made to pay for it all, just because the havoc coincided with the demos they organised.

The caveat here is: if you are aggrieved by those entrusted with sovereign power, swallow the tears and feign a smile but don’t dare organise demos unless you have the financial muscle to meet the cost of all the damage that may occur while you are enjoying your constitutional right to assemble and speak to power through demos.

It’s an attempt at bending the law in order to narrow citizen’s democratic space, more like what used to be the case during the one party dictatorial rule of Kamuzu Banda.

 A chill runs down my spine when I recall that when the demo organisers decided to hold demonstrations at borders and airports, APM publicly directed the police to stop the demos at all costs, even if it meant using force!

He ordered the police to trample the people’s democratic right instead of defending it! He did not qualify his directive. He did not say: deal decisively with anyone taking advantage of demonstrations to loot or damage government assets.

If it were not for the High Court ruling, declaring airports and borders no-go areas for demonstrators because they are security zones—a ruling that made the organisers call off the demos—there probably would have been a tragedy of the 20 July 2011 proportions.

If citizens, in the course of enjoying their rights, could guarantee the containment of bad guys with intent to mess them up, wouldn’t the Malawi Police Service be superfluous, if not outright irrelevant? Yet this is what we are witnessing 25 years into the multiparty dispensation!

Which brings me to APM’s 2019 pilgrimage to the UN General Assembly in New York where he reported on MCP, accusing it of perpetrating post-election violence in Malawi.

Of course, there’s no denying the fact that MCP, and UTM which APM did not mention, disputed the outcome of the 21 May 2019 presidential poll. But leaders of the two parties sought redress in the court as is required by the laws of the land.

It’s also a fact that demos, looting and violence have sadly prevailed in our midst since the outcome of the 2019 elections was announced. What is not a fact is the attribution of post-election violence entirely to MCP.

In Blantyre here it’s not MCP that petrol-bombed MCP office or party vice president Sidik Mia’s office. It’s not MCP that nearly stoned to death activist Billy Mayaya in broad daylight in Blantyre. The Army did not arrest MCP youth when they zeroed in on those who were violent during demos in Blantyre.

The truth is that cadres for various parties, including DPP, have perpetrated violence. I’d like to believe that the international community has a more balanced picture of our situation from reports by their own envoys here than the one APM was trying to portray while in the US.

 If anything, the President should have been telling the world what the government is doing to preserve peace, unity and the rule of law. That’s the message many of us yearn to hear from government. That’s the message tourists, donors and investors need to hear before can come and invest their money in our troubled economy.

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