Malawi at political crossroads

September 19 2018.

Oh what a week! President Peter Mutharika and other African leaders and their people witness the interring of former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Before you get over it, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera starts giving his testimony in a case where he is challenging Mutharika’s legitimacy and Malawi Electoral Commission’s (MEC) handling of the presidential polls.

Then, while we are talking about it, the protests against MEC chairperson Jane Ansah returned after a 14-day moratorium the Supreme Court issued. Ironically, the demos returned as Mutharika, who the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) wants to fire Ansah if she doesn’t resign on her own, left for the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The streets were rocked with drama, as some protesters stoned organisers in Mzuzu for going against calls to hold vigils at council offices. In Zomba, protesters tore the petition they were meant to present, saying they have presented enough petitions.

Perhaps the most sad scenes were in Lilongwe where journalist Gladys Nthenda was assaulted by some thugs in the course of the protests. Her jean trousers, it is reported, was torn and her smartphone snatched. They also pounced on Nation Publications Limited’s (NPL) Golden Matonga and snatched his wallet and phone. Malawi Defence Force (MDF) came in to rescue the two.

Last time, some protesters undressed a police-woman in Mchinji. These barbaric acts really taint the image of the demos. Even further, they call to question whether the dialogue on violence-free protests bore any fruit. It even puts to question whether the demonstrations themselves will bear fruit, given that Ansah has put her foot down. Insanity, as they say, is repeating the same mistake and expecting a different result.

Before we could put our arms on the sides of the chair, MEC announced it was holding the Lilongwe South by-elections on November 5. MCP and UTM cried wolf, saying the polls can’t be held so soon, with the ongoing case in court.

Oh boy! What a week!

The good news, this past fortnight is that there is some movement in penalising companies that are polluting our water sources. First on the line was Sunset Creameries in Blantyre which was shut down for polluting Mudi River.

Then, the Environmental Affairs Department (EAD) closed down the Kombucha Factory Nutricom Food and Beverage Limited for releasing untreated wasted into Chankhandwe River. The river is a tributary for the Lilongwe River, which is the main source for the Lilongwe Water Board which provides water to over 1 million people in the city.

While we are still living with the terror of sewer ending in Area 18, it was most unfortunate that the company manufacturing the famous fermented drink acted in a way that led to the board to reduce production capacity to avoid compromising water quality and standards.

This far, it would be worthwhile to see the EAD pinch other companies that continue polluting the rivers. The Environmental Management Act (EMA) is very clear on waste disposal and management. For once, before disposing liquid waste in rivers, companies are supposed to apply oxygen tablets and have the waste tested before disposing them in the effluent.

Not so long ago, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Ben Phiri gave the Blantyre City Council a week to clear the waste in Limbe River. He also gave the council 14 days to come up with a plan about how to repair the city’s sewer system. A welcome gesture. It remains to be seen when the minister will be on the council’s neck again.

The stench from our rivers is just too much.

Waste management and disposal is paramount as we seek to attain sustainable development goals (SDGs) 9 and 11. SDG 9 calls for sustainable industrialisation while SDG 11 calls for cities and human settlements that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Which is why the bad odour from industrial waste and polluted water that end up in people’s gardens and people washing clothes, drinking water downstream is uncalled for.

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