We, the Bottom Up Delegation, led as always by our indefatigable, the one real iron lady, Professor Dr Joyce Befu, are here in Salima hesitantly whetting our appetites, preparing new placards and buying bullet proof jackets and helmets in readiness for the Human Rights Defenders Coalition organised demonstrations or sit-ins meant to close the airports and borders of this country in order to force President Professor Emeritus Dr Peter Arthur Mutharika to plead with Justice Dr Jane Ansah, SC, Justice of Appeal, to resign her post as chairwoman of the Malawi Election Commission (MEC).
One academic recently reminded us that MEC is an illegal organisation because there is no law establishing it. The academic said the only organisation mandated to organise elections is the Electoral Commission (EC). We laughed our lungs out because we have all participated in this illegality for 25 years!
We are getting this hesitantly prepared for the demonstrations because the President has declared war on demonstrators and issued a state of emergency because that is what his order to the army and police amounts to.
His hunger for bloodshed was clear from his voice. He has ordered the army and policy to use force. Now, the police might use teargas, water cannon and baton sticks as force to disperse the demonstrators but involving the army sounds ominously bloody.
One soldier, from the parachute battalion here in Salima, whose name we can no longer remember, asked us a few questions last night as we caroused at Riverside Lodge, which we are still pondering.
“Do you know how the armies all over the world work?” asked the soldier.
“Armies are there to protect the people against foreign aggression,” bookishly answered Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC.
“I repeat. Do you understand how armies work?” the captain soldier repeated.
“I may add,” said, Nganga Maigwaigwa, PSC (RTD), “Do you know how the police work?”
“Guys,” I, the Mohashoi, said, “if you have answers to your questions please just inform us.”
“OK,” said the soldier, “the armies and police work through and hearken to commands or orders from superiors, their commanders.”
“Yes?” Abiti remarked sarcastically.
Explained the soldier: “If our army commander says kill, we junior solders will kill. If he says stop, we stop. If the Commander-in-Chief Peter Mutharika, says kill, we the soldiers will kill even if army commander does not want. If the Commander-in-Chief says do not kill, the soldiers will not kill even if they think killing is the best solution. That is what happened recently when Ngwazi Donald Trump ordered his army not to bomb Iran.”
“But would it not be ethical to kill unarmed demonstrators just because a commander-in-chief somewhere has ordered so?” Abiti asked, clearly displeased.
“You expect soldiers to act ethically in defiance of commanding authority? What childishness!” the soldier said in between gulps of cattle beer.
Added Nganga: “Even we, the police, follow orders. So far, the police inspector general has restrained himself for fear of irking his commander-in-chief. Now that the order has been given, expect bloodshed.”
“This is seriously dreadful and ominous!” I said.
“You are justified to dread,” said the captain soldier.
“In 2011, Bingu wa Mutharika ordered the police to shoot and kill the demonstrators and indeed 21 people were massacred and no police officer has been held to account because the order came from commander-in-chief!” revealed Nganga.
“So, what is your advice?”
“The order to shoot and kill has been given by the commander-in-chief and it will be executed. Think about it seriously and learn from history. In 1959 the British government military police massacred peaceful demonstrators, including pregnant women and children, in Nyasaland because their commander, a mere district commissioner, had ordered so. In 1992, the Malawi Army forcibly disarmed and disbanded the MYP because the commander-in-chief of the army, MYP, and Police, ada Ngwazi Dr. Kamuzu Banda had ordered so.
“Withdrawal is not a sign of cowardice. You can demonstrate in other ways than face the army and police ordered to kill. Ask yourselves if Malawi’s airports and border posts are worth dying for. Ask yourselves if closing the only sources of income for Malawi will not hurt the very people whose rights you are defending. Ask yourselves,” the captain soldier said and briskly walked out of the Riverside bar into the sea of midnight darkness. n