Despite saying that government will not block next week’s demonstrations organised by some civil society organisations, (CSOs), fear for the protests was seen in Lilongwe yesterday when two press conferences were organised in a space of three hours on the matter.
At around 11 O’clock in the morning chiefs from the Central Region held a press conference at Mlodza Primary School in Area 23 and at 2 O’clock in the afternoon, it was two ministers and civil servants at Central Office of Information talking about the same issue.
Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Nicholas Dausi and Minister of Labour, Francis Kasaila were joined by technocrats to explain what government is doing to address the issues that have sparked the demonstrations.
But Dausi said government is not afraid of the demonstrations.
He said as government, they have a right to explain what is being done on issues CSOs are raising.
“In a democracy, there is free flow of information. When you speak, other people must have the right to speak also. But when government tries to speak you say it is jittery? Are those people speaking in support of the demonstrations also jittery,” Dausi said.
Some of the issues the CSOs are raising are the low education standards, falling economy, failure by government to employ doctors, continued blackouts despite the use of generators and the controversial allocation of K4 billion for rural development projects.
At the press conference, Secretary for Health, Dan Namarika, said government is currently exploring how best it can resolve the issue of medical doctors. He said the current 18-month internship period for medical doctors is not in line with the country’s 12-month fiscal year.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Mining, Patrick Matanda, also stated that government has a number of strategies aimed at reducing blackouts in the country.
Escom Chief Executive Officer, Alexon Chiwaya, said the generators that the country is using have helped reduce the period of power outages.
According to Dausi the period has been reduced from 36 hours to about six hours.
In the morning, chiefs from the Central Region, also organised a press conference in the same city urging people not to participate in the April 27 demonstrations.
About 20 chiefs from the region yesterday, led by Senior Chief Lukwa, told the media that it is only the poor that will fall victim to the protests.
He said the demonstrations may lead to loss of lives.
Senior Chief Chadza of Lilongwe said young people should desist from participating and concentrate on developing their areas.
“We know the end result of the demonstrations. Three years ago [actually it is seven years ago in 2011] young people lost their lives. We were the ones who were affected in our areas. These demonstrations will not help the youth. Let us invest our energy in developing our homes. We should not be bribed by the CSOs with just K3000. It’s nothing, compared to our lives,” he said.
Other chiefs have proposed that the demonstrations should be suspended and have a dialogue on their concerns.
Lukwa also said the group is disappointed with Members of Parliament (MPs) from the region who stood against K4 billion after the National Assembly approved the funds.
He said the chiefs believe in development and not politics hence the funds should be channeled to District Councils if the MPs continue to reject it.
“We sometimes wonder if these MPs really come from our areas. We have a lot of challenges that need to be taken care of. In our hospitals, schools and so forth. They are not prioritising our needs,” he said.
Senior Chief Dambe from Mchinji also concurred with Lukwa and added that no minister either of Local Government Kondwani Nankhumwa or Finance Goodall Gondwe should resign from their portfolios.
“Our MPs did not do us good. As chiefs we are there for development. We have a lot of projects that we need. In our hospitals we need drugs. Let the funds come to our villages for development,” he said.
On Thursday, after meeting senior officials from the Malawi Police Service, one of the leaders of CSOs, Timothy Mtambo said, he expects the demonstrations to be violence-free.
After the meeting, Mtambo said they discussed how to work together to ensure peaceful demonstrations.
“Initially we were asking questions to say why we are to meet them when we had met their junior officers, but we noticed that the meeting was on goodwill they just wanted to understand how best we can work together to make sure that the demonstrations are peaceful,” he said.
Mtambo also indicated the CSOs will denounce and distance themselves from the distorted message.