21 The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God… 25 For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction. — Isaiah 10:21, 25
In my Ngoni culture, we have a famous statement about survival that states “Not everybody dies, there’s always a remnant.” Thus, all peace-loving Malawians must salute Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda as the man of the moment.
His last-minute decision paved the way for Malawians to march and in two days vented out their anger at the error of the May 21, 2019 Tripartite elections that declared President Professor Peter Mutharika (DPP) the winner, defeating Dr. Lazarus Chakwera (MCP) and Dr. Saulos Chilima (UTM). This was despite close to 150 election anomalies that included white correction fluid tally sheets.
But even as we celebrate the demos, they also came the ugly face of destruction of property. This is bad, counter-productive, but ironically not new.
There are some demonstrators that take advantage of the large crowds, detour from the peaceful march, and start the looting. In the 1991-93 era to multi-party politics in Malawi, demonstrators marched, some looted, and in the early years, some even taunted and threatened women.
In 1994 demonstrators went on a rampage and destroyed country-wide, many buildings and structures of the Malawi Young Pioneers. In 2011, they marched, and some looters came along and looted.
In the last 47 days the rampant looting came as did destruction of property. This includes the destruction by police of the Malawi Congress Party headquarters in Lilongwe, MEC offices in Mzuzu and elsewhere.
But it is in the events of the last two days that causes eyebrows to hit the skies, raised in wonder. Two places that have many people in doubting of as to “Whodunit,” are the vandalism of the offices of the minister of civic affairs and the former President Kamuzu Banda Mausoleum.
In the war of words and much marching and chanting, demonstrators at some point have been captured scaling high street poles, pulling down the President’s portrait or any structure with his face on it, bringing it down, and tearing it to shreds or setting it on fire.
It is suspicious that in destroying the civic minister’s office, all is in disarray, computer discs removed, food left strewed on desktops and the floor. But stuck plonk on the wall, untouched, was the official portrait of the President Mutharika.
This is not the work of the demonstrators that have religiously flooded Malawi streets, calling for the removal of MEC chair Dr. Jane Ansah. If the vandals had been from the group of demonstrators, then the food would have been consumed and portrayed destroyed. At the very least, the portrait would have been unhinged from its hook on the wall.
The second structure is the that of former President, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda Mausoleum, next to the Parliament Buildings in Lilongwe. Pictures of scratched headstone are making their rounds on social media.
This is not the work of the demonstrators that in the recent past flooded the structure with leaves and crying “Ngwazi! Please come back, we miss you, we need you!”
Another feature that has analysts wondering is that these structures are guarded by the Police. Where were they? If overwhelmed, how is it they did not call for back-up from the Defense Force that have been out of the barracks since the start of the demonstrations?
These have all the appearances of being staged portions of the demonstrations. Although no one can completely rule out that looting and destruction of property has reared its ugly head in the demonstrations, however, these two are DPP cadet-staged acts, probably bent on giving the demonstrations a bad name, as a criminal-laced events, and pave the way for future denials for the people to demonstrate.
This is undemocratic, counter-productive, and a clear indication of complicity in the very rationale that causes Malawians from all walks of life, to pour out onto the streets in protest.
Several writers in traditional and social media platforms, have given an analysis of the nature and character of the demonstrator: he/she is an angry, hungry person, unemployed or engaged in an over-flooded vending business, and a person with a lot of time on his/her hands.
How did we get here? Apart from the usual greed of politicians and their friends in positions of power that inherently lead to corruption and dictatorial tendencies in a bid to stay in power, there is another reason. The all-time cause of rising poverty in Malawi.
In the aftermath of Malawi becoming a democracy, demonstrators in rejoicing the end of the tyranny of the rule of former President for Life, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, destroyed MYP structures throughout the country.
Ironically, these were training bases and rural farming enterprises such as rural settlement schemes. These were the source of employment to rural communities. The re-settlement farms were torched, and buildings brought to the ground. From Nsanje to Karonga, Mangochi to Mchinji.
I called it then, and in these latest demonstrations, I call it again: this is throwing out the bath water along with the baby. In the destruction of the MYP structures, has led to millions of Malawi’s youth joining the unemployment sector.
Thus, in their anger, the demonstrators inherently ended with great gusto and swiftness, their own rural means of an economic livelihood.
A second thorn in the flesh of democracy, was the privatization from 1994 of national economic structures that had for many years made Malawi the envy of its neighbors.
Malawi had numerous business enterprises, with government having 51% of the share, our national pride and means of economic survival.
Having the largest shareholding in the businesses, gave the Malawi government the power to direct the proceedings of the companies, including employing local Malawians.
An example is of the Blantyre-based David Whitehead and Sons that once employed 3,000, people who mostly came from Chiradzulu. DWS had spill-over benefits to Lower Shire cotton farmers who supplied the raw material needs of the company; and lastly there was also the spill-over into the tailoring industry – tailors that were trained in MYP bases.
The sell of DWS to private hands, led to down-sizing of the company; but many others shut down and sold their implements; and others bundled whole companies and crossed the boarder to set up business in Mozambique, Zambia or Zimbabwe. Malawi now buys goods from our neighbors. The same goods we used to make, under dictatorial Kamuzu.
In both examples, the destruction of MYP bases, buildings and enterprises, coupled with the selling of national businesses (in the infamous Privatization exercise), the government of Malawi in the 25 years of democratic rule, has not replaced these labor-intensive undertakings.
Economist inform us that even in the Western capitalist countries, the government remains the biggest employer; this is achieved through projects and owning of economic undertakings.
There are natural and man-made disasters that feeds into Malawi’s unemployment population further spiraling them into deeper poverty, which rises every year; the youth constitute the highest number in this population.
As prices have soared, taxes increased, and corrupt practices in high places go unpunished, the citizens have every right to air their grievances. One way they did this was by turning out in record numbers to vote on May 21, 2019.
If the people, in their wisdom, believe that their vote was mishandled by the corrupt DPP politicians, officials, and elections officers (the case of Tippex), then let the people demonstrate, let justice prevail!