Written By Cedrick Ngalande
Several years ago, as I was traveling from school to my home village, I hitched a ride on an army truck. It was during the rainy season. Regular buses had stopped because the Phalombe road was muddy and dangerous. It was therefore a big relief when the army truck stopped at about 10pm to give me and other travelers a ride.
When we got into the truck, one of the soldiers collected fares. Seeing that I was traveling alone and was the youngest of the passengers, the soldier decided to take advantage of that. After about 20 minutes, he came back to me and demanded more money claiming that I had not yet paid him. All my fellow passengers were very surprised, and they politely reminded the soldier that I had already paid the fare. He would not have any of that. I ended up paying again giving him all the money I had left in my pocket.
After about another 20 minutes he again came back to me demanding that I pay my fare. I had no money left. The passengers pleaded with him to “leave the young man alone”. He was determined to intimidate me. He asked the driver to stop and demanded that I get off the truck.
It was about 11pm when I got off the truck that rainy night in a dangerous forest at the foot of Mulanje Mountain. The truck moved for a few minutes and stopped again. I saw one of the passengers, an older gentleman, get off with his luggage. He told me that his conscious would not allow him to see me alone in that forest. And so, we walked together to the nearest village where, at about midnight, we asked for a place to sleep for the rest of the night.
There is always a great danger when you allow the military to run amok and make their own rules. The scenes we saw this past week across Malawi where army soldiers brutally beat police officers and civilians in the name of keeping peace are unacceptable. What we are seeing are signs of a totally undisciplined and unprofessional army. Certainly, the police officers could not have been beaten because of some crime they were committing.
Unfortunately, the Malawi social media is awash with praise for this kind of behavior. Others are even openly asking the military to ‘take over’ government. It should not take a student of history to know that no country has ever prospered, either democratically or economically, with military rule. Malawi needs to get back to normal. The army must get off the street and allow the police to do their job.
Three immediate steps need to be taken to bring the country back to normalcy:
First, the police must be empowered to do their job. The disempowerment of police in Malawi has been a gradual process that came about largely because thuggish elements of the DPP youth have been allowed to openly undermine the police with impunity. This has created a vacuum which is now being filled by the army. The DPP must make clear to their ‘cadets’ or ‘Ana a aDadi’ that violence of any kind in the name of protecting DPP leadership will not be tolerated. This moment calls for leadership, and DPP leaders must not shrink from it.
Political parties in Malawi do not need paramilitary wings to protect their presidents. This sad tradition started with the MCP Party when they formed the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP); the UDF had the UDF youth or Yellow youth, and now DPP has ‘Ana a aDadi’ or ‘cadets’. All political parties must renounce this tradition.
Second, the opposition has a huge responsibility too. The unfortunate cases of violent protests witnessed across the country must stop immediately. As everybody knows, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) declared Peter Mutharika as winner of the recent elections. All independent observers have stated that, except for some unfortunate behavior by the national broadcaster in the run up to the elections, the elections were free, fair and representative of the voters’ will. The US Secretary of State has recently described the elections as ‘successful’. Nevertheless, some Malawians not happy with this conclusion have taken the matter to the courts. They have every right to do that. They also have every right to demonstrate and must be allowed to do so. But it is very important that they shun any thuggish behavior among them.
Third, every Malawian must commit to respecting the final verdict from the courts. The courts must have the final word on these election matters. Standing up for democracy and rule of law also means respecting court decisions even when they are not in your favor.