Activist Kabwila vows to lead Malawi’s Jan 17 demos

Academic and rights activist Dr  Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula says she is set to travel from the old capital Zomba  to Blantyre to take part in Thursday’s consumers’ demonstrations to protest a harsh economic environment.

Consumers watchdog, the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama), has organized the demonstrations which largely seek to push President Joyce Banda’s administration to reverse economic problems facing Malawians mainly because of devaluation and floatation of Malawi Kwacha.

Kabwila, a University of Malawi professor at Chancellor College in the eastern city of Zomba.  told Nyasa Times that she will lead a grouping of about 40 people from the eastern City of Zomba who have so far officially registered to accompany her to Blantyre for the protests.

“People who have contacted me so far are about 40 who are willing to travel to Blantyre, but there were so many people who have come asking that we should do it here in Zomba because they really wanted Zomba the place where the president comes from to register their concerns,” she said.

Jessie Kabwila: Ready for demos

She said they could not hold protests in Zomba because they have not yet taken permission from police and city officials.

Kabwila, who championed the academic fight during the late president Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration, said she can’t wait taking part in Thursday’s demonstrations considering problems which Malawians are facing.

“It’s demonstrating about the pain I am feeling because of devaluation what I can assure you is that, for me, whether there is a group or not I will be demonstrating on Thursday,” said the fearless activist.

“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to see that Malawians are suffering under this economy. It doesn’t need an experiment in a lab, it is obvious. Just go into any shop just go anywhere and ask Malawians they will tell you that things si zilibwino (are not well)”.

She says those who are pulling out from the protests need to ask themselves whether they are giving up on what Malawians are feeling because, she says, the reality of the matter is that organizers need to stand up for what citizens are going through.

“And given my history, you know where I am coming from in terms of academic freedom saga. There were people who were leaving it, there were people who were going on the radio saying they did not stand for it but that did not stop us, we continued and we won.”

However, she was cautious commenting on bribery allegations on some organizers of the January 17 protests saying some people have a tendency of accusing organizers of various demonstrations of being bribed in one way or another without justification.

“If people say they have been bribed, I was also accused of the same thing when I was standing for academic freedom. I think Malawians need to understand that as citizens we have come of age we are able to speak our mind without someone paying us anything,” she said.

But Kabwila said it would be very unfortunate if the bribery allegations prove to be true.

“But if those who are leaving the demonstrations are being bribed. I think it is very unfortunate for people to come and try making names out of poor people.”

Kabwila asked the government to respond positively to the issues raised in the petition they are expected to present to them on Thursday.

She said if government will not listen, the consumers will reconvene to decide the way forward.

“But I would like to think that we are dealing with the government that is a listening government; that understands that it is the government that was put on trust by Malawians. So if Malawians say we are not happy with this part, they have to understand.”

State-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has since asked government to desist from preventing people from participating in the demonstrations.

Cama executive director John Kapito said the organisers have actively engaged the police to ensure peaceful demonstrations.

And Malawi Police Service (MPS) national spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo said the police were already working hand in hand with the organisers as well as district commissioners to ensure that the demonstrations are peaceful and lawful.

Among other things, the consumers’ grievances include a demand for a reversal of the floatation of the kwacha; sale of the presidential jet and Mercedes Benz vehicles for ministers; reduction in the presidential convoy, minimising presidential and ministerial travels both local and international, the bloated cabinet; checking corruption and the declaration of assets by the President.

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