Malawi’s Jan 17 demos: A stepping stone to more

Several hours ago, the country was featuring nationwide demonstrations organized by Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA) during which they presented a petition to government for it to look into specific economic and governance issues that are affecting the citizens.

This was the first civil action on the streets of the country since the July 20, 2011 protests that claimed 21 lives. It was against such a barbaric background that many people viewed any street action by the citizens as a big gamble.

The outcome, however, is a great symbolic leap in as far as civil rights are concerned. It sends home a point that Malawi has taken a turn for the good within the past 10 months in which the country has changed regimes.

Nine months into her Presidency, Joyce Banda is proving to be an ideal leader every Malawian can look up to for emotional shelter, motherly love and wisdom.

Some of the marchers in Blantyre carried this placard….Photo Jeromy Kadewere

When the idea of nationwide demonstrations was being hatched months ago many people were busy reminiscing the July 20 scenario.

But the President played her cards well and analyzed issues within a specific trend.

Was she going to confront the organizers, was she going to use the Presidential voice to gain sympathy or instill fear?

Joyce Banda chose a different path altogether and it took many by surprise. She let the constitution go unhampered and gave people a nod they never expected.

“Kwa amene akufuna kupanga zionetsero asiyeni apange, ine sindingawaletse chifukwa ndi ufulu wao” (those who want to demonstrate can go ahead; I have no powers to deny them their constitutional right). This is all she could say.

It was in sharp contrast with the period preceding July 20 period when late Bingu wa Mutharika called upon his supporters to defend him; a time when when he christened them as cadets on May 15, 2011 and gave them a new role to be his development and security apparatus.

This time around Joyce Banda did not call anyone by strange and provocative names such as ankhwezule and she did not send her party stalwarts to terrorize fellow citizens prior to the march. She did not send any chap to obtain an injunction in the night to suppress the voices of the masses.

Instead she through her weight towards the Constitution and focused on her official engagements job as she welcomed two Heads of State, AU Chair and Benin President Yayi Boni and Kenya President Mwai Kibaki. It is this kind of conduct by the President that facilitated a smooth consumer action across the country.

This Presidential behavior is a good learning process for all political leaders who aspire for the high office in future. Brute-like conduct begets brutality while civility yields peace all the time.

The Malawi leader just made sure that lives and property were protected and as Commander- In- Chief of the Armed Forces she ensured that the disciplined forces had enough equipment and proper instruction to handle the situation professionally.

Many Malawians understand that if we want to recover from governance mediocrity of the past we must learn to coexist and respect the laws of the land at all times.

An important factor we can look at in future demonstrations is how it affects productivity and our economy at all levels. Even without traits of violence, it seems the demo card is being cherished by many workers who use it as a ploy to stay away from work. No wonder many stayed home either for fear of violence or just stealing an extra resting day from their employers.

As a country we must learn how to balance our constitutional rights and our responsibility to develop our country by staying at work and working hard at all times.

January 17 has surely gone and we love the fact that there was no intimidation, no hacking of online media sites like Nyasa Times, no injunctions and we are very sure there is not going to be a repeat of the Robert Chasowa scenario.

God Bless Malawi

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