By Evelyn Chibwe, Nyasa Times
Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika has hired security forces from Zimbabwe to be used to break down planned August 17 countrywide mass demonstrations against his growing misrule and the deteriorating social, political and economic order in the southern African nation.
According to a State House source, most of the ‘mercenaries’ are resident at Mtunthama State Residence in Area 3 suburb in the capital city, Lilongwe, others are at undisclosed places in Zomba, Blantyre and Mzuzu.
“I can reliably inform you that we have Zimbabwean soldiers in the country; their primary reason is to help the police to quell and protests. The president spoke to his Zimbabwean counterpart Robert Mugabe to provide the soldiers on unclear terms,” said the source.
He said the soldiers are in the country when it became clear that Malawian soldiers would not accept this time round to be ‘abused’ to control or shoot protesters as was the case in the July 20 demonstrations where at least 19 protesters were killed.
Presidential spokesperson Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba could neither confirm nor deny the presence of the Zimbabwean forces in the country when contacted on Friday.
“I have no comment. You can publish what you want,” Ntaba told Nyasa Times over the phone from Lilongwe.
Apart from anti-riot police who were used to put down the July 20, demonstration, the Mutharika regime also deployed scores of members of the Malawi Defence Force for the mission. However, it is highly improbable that the army will be involved during the August 17 protests owing to growing discontentment among the junior officers hence the hiring of the Zimbabwe soldiers.
Reports from the barracks indicate that most officers, particularly in the junior ranks are not happy with the appointment of General Henry Odilo as Army Commander when there were more senior and experienced officers who could have succeeded retired General Marko Chiziko.
Formerly Brigadier, Odilo assumed the rank of General on being appointed on July 22, 2011 and he had hitherto worked as Malawi’s military attaché at Malawi’s High Commission in London.
A coalition of civil society organizations have organized the fresh “peaceful demonstration” against president Mutharika’s disregard for the petition they presented to him on July 20, 2011 in which they asked him to genuinely and conclusively address issues of adopted draconian laws; the first lady’s salary; scarcity of fuel and forex, among the general social, economic and political concerns.
On Thursday, president Mutharika reiterated his earlier threats that he would “smoke out” and deal with the organizers of the demonstration singling out Undule Mwakasungula of Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), Rafiq Hajat of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) and Voice Mhone of the Council for Non Governmental Organization (Congoma), among others.
Declaring that he is the one ruling this country as he was voted for by 2.9 million “and not the civil society leaders”, Mutharika also ‘promised’ “to meet the demonstrators in the streets August 17.”
But the demonstrators are not backing down. One of the organizers of the Blantyre, Unandi Banda says the planned demos will go ahead “peacefully” and that they would cherish to meet the president in the streets “in person”.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :