Embattled Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has appealed to citizens not to stage anti-government protests on August 17 in respect for Muslims observing their holy month of Ramadan.
Anti- government demonstrations on July 20 led to 18 deaths.
Civil society groups handed a 15-page petition to Mutharika government listing complaints that included the worst electricity and fuel shortages in Malawi’s 47-years of independence; the president’s “secret authorisation” to spend $13m on a private jet; incidents of abuse of power; and intolerance and violence.
The government has also been accused of passing regressive laws to restrict the media and opponents.
The activists gave Mutharika up until August 16 to respond, or the organisers will stage other nationwide demonstrations on August 17.
But Mutharika appealed in remarks broadcast on state radio MBC on Monday that the demonstration should not take place this month because Moslems will be observing their Holy month of Ramadan.
“I don’t want to hear of any demonstrations this month because it is a month of prayers,” Mutharika said. “That way we will respect all Muslims in the country,” he said.
Mutharika wished the Muslim world a happy Ramadan.
“I would like to wish all Muslims a peaceful month of Ramadan and blessings as they pray. I therefore ask people in this country to be peaceful and let stability prevail during this month to allow our brothers and sisters to pray peacefully.”
Muslims make up about 13 percent of the southern African nation’s 15.5 million people, according to the National Statistics Office 2008 population census.
But civil society leaders feel Mutharika is trying to use Ramadan as an excuse to ban the demonstrations.
Spokesperson of the demonstrations, Reverend Macdonald Sembereka, who is also citing coordinator for the Human Rights Consultative Committee, said the demonstration can only be stopped if the President will address issues raised in their petition.
“Come August 17 we want answers on the petition that we gave him on July 20,” Sembereka said. “We will go back to the streets, he can’t stop us.”
Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) secretary general Robert Mkwezalamba also said the plea not to hold the demonstrations can only come from Muslims.
Ollen Mwalubunju, a former Malawian human rights commissioner, says that unless Mutharika is willing to engage in genuine dialogue tensions are only like to rise.
“Government has the keys to open doors,” he says. But “there’s a likelihood of an escalation of conflict if the government continues to behave the way it’s behaving because what people are demanding is that they should be heard and should have a government that is responsive.”
Since Mutharika was re-elected with his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) taking a majority of the seats in parliament in May 2009, his government has increasingly come under fire for what critics describe as an authoritarian leadership style and disastrous mismanagement of the southern African nation’s economy.—(Reporting by Wanga Gwede, Nyasa Times)Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :