Rising commodity prices; general economic malaise; and growing dictatorial tendencies by the late president Bingu wa Mutharika had led to the famous July 20 mass demonstrations in 2011. 20 young protestors died at the hands of police and at the instigation of the DPP government.
Out of the 20 victims, two were shot dead in Blantyre and Lilongwe had seven deaths. Mzuzu had the highest number-10-and Karonga registered one death. Close to 60 people were severely injured, most of them due to gunshots or police beating. Property worth millions of Kwacha was vandalized in the ensuing confrontation between the police and protesters.
The nationwide demonstrations were organized by major Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Malawi. They were aimed at calling for an end to President Mutharika and the then DPP government’s rising repressive and authoritarian policies.
It was this deteriorating governance situation that also led to Malawi’s bad relations with her traditional donor nations and organizations, including the IMF, World Bank and Britain, culminating in the withdrawal of budgetary aid. Food became scarce. Fuel and forex were in short supply, unprecedentedly.
Today, as we celebrate the lives of these 20 heroes, we, as a nation, also ought to reflect on our crisis management capabilities and lack thereof. It is incredibly regrettable that on July 20, 2011 and many other occasions, we have lost innocent lives when we should have avoided it through human and political tolerance based on the prevailing democratic constitutional order.
But as a starting point, it is even more imperative that the perpetrators of violence and deaths of innocent people must be prepared to accept responsibility for their violent conduct.
The DPP, which returned to the corridors of power after the May 20, 2014 tripartite elections, must take a bold decision to genuinely take responsibility for the political, social and economic atrocities that led to the July 20 protests and the resultant loss of lives and property. The nation desperately needs healing and the continued display of arrogance and the business-as-usual attitude by the DPP and its leaders does not help matters at all.
They say “time heals”. But it is unlikely that Malawians, more particularly the victims’ families, will ever forget and forgive the current leaders in the absence of genuine ‘repentance’. The DPP must undertake to bring all the July 20 ‘culprits’ to justice if genuine ‘reconciliation’ is to occur.
It is regrettable to hear reports that President Peter Mutharika has been sidelined from attending this year’s memorial service. Surely, Malawianswould have loved to see our President being part of the memorial services. But that would only make greater sense when the President, who was cabinet minister in 2011, comes out clearly about how much ‘remorseful’ he is.
Most Malawians, especially the affected families, are inclined to think that the DPP government is only playing ‘politics’ when its leaders merely say “sorry”, in the absence of a real healing process, including providing compensation to the bereaved families.
Today, five years after the tragedy, the families of the victims feel empty without their loved ones whose only sin was to stand up for their rights; yes rise up against a repressive regime.
When Malawians said “no” to the one-party autocratic rule over two decades ago, they longed for a government that attaches unconditional commitment not only to issues of national security but also security of people’s life and their property.
In 1993, we voted in favour of multiparty democracy where governments would respect the rule of law as enshrined in the new Constitution adopted a year later. The framers of the ‘new’ Constitution incorporated in there the ‘Bill of Rights’, which included the right to freedom of expression; freedom of association, religion and others.
Malawians have a constitutional right to hold their government accountable and responsible for corruption, abuse of power and infringement of their constitutional rights, especially access to the basic services such as education, health and food.
According to the Republican Constitution, the President and those in government are where they are on trust of the people of Malawi and should that trust be compromised in any manner, the citizens have a right to ‘stand up’!
July 20 every year must serve as a reminder to any government, including the DPP, that they should put Malawi and Malawians first before individual and partisan interests.
Chanco demos, Chasowa murder and other
The pervasive fact is that the DPP government through its security agents overreacted on July 20, 2011, against unarmed civilians. It was a case of genocide and brutality by government against its own people. Today, we must, as a nation, reaffirm our commitment to remain a state of law.
Government must ensure that there is peace and tranquility in the country. Government must listen to all voices of reason and must not be quick to ‘pull the trigger’ against crying citizens and students in the face of rising university fees and social ills.
Recent events at Chancellor College where armed police ran amok against peaceful students who were protesting against a huge university fees increase are regrettable. Malawians are going through difficult social and economic problems and it is unthinkable and unacceptable for the DPP government to raise fees from K200, 000 to over K400, 000.
Fanikiso Phiri, a third-year Bachelor of Education student at Chancellor College, was gunned down by the police in December 2001. On the morning of September 24, 2011, student activist Robert Chasowa was found dead on the campus of the Polytechnic, a constituent College of the University of Malawi. State agents are suspected to have been behind the brutal murder of the fourth-year engineering student.
These two deaths are a stark reminder to all of us of how government’s brutality against students, who are merely demanding their social and educational rights, can end up into-wasted national resources.
- “The truly powerful feed ideology to the masses like fast food while they dine on the most rarified delicacy of all: impunity.”- Naomi Klein