Few things have the capacity to spring a surprise in Africa, let alone in Southern Africa. From the absurd in South Africa, the despotic in Zambia, the brazen lawlessness in Zimbabwe, the instability in Lesotho, the wanton rule in Angola, nor the civil war that no one wants to recognize in Mozambique.
Time after time, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) makes the news for all the wrong reasons, at times, it does not make the news at all, and again it is for all the wrong reasons.
What happened in Malawi, some days ago, is another classic example:
After enjoying undisturbed life whilst trashing the concerns of the academic staff of the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College (popularly known as Chanco), the education ministry once more damned primary school teachers who have been pleading for their leave grants in vain.
Emotions had been running high for a fortnight, or so. A bitter standoff between teachers and the government over the unpaid bonuses and poor working conditions climaxed when the former chose to down tools altogether. Willie Malimba, the Teachers Union of Malawi President, told the media that the public school teachers were not returning to work until government addressed their grievances.
As usual, the government went nonresponsive and unmoved. Actually, the day that the teachers launched their sit-in, the country’s president flew to Oxford University to participate in an academic debate. Leaving Chanco and public primary schools unceremoniously closed back home.
The sit-in went on for a good number of days until the primary school children, irate at losing progress on their studies couldn’t take it anymore. They took to streets in protest. The pupils mobilized into their own demonstration demanding the government to resolve the issues raised by their teachers so they could return to class.
In efforts to pump sense in the seemingly cold-hearted regime, the pupils, clad in their school uniforms, went blocking public roads. True to their calculation, the impact was felt within minutes upon when police were dispatched to disperse the riots.
The pupils’ confrontational mood was deductively elevated by the President’s appearing at Oxford University in UK, where he lambasted the education system in his country calling it grasshopper type – ironic, when you consider he presides over the same system and in some ways has created it.
The irony was not missed by the learners. “Tikhonza bwanji! Sitikuphunzira! (Which loosely translates to – How are we going to pass examinations when we are not learning)”, they sang, as they made human barriers along the M1 Highway in Blantyre, Malawi.
It did not stop there. The pupils sang several other songs, demeaning President Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). They did not just miss the irony, they were laying the blame on him, his party and his government. The police responded by firing teargas at the protesting pupils, some as young as 8 years of age.
In a full-combat gear, the police went out as if they went to defend Lake Malawi from the capture of Tanzania. They fired teargas canisters at the pupils and subjected them to contemptible torture. As if that was not enough, the police released a statement which irresponsibly described the demonstrating kids as “some disgruntled pupils”.
While it was clear that it was the pupils who blocked the roads, the police worked harder, in their statement, to shift the blame to some imaginary haters of the regime. They could not appreciate the circumstances that gave birth to the pupils’ riots as they kept themselves busy licking the politicians’ stinking boots.
Another reason why the police desperately yearned to tag in adults’ involvement was the sad news that the whole Officer in – Charge was physically assaulted by these irate kids at Lunzu so much badly that he was treated at Mwaiwathu Hospital in Blantyre. Anyway, this is the most shameful scenario that the police could not bear with a straight face. Thus they had to find the next adult to be capped with the responsibility of such embarrassing assault.
While on the same, this Court is also reminded of another embarrassing scenario yielded by the cops within the same week. In a manner of brutality begetting brutality, another unfortunate cop was injured for the hospital. Ten police officers had escorted officials from fisheries department to confiscate illegal fishing nets.
Instead of enforcing the policy using law and order, the police relied on their brutality whereupon they resorted to violence. The fishermen retaliated with violence too and things went not so sexy until all the visiting government officials including the police ran away, with one losing a riffle in the process.
Let me repeat; brutality and violence are not within the prescriptions of enforcement of law and order unless we have thugs in place of police. Where is lawfulness and orderliness in gassing demonstrating kids?
Tear gas is a chemical banned in warfare as per the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. It is a very nauseating substance which makes breathing difficult, often leads to violent reactions. In Zimbabwe, it has already cause the death of a child. In Egypt, it killed 37 full men. It is a toxic substance, and can kill in certain amounts.
There are several reports of deaths by ‘tear gas’. In fact, according to a continental paper called Foreign Policy, in its reporting on violence in Libya, “of all the ways to die, this is one of the most horrible.”
The use of tear gas, especially against minors, is deplorable, and needs no further explanations on the reasons why. It is dangerous, and the pupils in were especially lucky to escape without serious injuries or consequences, yet.
So disturbing, however, is the sad reaction from some irresponsible adults, particularly those sympathizing with the regime, who decided not to leave the pupils alone, but to give them a bonus of insult. This section of adults bundled all manner of insults upon these pupils, billing themselves as counsellors of wisdom. According to them, blocking public roads is the gravest conduct, so grave than the act of a politician stealing money meant to pay their teachers.
In the wisdom of these fly-by-night counsellors, it was okay for the pupils to be starving from the regime-made academic drought. That these pupils were, for God’s sake, fighting for their right to education clearly escaped the sense of these “adults”.
What is perhaps further mind boggling, if not mind blowing, is not only the shameful bubbling of these so-called adults, but also the conspicuous silence of Malawi’s regional partners, and continental friends.
For the best part of two years, several African governments, most notably South Africa, have attempted to leave the International Criminal Court, citing a pre-occupation by the court, to persecute African leaders only.
The African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson at the time, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the Extraordinary Court that tried and sentenced former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre showed that Africans could legally process their own human rights violators.
Perhaps Africa may even be a bigger scale. Within SADC, the words of the hopeful President of South Africa have not materialized. The opposite has. Only silence has followed, as one government after the other has acted in some of the most unacceptable ways by any yardstick. From President Lungu’s brazen assault on all democratic institutions in Zambia, to Robert Mugabe’s immense crackdown on civilian activists, to Mozambique’s deteriorating humanitarian situation.
The silence of the entire SADC, as Mutharika gassed primary school children is worrying, because it only encourages the ‘despot boys club’ to continue doing the very same thing. In all earnest, it even encourages them to elevate the levels of human rights abuses in their countries. After all, everyone is watching, and everyone is supporting them. But as Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Simon Allison wrote on the Institute of Security Studies in Africa, that “By keeping quiet in the face of Lungu’s increasingly authoritarian bent, SADC and the AU risk becoming just as complicit in undermining Zambia’s future.” Except that is not just about Lungu anymore, it is about Mutharika too.
However, it appears that Mutharika must be a very lucky president on earth, because he is governing a very strange type of people. The people who have their own breed of patriotism not heard of elsewhere.
Standing elsewhere listening to the political commotion and social upheavals emanating from Malawi, anyone in possession of any amount of common sense would wrongly conclude that Malawians are sick and tired of their present political administration and hopeless social status. But as I said, that would be some wrong conclusion. Contrary to the caterwauling, Malawians are the most inert creatures. They are the most happiest people on planet endorsing mediocrity of the highest amplitude.
The political administration in Malawi is the most freestyling on the continent. It gets away with every scheme and incompetence that would, under a normal population, be smoked out together with the skulls responsible for such scheming.
But this is Malawi where ministers can plunder as they wish, get caught, and never get arrested nor brought for trial. This is Malawi where university students can be sent on strange one year holiday due to unwillingness of those in authority to listen to staff members’ grievances. Not so surprisingly, the students maintain their cool hoping that the authorities will, one day, wake up sympathetic to their plight and resort to resolve the impasse.
As tolerant to mediocrity the adult generation has showcased itself to be, primary school-going generation has set itself apart, as the generation that Malawi can bank upon.
The primary school going kids have demonstrated that they posses courage and patriotic spirit that, had it been available in the adult generation, Malawi would be miles ahead in the progressive direction. No mediocrity, impunity, plunder, incompetence and anything available in the incumbent regime and regimes before it, would ever see a smiling face but fists of dismissal.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :