Barely eight months into office, Malawi President Peter Mutharika and his government face the wrath of the country’s non-governmental organisation who will hold nationwide demonstrations for alleged bad governance, nepotism and failure to fix a moribund economy.
A coalition of 20 leading NGOs is spearheading plans for the mass action scheduled for January 13.
Of major concern to local observers is that 20 people died in 2011 in similar demonstrations over the economy when Mutharika’s brother, Bingu, was president.
“A dwindling state of governance, lack of separation of powers among government branches, abuse and manipulation of public resources, high cost of living, insecurity, shortage of medical drugs and incessant public sector strikes are some of the issues Malawians are concerned with,” reads part of the CSO’s statement explaining the planned protest.
Associate Professor Happy Kayuni at the state funded Chancellor College of the University of Malawi, where Mutharika is the chancellor, described Mutharika as a failed leader for his alleged failure to read the socio-political developments in the country.
Kayuni cited Mutharika’s inability to respond to the judiciary strike saying this demonstrated his lack of commitment to democratic governance.
Two weeks ago, the Chinese Embassy in Malawi warned Malawi that Chinese investors may be forced to relocate to neighbouring countries if the government did not improve the security situation in the country.
“Insecurity in Malawi is getting out of hand. What we see in Malawi are many traffic cops on the roads and not armed cops who can scare away thieves and robbers,” Wang Jiaxin Hudson, the embassy’s economic and commercial counsellor said.
The CSOs also want Malawi’s First Lady Gertrude Mutharika to refund about $22 000, which they say her Bautify Malawi Trust was given by the National Aids Commission. Beautify Malawi encourages good hygenie and sustainable waste management initiatives. It carries out no HIV or Aids related activities which is what the NAC should only fund.
The First lady has put her foot down saying she will not refund the money saying calls for Beautify Malawi to refund the money are politically motivated.
Meanwhile, international donor Global Fund which supports work in the field of HIV and Aids, tuberculosis and malaria has suspended $700 million to the National AIDS Commission following NAC’s controversial funding criteria.
Mutharika blames lack of love among Malawians for the problems the country is facing.
“If you take a look at what has happened with our economy, which has been riddled by the infamous Cashgate, you can surely be with me in the call for a better Malawi. We are facing all these economic hurdles because of lack of love for one another,” Mutharika said on public Television, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.
But the spokesperson for NGOs coalition, Timothy Mtambo said they are not deterred and the protests will go ahead.
“No propaganda from government or any of its machinery will divert us from the path we have taken” said Mtambo.
In the scandal that is locally dubbed Cashgate, Malawi’s graft busting body, the Anti-Corruption Bureau says that more than $48-million vanished during former President Joyce Banda’s two-year rule and $214-million was stolen during the eight-year reign of late former President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Mutharika said his government is working towards a “Cashgate-free 2015”.
“We have strengthened the financial system, we have resourced fairly well the law enforcement institutions, including the Anti-Corruption Bureau, so that they do a thorough independent job, prosecute all suspects, and recover the stolen resources where possible.
He said he was working to exercise fiscal discipline for the country without disturbing the macroeconomic fundamentals. “We are doing everything possible to make sure that all Malawians and the international community have the confidence in their government,” he said.
On local TV, Mutharika made an impassioned plea for Malawians to “love one another” saying Malawi at 50 years after independence needed to be mature.
In July 2011, after an overwhelming public outurn for the protests, the government responded heavy handedly with the police shooting and killing 20 civilians, beating many more and arresting protesters and journalists.
At the time, President Bingu wa Mutharika branded the dead as “thieves and looters” at rallies he organised immediately after the riots.
Mutharika has described 2014, the year he assumed office, as a “successful year” saying economically the country was doing well as his overnment has stabilized the Kwacha and tamed runaway inflation.
The Centre for Social Concern (CfSC), an NGO that tracks the monthly cost of living in Malawi, in its October 2014 report notes that the cost of living in Malawi remains one of the highest in Africa.
Inflation for November 2014 was recorded at 24% up from 23% in the previous year, according to the National Statistical Office.
- This article first appeared in the Mail and Guardian Newspaper of South Africa