Malawi civil society organise 'a cocktail’ for Bingu

By Garvey Karvei, Nyasa Times

It is official:  the wider grouping of Civil society groups in Malawi will hold demonstrations, vigils, a stay and, if necessary, a general strike starting from September 21 should President Bingu wa Mutharika continue dillydallying in acting on the issues raised in the July 20 petition.

Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (Congoma) board chairperson Voice Mhone, who is leading the Civil Society team engaged in the UN mediated “peace” talks with the Presidential Committee on Dialogue announced the multi-thronged approach after a general meeting of NGOs held on Saturday, August 20th – a few days after the postponed August 17 vigil.

“We agreed that we have dialogue as the first strategy and we accordingly appointed our dialogue team. But, concurrently, we will have demonstrations and vigils starting from September 21,” he said

Should dialogue, demonstrations and vigils fail to achieve desired results: namely demonstrated and tangible action on the July 20 demands, a general strike will follow.

Mhone: It is not regime change

“The general strike will be the last resort if the dialogue, the demonstrations and the vigil fail to bring tangible results. Our agenda is not regime change, but have a government that is able to listen to the wishes and concerns of its people,” explained  Mhone.

The Civil Society grouping now encompasses almost all NGOs in Malawi who have organised themselves in national, regional and district committees to efficiently coordinate the cocktail of measures intended to bring the Mutharika administration back to sanity.

“We are now more organised and people want to see responses that are concrete. If in four weeks the issues for that period are all addressed, the demonstrations and vigils will be a celebration of success. This is what we agreed with the United Nations mediation process,” said Mhone.

The Civil Society organizations, wary of putting lives of innocent people at the mercy of Mutharika’s police who killed at least 18 unarmed protesters in the July 20 demonstrations, have co-opted security measures to safeguard lives of the people.

“Civil society has agreed to engage the police in all the preparations. We now have a comprehensive program. On 17th August we only had one choice of holding a vigil, but now we have unpacked all avenues available. That is why we said we need to give ourselves time and come up with a conference that will thrash out all other avenues and carry them concurrently,” Mhone said.

He proceeded to state that: “so in this plan we have accommodated the dialogue and we have not abandoned the issue of vigil, the stay away now comes in and the media campaign comes in as well, so you would see that all these initiatives come in because we gave ourselves time to reflect, brainstorm and engage each other.”

Mhone reiterated that the agenda of the Civil Society Organizations “is not to topple government but rather to press government to make necessary reforms according to a petition presented on July 20.”

Presidential spokesperson, Dr Hetherwick Ntaba speaking to the Nation newspaper, expressed surprise that the Civil Society Organizations have such plans saying that it demonstrates lack of trust on their part.

Civil Society organizations were in the forefront baby-sitting President Mutharika in his 2004 to 2009 term of office, which was marred by Government and Opposition stalemates on issues to do with the National Budget and Section 65.

Twice, they watched Mutharika dupe the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Democratic Front (UDF) after clergy and internationally mediated talks had been organized to diffuse political tension in Malawi.

At one time, President Mutharika unaccountably failed to turn in South Africa for a high level indaba organized by former SADC leaders namely Nelson Mandela, Joachim Chissano (of Mozambique) and Sir Ketumile Masire (of Botswana) in 2005.

On Friday 13th September 2007, President Mutharika, without any consultations with the Speaker as stipulated in the constitution, prorogued parliament contrary to a signed memorandum of agreement to let parliament debate Section 65 issues after passing the National Budget. The MOU had been brokered by Roman Catholic Archbishop Tarcisius Ziyaye.

It is against this background that the Civil Society Organizations have decided to put in place contingency measures. They welcome the participation of the general public and political parties as long as the political parties do not participate with hidden agenda.

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