Violence begins and ends with political parties: Malawi 2014 elections

Several days before the official launch of 2014 tripartite elections, political violence has reared its ugly head. What are promising to be the tightest elections in Malawi since 1994 have registered its first two casualties: a police officer and a civilian were killed last Sunday in Thyolo where President Joyce Banda held a political rally. Specific details of what sparked violence remain sketchy and it is unlikely that the public will know the exact truth now that political blame game has taken over.

Political parties are taking advantage of this unfortunate and despicable incident to outdo each other. It is now a contest of who among the warring parties is going to emerge with their image intact. Politicians would rather fight instead of strategising on how to sort out a mess that is Malawi once in power.

Frankly, Malawi is like a blank slate, anyone with ideas on how to move this country forward has all the opportunity to exploit this blank slate. It needs policies though, not language of violence, which every sane Malawian must fight against.

In absence of ideas that inform policies, it is inevitable that violence will take over. And Malawi has a vast recruiting ground for this given the high levels of youth unemployment and underemployment. Political violence is the only ‘useful’ activity that Malawi political leaders since 1994 have identified for the country’s youth. All the political violence in this country starts at the highest level of the political pyramid and only political parties can stopped it.

Conferences have been held and a lot has been said about importance of having elections that are violence free. Malawi experience shows that ensuring violence free elections require much more than competent and vigilant security services. The political fighting talk from politicians, specifically PP, which is supposed to be an aggrieved party in that reprehensible incident in Thyolo, is that of a party that sees itself as a victim of its own success. PP is happy to brag about it.

Brown Mpinganjira, one of the speakers at the Thyolo rally is quoted by the Daily Times saying:

The huge turnout of people at the rally addressed by the president sent shockwaves to one opposition party which has all along been overestimating its popularity in Thyolo and it [the opposition] had no alternative but attempt to disrupt the rally. The so-called popular opposition in Thyolo is making a huge a mistake to use violence. Its use of violence will backfire in no time. I hope this is just a one-off incident and it will not happen again…”

I don’t know how many people still take Mpinganjira seriously when he opens this mouth but implications of his utterances are oft important, and this one is. The Thyolo violence must be condemned in strongest terms possible. Its perpetrators must be apprehended and punished accordingly.

Yet Mpinganjira’s remarks are not constructive, they can only make a critical situation worse. If anyone has evidence then take it to security official, not the media. This is a criminal case and you cannot successfully prosecute anyone based someone’s opinion of the case. You need evidence. Yet, PP’s deputy publicity secretary, Ken Msoanda told Joy Radio that he needs no evidence to accused DPP of orchestrating the Tholo violence because of DPP’s ‘violent past’. Msonda is politicking, not seeking justice. Take him seriously at your own risk.

In any mature democracy, PP as a party should have instituted an inquiry to establish what causes of the violence and therefore find a way to avoid such incidences in future. Political parties could start with these two key areas: first, take into account observation that Paramount Chief Kyungu made late last year. The Chief argued against the political culture of ferrying party royalist from different locations to political rallies.

His point is that ferrying people increase chances of tension and violence between locals and party supporters. Kyungu noted that people that come from the same area are unlikely to fight at rallies because they already coexist. Looking at the details of the Thyolo incident, Kyungu’s argument is very persuasive and on point. It must be taken seriously and it has to be a policy, one way or the other.

Second, politicians must heed the deafening calls for policy/ issues-based politics. Issue-based politics is not only good for governance and national development, it also means that politicians go to campaign rallies to sell their ideas/ policies to prospective voters not castigating their opponents, as it has been the case throughout Malawi’s 20 years of democracy. Politics of castigations, name-calling and foul language increase chances of violence and no country can grow from it.

Hacked by DPP cadets in Thyolo at a PP rally
Hacked by DPP cadets in Thyolo at a PP rally

From whatever angle one looks at this, it is clear that the bark starts and ends with politicians at the highest level. It is an oxymoron when politicians came and argue in the media about violence, they can stop it today if they want; and we must demand they end it now.

The media must also play a role by refusing to be used as a medium trumpeting political party propaganda in the name of news. Do not give such oxygen of publicity.

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