The much-talked about demonstrations organized by some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in this country finally took place on Friday, April 27, 2018. Among some of the demands by the organizers is the resignation of Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe and Minister of Local Government, Kondwani Nankhumwa over their role in the MK4 billion that Members of Parliament allegedly approved outside the normal budget to be distributed to constituencies through Constituency Development Committees.
There was so much hype about the demonstrations in various media by the usual suspects of Gift Trapence, Timothy Mtambo and their friends from selected CSOs, which raised expectations of many people, and also created the impression that the demonstrations would be one huge event with many people participating. It turned out that, apart from attracting a sizable crowd in Mzuzu in the northern region, elsewhere such as Blantyre and Lilongwe, the demonstrations only attracted very few participants.
This has once again exposed the soft underbelly of the CSOs particularly their ineptness in mobilizing support on issues that they claim affect Malawians. One would have expected the turn-out to be equal to the level of hype that Mtambo and friends invested ahead of the event but the low turn-out could mean this was a non-issue for a majority of Malawians.
Trapence, Mtambo and others have always been accused of peddling personal interests under the banner of CSOs. According to one concerned Malawian, “these demonstrations are always just stage-managed as a front to further personal interests of the organizers, because they are always rushing to the streets without giving dialogue a chance.”
It also appears these demonstrations, particularly the ones organized by the usual suspects with probably usual messages, are out of fashion; they have lost the verve that demonstrations should normally have. Malawians have seen through Mtambo and friends and realized who they really are: masquerades who continuously exploit demonstrations and the plight of Malawians for the sake of their own budgets to their donors
As if this was not enough, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) also staged its own drama in Blantyre on the eve of the demonstrations. Apparently, the party was ‘demonstrating against the demonstrations’ organized by the CSOs the following day. According to the party’s southern region governor, Charles Mchancha, the demonstrators should have gone elsewhere because Blantyre is a no-go zone for any demonstrations by CSOs.
Several youths clad in DPP colours were paraded at the DPP demonstrations; they threatened to be on the streets themselves and personally stop the CSOs from demonstrating by using several means including violence. This was reminiscent of 2011 when on the eve of the July 20 demonstrations that year, several DPP cadets paraded in the streets of Blantyre brandishing panga knives, and threatened to deal with any demonstrators against the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s government.
We all know how it ended in 2011, when over 20 people died and scores of others injured after being shot by Police in the violence that ensured and perpetrated by DPP cadets. To this day, the DPP has not been able to recover or shake off July 20, and that episode will be the blemish that the party will live with until the hereafter. You would actually have to ask three times to understand what the party leadership in southern region was thinking for trying to repeat the same thing.
Among the speakers at the anti-CSO demonstration was DPP’s southern region vice president, Dr. George Chaponda, Minister of Information, Nicholas Dausi, and the party’s new catch Brown Mpinganjira. This only serves to underline the depth of the malaise in DPP southern region leadership and to imagine that a whole party VP and also a lawyer for that matter in the name of Dr. Chaponda would be at the forefront to be indifferent to the tenets of the supreme law of the land – the Constitution – is a very sad reality and a new low for the DPP.
The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi provides for rights to assemble or demonstrate and DPP as a ruling party should have been the last one to block people from accessing these rights. In fact, as a lawyer, Chaponda should have been in the forefront to guide people on how they should respect the constitution of this country but instead, he is first to behave like an overgrown High School boy, making people to question as to which law school he went to.
The behavior of Dr. Chaponda strengthens the calls that he must resign for his failure to provide critical leadership to the DPP in the southern region, which is the most crucial region and strategic for the party in as far as winning elections next year is concerned. Under Chaponda’s leadership, DPP is increasingly looking tired, insipid, and a far cry from the suave and blasting outfit that it once was ahead of 2014. The current DPP pales in comparison to the one which leaped from the opposition to snatch power from the nose of Joyce Banda.
Chaponda’s leadership is actually killing DPP (it is even hard to understand why President Peter Mutharika does not see this). He is currently in the dock answering corruption charges as a result of maizegate, and regardless of whether he is guilty or not, his corruption charges always loom large every time his name is mentioned. Why DPP is allowing him to take center stage in its politics is still a mystery up to now. In fact, with Chaponda in the thick of things and making key decisions for the ruling party, DPP would be better described to be in a political hospice ready to relinquish power at the polls next year.
MCP demonstrations comedy
The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) also used the demonstrations to stage its own comedy. It was clear that the main opposition party was an integral part in the organization of the demonstrations. The plan was for Lazarus Chakwera to be in Lilongwe, Sidik Mia to be in Mangochi, Harry Mkandawire to be in Mzuzu and Mia’s wife, Abida, to participate in the Blantyre demonstrations.
Now the question that one would be tempted to ask is whether MCP has emerged any better as a result of the demonstrations. Has the party improved its chances of winning elections next year as a result of its involvement in the demonstrations? Already, Chakwera face accusations of playing double standards because as an MP, he approved the MK4 billion development fund, and he cannot now turn around to protest against the very thing he approved
Chakwera’s leadership is also fraught with double-speak and inconsistencies in decision making. He often does not appear to mean what he says and cannot hide the fact that he is not his own man.
It is clear he panders to higher powers with financial resources that are currently dictating events and direction of in MCP. This is not what a party seeking to win government ought to behave, and it is the very reason why others are forced to conclude that the Malawian political fray is just one huge playground of amateur comedians.
Finally, thumbs up to DPP for holding their guns and teargas against the handful demonstrators. That’s called maturity and upholding of the rule of law and good governance. Good boys!
- Grace Kawalewale is a social and political commentator based in Lilongwe
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