The plan by Minister of Homeland and Security Nicholas Dausi to urge people who suffered personal injuries and organisations whose property was vandalised during demonstrations to send information to his ministry for lawsuit against Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) is misplaced.
A precedent was already set when government paid Muli Brothers a whooping K3 billion for the property damage his firms suffered in 2011 demonstrations. It is now queer that government is applying double standard and wants to shift the responsibility to organisers.
Demanding organisers to pay for the damages is a calculated move by government to stifle political space and to silence organisers. Already two officials of HRDC, Rev McDonald Sembereka and Gift Trapence, were arrested last week over an issue that was already resolved with the donors.
Government is making every effort to frustrate organisers from carrying out further demonstrations which have been escalated to two days a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, until Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah resigns in the wake of disputed May 21 election results. They accuse her of mismanaging the elections and has subsequently losing trust of the people.
It is the responsibility of the police to protect property and the people. It has been observed that the police seem not to be strategic in the manner they handle situations after protests. Looting of shops and destruction of property usually occur after the petition has been delivered and people are going home. This is the time when the police should be alert and thwart any attempts to loot. One way is to direct people to use certain roads or guard strategic buildings. This is also the time when the police should display their professionalism by not provoking the crowd.
Sometimes the police have not been professional in the way they handle demonstrations. They have been situations when they beat up people and throw teargas canisters without any justifiable reason. Throwing teargas canisters anyhow [like what happened at MCP headquarters] should be avoided. This only makes the crowd unruly and react by throwing stones at the police. Dausi needs to look into how the police conduct themselves during demonstrations. Malawians have lost trust in the way police behave themselves. They prefer soldiers to provide security during demonstrations.
It should also be borne in mind that the people who loot shops are thieves who take advantage of the protests. And some of them are vendors, call boys and those who eke a living out of carrying people’s luggage.
It is obvious that government has been feeling the heat since the demonstrations of “Jane Ansah Must Fall Campaign” started. Businesses have been crippled, property vandalised and workers have stayed away from work. Minister of Agriculture and DPP Southern Regional vice-president Kondwani Nankhumwa has said his party is willing to enter into dialogue with opposition parties to end political squabbles, but opposition leaders will have none of it. The Malawi Law Society has added its voice for Ansah to consider resigning for the sake of peace.
As demonstrations are now part of Malawian life until MEC chairperson steps down, the police need to prepare themselves so that there is no damage or loss of property during demonstrations.