The Malawian Political Roller Coaster Ride. A narrative of events from July to September 2011
The Constitution of Malawi
12 This Constitution is founded upon the following underlying principles:-
i. All legal and political authority of the State derives from the people of Malawi and shall be exercised in accordance with this Constitution solely to serve and protect their interests.
ii. All persons responsible for the exercise of powers of State do so on trust and shall only exercise such power to the extent of their lawful authority and in accordance with their responsibilities to the people of Malawi.
iii. The authority to exercise power of State is conditional upon the sustained trust of the people of Malawi and that trust can only be maintained through open, accountable and transparent Government and informed democratic choice.
Despite the above-stated principles that underpin our Constitution, Malawi suffers from an inequitable neo-patrimonialistic paradigm premised upon a pervasive system of political patronage, compounded by systemic poverty, illiteracy and ignorance, which politicians are adept at manipulating for their own benefit.
The Government, headed by President Bingu wa Mutharika, enjoyed a remarkable landslide victory in the 2009 General Elections following a turbulent first term characterised by his defection from the United Democratic Front (UDF), which had hoisted him into the Presidential driving seat and, with this divorce, creating a unique scenario wherein the incumbent President had no party in Parliament to support his policies and pass legislation necessary for his programs. The first term could thus be described as a political comedy which could have easily turned turned tragic but, despite being held in check by a rampant opposition, he achieved remarkable economic growth despite democratic lapses (attributed to his need for political survival), and managed to address the perennial problem of persistent hunger with the help of a high calibre Cabinet. The second term however, was the point when the political gloves were removed to expose the entrenched structural instabilities of Malawi’s political order and the deep insecurities of incumbency.
Bingu’s second term has been a veritable litany of woes, ranging from muzzling the media, passing oppressive laws that violate the very spirit of the Constitution, constricting political space for alternate views, economic policies that have led to acute foreign currency and fuel shortages, exacerbating economic woes through wanton profligacy and reckless expenditure, severing vital financial support (forex) by arbitrarily deporting the British High Commissioner thereby alienating the International Community and, in so doing, jeopardising revenue inflow amounting to over 40% of the National Budget, and imposing punitive taxes on essential goods and pro-poor services whilst refusing to curb governmental (over) expenditure commensurately.
Faith-based groups, academics and civil society organisations all earnestly attempted to convey their concerns to the government on these issues – urging the authorities to halt the descent towards dire days of authoritarian one party rule, but the government simply disregarded all entreaties, blithely continued upon its destructive path, and responded to growing discontent by threatening critics and harassing civil society activists. Civil Society subsequently mobilised into a semblance of coherence to exert countervailing influence to change the current course towards inevitable catastrophe looming large on the horizon.
The Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) provided the umbrella under which various disparate groupings, such as NGOs, the Faith Communities, Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) and The Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) amongst others, gathered for a common cause – i.e. to convince the President and the Government to become more accountable and responsive to the electorate.
A Petition, highlighting key concerns and recommendations pertaining to economic and political (mis)governance, was collectively drafted and, after having being endorsed by all the stakeholders, plans were laid to hold nation wide demonstrations during which the said petition would be delivered to various offices throughout the country for the direct attention of the President.
With the economic situation worsening by the day, thousands of people took to the streets on Wednesday, 20th July 2011 in a series of marches that had been planned and advertised well in advance. Ironically, the same government that outlawed ex parte injunctions by the citizenry against any governmental action, now used the same strategy through a proxy, and obtained an ex parte injunction from a newly promoted judge (Chifundo Kachale) to stop the demonstrations from taking place. This blatant manipulation of the judicial system fuelled widespread anger when it was announced to those gathered to march the next day, especially when it was used as a pretext by the Police to delay, harass, scatter and even assault demonstrators. As a result, mob violence inevitably broke out. Buildings and property ostensibly belonging to the Presidential inner circle were especially targeted by looters and vandals. The Police, in a typical show of unfettered brutality, used live ammunition (dumdum bullets) against unarmed civilians, slaughtering 20 people (complying with a ‘shoot to kill’ presidential directive), seriously injuring and arresting hundreds in an effort to exert control. But the point had been made, the corridors of power had been shaken, the power elites had to pause to deal with this new threat to their sense of complacent impunity.
On the next day (21st July), President Mutharika appealed for calm and invited Civil Society Leaders to the Presidential Palace to discuss the issues raised in the petition and identify solutions however he displayed his true colours once again on the 22nd July when, during an graduation ceremony for Police cadets, he stated: “To overthrow a legitimate government is treasonous and you will hear from me soon, I will smoke you out wherever you are because you have no right to destroy our peace.”
The Ill fated Vigil of 17th August 2011
The Petition had stipulated that the Government must respond to all the issues raised by 17th August 2011, but a positive response was noticeably absent, thereby making follow-up protests inevitable. Sadly, the government remained unapologetic even after the milestone demonstration of 20th July. The President used public events to issue obdurate threats such as ‘I’ll smoke you out”, against the organisers of the march. Arrest warrants for treason were issued for civil society leaders: Undule Mwakasungula, McDonald Sembereka, Rafiq Hajat and Benedict Kondowe, who promptly went to ground, but remain resolute in the face of presidential threats to ‘smoke out’ any detractors and declarations of war on the streets.
The situation became even more confused by rumours of the army (Malawi Defence Force – MDF) threatening to march because their Commander, General had been summarily (removed) retired from his position and replaced with someone from the same tribe as Mutharika, who could thus be relied upon to exert greater control on the MDF.
To make matters worse, the Civil Service were becoming more discomfited by the day due to unpaid salary arrears, whilst Mutharika graciously rewarded the Police Force with bonuses of MK60,000 each (blood money) for their performance (shooting unarmed civilians) on the 20th and 21st of July 2011.
Meanwhile, the First Lady, who may have been irritated by the petition mentioning her ‘salary’ of MK1.2 million per month (backdated by 6 moths) ostensibly for doing charity work, went on public record by telling NGOs ‘to go to hell’ at an opening ceremony for a health centre that was, ironically, built by an NGO! In the same speech, she is reported to have told the villagers that they had no need for fuel because they did not own vehicles and no need for foreign exchange because they did not engage in cross-border trade! Thus, according to her, the current disturbances were largely being driven by NGOs and urban based elites who were disgruntled by the success of the Mutharika regime. This cavalier arrogance drew widespread criticism from all quarters of society but Madame Callista remained trenchantly unapologetic!
The CSO Capitulation
The clock was ticking and the count down to the vigil scheduled for August 17th was uppermost in the public mind, but the Government continued stonewalling on the issues raised in the petition, preferring instead to issue veiled threats of dire consequences if the vigil went ahead. Rumours were rife about ‘DPP Cadets’ (thugs) reinforced by a force of approximately 300 armed ‘Mercenaries’, who had ostensibly been imported from Zimbabwe, being unleashed on demonstrators, who would be left totally defenceless without even a vestige of Police protection.
On 16th August, two young men, driving an expensive hired car, visited the IPI Office where a SR Organising Committee was taking place. They met with the Chief Organisers, Rafiq Hajat and Ken Williams Mhango and claimed to have penetrated a group formed by DPP functionaries to sow terror amongst dissidents by using various tactics such as burning offices and homes! They went on to say that a house had been specially rented for the Terror Team in Zingwangwa (a local suburb in Blantyre), from which all such operations would be coordinated and then produced a list of names that were targeted for ‘special attention’. This memory later returned to haunt the CSO Leaders when one of the men, identified as the President of an activist group, Youth for Democracy & Freedom (YDF), Robert Chasowa, was found brutally murdered on the Polytechnic campus on Saturday, 24th September 2011.
On August 15th, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) held an interdenominational prayer meeting at the COMESA Hall in Blantyre where Bishop Zuza delivered a searing homily with great courage and conviction. He cautioned against rampant egotism and arrogance. apportioning blame and the disastrous consequences of creating strife in a peaceful society. The function was attended by President Mutharika, who sat through the sermon with a stony face, but the DPP spindoctors were soon hard at work to denigrate the sermon and demand that the Bishop apologise for his thinly veiled insults allegedly levelled against the Head of State.
“My dear brothers and sisters, the person who thinks and believes that he or she is perfect is actually the most stupid and foolish person. In Chichewa and Tumbuka we call such people as “chitsiru chamunthu,” (a veritable idiot) or “chindere chakufikapo.” Do we want to be called “chitsiru” or “chindere” because we think and believe we’re perfect and therefore we have all the best solutions for the storm that is passing through our country? Fellow Malawians, let us not become stupid people.”
On the same day (Aug 15th), a group of activists and political party representatives attended the High Court in Blantyre to vacate an injunction that had been applied for by two ‘businessmen’ (vendors) on the grounds that demonstrations disturbed their business and was thus detrimental to their livelihood. This misguided action appeared to have been prompted by the whistle-stop tour by President Mutharika of vendor markets a few days earlier, urging vendors to oppose and resist any demonstrations. The source of the funds and confidence with which two young vendors had lodged such an audacious application through a judicial system that is normally viewed with suspicion and antipathy by the informal sector, also gave rise to suspicions as to who the instigators really were.
Whilst the court hearing was underway, the Southern Region Organising Committee was meeting at the office of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI), which had become the de facto meeting place for the Southern Region since the commencement of the campaign, to finalise strategy and logistics for the envisaged vigil scheduled for August 17th. During that meeting, one of the attendees, Billy Banda, received a telephone call from the Human Rights Consultative Committee Chair, Undule Mwakasungula, who informed him that the the vigil had been called off due to the lack of security and pressure from the Police. The Main Coordinating Committee had instead, opted to request a United Nations team that was currently on a fact finding mission in Malawi, to facilitate dialogue between Civil Society and the Government on the issues raised in the petition.
Needless to say, this caused tremendous discomfiture amongst the Southern Region Committee Members, who saw it as a betrayal of the public trust & confidence which had been vested in Civil Society pursuant to the demonstration of July 20th, and as such, undermining the very raison d’etre of Civil Society. The meeting broke up amidst an atmosphere of gloom and despair and an emergency meeting was scheduled at IPI for the morning of the next day (16th Aug).
During the emergency meeting, Ralph Kasambara, a prominent lawyer, civil rights activist and politician, provided legal overview and his opinion on the quandary facing the Southern Region Committee; i.e. whether to proceed with the vigil or not. The meeting agreed that it would not be appropriate or, indeed, even feasible, ‘to go it alone’ and members instead decided to hold a press conference to announce the postponement of the vigil (instead of cancellation – as had been suggested by the Main Committee) with explanatory rationale underpinning the decision and the setting of a specific future date (Sept 17th) for the continuation of the event. It was hoped the subsequent press release would help to defuse public suspicions of a ‘sell out’ by Civil Society leaders though the ensuing backlash soon disproved that theory.
The UN Debriefing & CONGOMA/HRCC Explanatory Meeting
The Council for NGOs in Malawi (CONGOMA), together with HRCC, called for a meeting of Civil Society Leaders at Lilongwe Hotel on Saturday, August 20th which at first, seemed to be an attempt to provide a forum for explanations, answers and debate on the ill fated cancellation. The SR Organising Committee were quite optimistic that all their outstanding concerns would be adequately addressed by their colleagues, and thus eagerly travelled the 310 kilometres up to Lilongwe on Friday 19th August to attend the event.
The Committee arrived in Lilongwe at 19.00 hrs on Friday evening and immediately rushed to attend a debriefing meeting that had been pre-arranged by members of the SR Committee with the UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Richard Dictus, in order to ascertain what exactly was the role of the UN in the deferral of the vigil and how it had come to pass?
Members of the SR Committee were duly apprised by the UN Res Rep, that the UN had become involved partly due to a coincidence wherein a fact finding mission happened to be in town at the time when the CSO Main Committee approached the UN for help in resolving a potential disaster that could occur as a result of the envisaged vigil. Mr Dictus was very quick to mention that the role of the UN was purely to facilitate a neutral space in which dialogue talks could take place in a peaceful and constructive manner. The UN was not thus playing a mediatory role as had been portrayed by the media and this was also why the laborious UN procedures that normally preceded mediatory interventions had not been required in this case. These explanations partly satisfied the SR Committee Members, who then retired to their respective accommodations for the night.
The next morning on 20th August, all the CSOs gathered at Lilongwe Hotel for the much anticipated debriefing, but were soon surprised by the agenda, which allocated two precious hours to topics such as the Background History and role of CONGOMA and the role of Civil Society in effecting change on the political terrain. The relevance of the agenda was queried in view of the fact that this was supposed to be a half day meeting and there were many weighty issues to be discussed, but the queries failed to make any impact on the conveners/facilitator – this trend continued throughout the entire meeting where every query, question, objection raised was met with stonewalling. This extended to the method and criteria used in (s)electing the CSO Dialogue Committee, who would be mandated to negotiate with Presidential Committee on Dialogue (PCD). A predetermined list of names was projected onto the wall and passed with minimal alteration – largely due to Malawian culture and habitual public politeness.
In view of the predominant focus on issues pertaining to economic/political (mis)governance in the Petition, It was quite obvious that the CSO Dialogue Committee did not possess the depth of knowledge and expertise on the aforementioned issues that would be required to meet the PCD on a level field and the Government team would run rings around them, but that observation was submerged in the wave of collective mindlessness. It was a shocking display of opacity and manipulation that would normally be expected in a Political Party meeting, but not in a Civil Society gathering.
The climatic moment arrived when Coordinators for various activities were being (s)elected and IPI was chosen to be the National Coordinator for the vigil envisaged for 21st September. This was the most dangerous task on the list and IPI freely admitted that, much as it had been the base for the July 20th demo and the ill fated Aug 17th vigil in the Southern Region, it did not have the capacity to handle coordination on a national scale in the absence of financial and human resource support. The IPI Executive Director (ED) further went on to appeal that, in order to have a successful campaign, it was imperative to identify organisations who had the structural and financial capacity to handle such coordination as most CSOs were not yet up to the task. This comment was received disapprovingly by the gathering and the meeting broke up in an acrimonious manner. IPI, which was accused of ‘being too close to opposition political parties and having a different agenda’ firmly resolved, as an institution, to wash its hands of any further involvement in organising such activities with HRCC & CONGOMA, any future participation would therefore be on a strictly personal basis.
The above resolution did not however preclude IPI from continuing on its quest for a responsive government and a small group of like minded people met at IPI on 25th August to form the Forum for Defence of Democracy (FDD) as a pressure group, aimed at providing fulcrum between CSOs, Trade Unions, Political Parties, Academia, Faith Communities and any Citizen, with outstanding democratic convictions, who was committed to the same ideals and vision espoused by the FDD.
Formation of FDD
The FDD formative group began consultations with key stakeholders, to collect input towards the aims, objectives and strategies, and seeking acceptance by the cross-sectional groupings. The reception was very encouraging, thereby raising hopes that the FDD would burst on the scene by mid October with a national coordination network in place. A meeting was subsequently held at IPI on 30th August to update all members on events that had occurred thus far and a proposal was tabled to nominate two National Coordinators – one from Civil Society and the other from the Political Parties. The meeting decided upon Rafiq Hajat (CSO) and Kamlepo Kalua (Politician) as Joint National Coordinators. Rafiq Hajat was then mandated to introduce the FDD aims & objective at an HRCC/CONGOMA meeting scheduled to be held in Lilongwe on 3rd September 2011, but not to commit the FDD to any organisational activities leading up to the national CSO vigil envisaged for 20th September 2011.
The Terror Campaign – Arson Attacks
This fateful FDD meeting might well have led to the calamity that ensued – because the IPI offices were torched by arsonists on the night of September 2nd 2011. The fire, fed by all the archives, books, furniture and carpets, swept through the the building and gutted it completely – destroying years of records, information resources and priceless research materials. It was utter wanton destruction and brought back echoes of the presidential threats to ‘smoke you out’ – for one cannot have smoke without fire.
This incident raised an outcry from Malawian Society, and warnings from Civil Society that such incidents would seriously affect the ongoing dialogue with government, but the International Community, including the UN Res Rep, Richard Dictus, remained strangely silent in the face of this blatant usage of terror tactics against Human Rights Defenders which constituted an incontestable violation of Human Rights enshrined in the UN Charter. This puzzling silence continued even when the Presidential Spokesperson, Heatherwick Ntaba, in an an outrageous display of sheer mendacity and factual manipulation, alleged that the fire was self inflicted – ostensibly to destroy evidence of misappropriation of Donor funds provided to IPI for pro-gay demonstrations. This message was then consistently brayed through the public media until a seed of doubt was sown in the minds of the public. The IPI Management however, held their peace on the issue, as is right and proper, until the Police had completed their investigations and the case heard in court. IPI has now sued Dr. Ntaba for defamation and slander in order to exonerate itself from the implied stigma.
But the Donor silence had had an effect, for it was (mis)interpreted as a sign of non-concern by the DPP thugs and they have continued on a rampage of arson and murder with savage intensity. The home of Reverend Macdonald Sembereka, the National Coordinator of HRCC was petrol bombed on September 10th, as was the home of Salim Bagus – a prominent opposition politician in Lilongwe and the Blantyre Flea market on September 18th, but worse was yet to come.
The Terror Campaign – Beatings
Dennis Bisika, the lead organiser of the Vigil in Zomba, was attacked as he was having a late lunch in the afternoon of 20th September at Ndindeya Motel. A team of 6 DPP Cadets driving a Toyota Hilux double cab, registration number ZA 9622 (silver in colour), swarmed into the place where they closed both the main gate and the door to the restaurant. When they faced Bisika, it is reported that they charged him with being among those critics giving sleepless nights to Bingu and that they had been sent to teach him a lesson.
As the assailants started to assault Dennis, he managed to escape through another door. The assailants then went outside to smash his vehicle, but when they saw a big crowd approaching (reportedly after the bar attendant had mobilised them), they quickly drove away.
Dennis sustained scratches in the legs and arms and strained his left knee after having fallen during his escape. Fortunately, four of the attackers have been identified as follows:
Mr. Bamusi – DPP Director for Youth – Eastern Region;
Phinious – DPP Youth Member;
Daniel Nanthambwe – DPP Youth Member; and,
Lawrence Kandiziwa – DPP Youth Member (also reportedly Assistant to Hon Yunus Mussa);
It is also reported that the car they were driving in belongs to Hon Yunus Mussa (2nd Vice President of the DPP).
The matter was duly reported to the Police where he was given a letter for him to access treatment at the hospital. However, the role of the Police in the whole process seems suspect to the extent that people are speculating that they might have been aware beforehand about this attack.
Firstly, it is reported that the Zomba Police Spokesperson, Mr. Tomeck Nyaudi came to the scene towards the end of the attack. Barely a few minutes later, a team of 15 police officers walking on foot also came on the scene. Finally, before the matter was even reported, one CID officer had already started interrogating Ndindeya personnel about the incident. Indeed, it is rather unusual that the 15 police officers were not a Rapid Response Unit, which ordinarily would have used a vehicle for transportation and further, in view of capacity and resource limitations, it is highly unusual to see 15 police officers rushing to a crime scene together. This aroused speculation that they might have been pre-informed about the attack and hence decided to be within reach to come as soon as the mission was accomplished.
The Terror Campaign – Murder
The terrible month went from bad to worse when, on Saturday 24th September 2011, a Polytechnic student was found dead at the campus with his head almost split in two according to eye witnesses. The death of the student, Robert Chasowa, who was in fourth year Engineering, was deemed suspicious by the students at the campus, as he had been very critical of President Bingu Wa Mutharika and was also apparently being hunted by the CID.
It is reported that the Police had come to the campus looking for him for his role in the Anti-Mutharika grouping, Youth for Democracy & Freedom, which releases the weekly ”Political Update”. The publication minces no words in condemning Mutharika’s dictatorship. In one of its publications, the YFD published details of DPP’s sinister doings, including the names of the arsonists (led by DPP Governor Masangwi & DPP Cadet Leader Ngalande) who had allegedly petrol bombed IPI’s offices.
The death of the student came just days after Police raided the home of 21 year old Black Moses, President of YDF, whisking him away to an unknown location where he was apparently being questioned over a one-page prose that used critical language against Mutharika’s authoritarian rule. Black Moses is now apparently incarcerated at Chichiri prison and efforts are being made to find out what charges he faces.
According to eye-witnesses, the student may have looked like he was thrown approx. 8-15 metres off a tall building but: “its a murder, he never jumped, because no part of his body bones has been broken. He is a political victim….because he has been a staunch critic of Mutharika via the Youth for Freedom and Democracy (YFD)in which he was the Vice President,” said one eye witness who refused to be named.
Students at the campus, were not fully aware of the incident at the time of writing this article, but there strong indications of a major misunderstanding between the Police and students, as anger brewed among students waking up to the news. Students at the college and the Police have crossed paths in recent months, and the news of the student being found mysteriously dead certainly exacerbated the tension even further. There was no immediate comment from the Police but it is understood that investigations are underway trying to establish the cause of the death.
Sunday, 25th September 2011 – Unknown assailants attacked two human rights activists at approximately 8.00pm, leaving one “heavily wounded”, according to lawyer Wapona Kita who, in his initial alert posted on social networking site Facebook, wrote: “Peter Chinoko of CCJP LL being attacked at his home by over 20 thugs now. SOS pls!” He followed that up with this update: “Am told after failing to break into Peter Chinoko’s house, they went to the next by neighbour, Mike Kakatera, another human rights activist, who has been heavily wounded…! Thanks to all guys who took heed of my FB update, it appears the neighbourhood was alerted by it and they got them dispersed. Police are at the scene now!” Reports indicate that three assailants were arrested but there is no further information forthcoming on who they are and the motivation behind the attack. Peter Chinoko, of the Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace (CCJP), was one of the organisers of the July 20th Demonstration and September 21st Vigil.
Wednesday 28th September 2011: – Immigration Authorities arrested Masauko Kamuzu Banda Jumani, who claims to be the offspring of Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the first Post Independence president who wielded power with an iron fist for 30 years as ‘Life President; in a single-party authoritarian regime. Jumani was denied a DNA test that would have proved his parentage and has now been deported back to Sweden, where he spent most of his life as an adopted child – despite having a Malawi Birth Certificate and adoption papers issued by the Malawian Courts. This may ostensibly be attributed to his presence in Malawi attracting too much public attention and posing a potential challenge to the political elite.
October 4th 2011: The newly appointed Minister for Information, Hon. Patricia Kaliati held a Press Conference wherein she alleged that Civil Society Leaders, Rafiq Hajat, Undule Mwakasungula, Billy Banda and the Vice President, Rt, Hon, Joyce Banda were involved in the untimely death of Robert Chasowa (see above) and urged the Police to ‘investigate them thoroughly’. These malicious, preposterous and unfounded accusations were aimed to further malign their Public Persona and, more sinister, enable the Police to arrest them without any possibility of bail – thereby condemning them to suffer the tender mercies of Prison Wardens and hardened criminals in Gaol for months, if not years, while the case dragged on interminably in the Courts with the Government using delaying tactics to stretch out the case as much as possible. The persons named will now live every day in fear of being picked up by the Police anywhere, at any time and may have to go back into hiding or leave the country to avoid such torture.
Friday 14th October 2011: Four FDD activists, namely; Billy Mayaya, Comfort Chitseko, Ben Chiza Mkandawire, Brian Nyasulu and Habiba Osman, were detained by the Police for four days without charge after unfurling a banner at the entrance to the venue where the COMESA Summit was being held. The banner, amongst other things, called for the following:
The immediate resignation of the Inspector General of the Police for his alleged involvement in the Chasowa murder;
Improved economic and political governance;
The immediate cessation of evocation of ethnic rivalries and hatred as a tactic being used by Mutharika to maintain his increasingly tenuous grasp on power;
A referendum on whether Government still retains the trust and confidence requisite to govern, as stipulated in S12 of the Constitution; The banner also stated that ‘Bingu is a Dictator’!
They were subsequently charged with conducting demonstration without police permission (untrue) and sedition (conduct/speech inciting people to rebel against state authority) on Tuesday 18th October and were granted bail by the Court on Wednesday, 19th October 2011. Legal council for the activists, Ralph Kasambara argued that the charges were malicious and lacked merit in a democratic Malawi. They were also ordered to report for the following two weeks on Wednesdays to the Police and a court hearing was set for November 26th.
Monday, 17th October 2011: Three people were rushed to hospital in the remote town of Mitundu, some 40 kilometres from the capital, Lilongwe on Monday following unprecedented protests against growing insecurity in the area.
“Yes, this morning people rioted at Mitundu, they attacked a police unit, we had to send reinforcements fromheadquarters,”Lilongwe Police spokesman Kingsley Dandaula told Maravipost.com in a telephone interview. Dandaula said the police unit was torched and razed to the ground. At least seven houses occupied by Police Officers were also set alight. He said anti-riot police used rubber bullets and tear-gas to contain the situation. “Two people were shot with rubber bullets, another was seriously injured when he was trampled upon by fellow rioters, we took the three to Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH),” he said.
The Police publicist dispelled reports that at least four people were shot dead by the Police. KCH Director Dr. Noor Alide couldn’t be reached, but a KCH telephone operator said “the boss didn’t come to work” due to the Mothers’ Day holiday.
Dandaula also stated that 49 people have since been arrested. He further went on to say that all the Police Officers at the unit have been temporarily evacuated to Police Headquarters together with their families. “It’s no longer safe for them to remain there,” he said.
A local resident, Yohane Saizi said in a telephone interview, that that trouble began when a store owner – identified as Marko Chapola – was attacked and killed by armed robbers on Sunday night. “His wife was also severely wounded,” he said. Saizi said this wasn’t the first time that armed robbers had attacked and killed their victims with seeming impunity and he accused police of not doing anything. “We believe officers here have over-stayed and may know these robbers and are working with them,” he said. “We’re as good as dead having no Police here.”
Dandaula said Police Headquarters was aware of growing insecurity in the area, but denied police were working in cahoots with the bandits. “We’re patrolling the area,” he said. “We’ll investigate these robberies.”
Mitundu is home to First Lady Callista Mutharika and President Bingu wa Mutharika has recently purchased yet another farm there.
Tuesday, 8th November – Fuel Prices Shoot Up
The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) was established in 2007. Its Vision Statement aspires: “to achieve abundant, sustainable and demand driven energy supplies in a fair market”, the Mission Statement resolves to: “regulate the energy sector in an objective, transparent, effective and efficient manner,” whilst its Core Values state the following: In the execution of the mandate, MERA upholds and espouses the following values:
(v) Integrity; and
The above stated ideals are almost farcical when compared with the reality on the ground today!
MERA is mandated to regulate the selling price of fuel under S9 of the Energy Act 2004, which, amongst other things, states:
(1) The Authority shall have power to regulate the activities of the energy industry in accordance with this Act and the Energy Laws and, without limitation to the generality of the foregoing, shall carry out the following functions—
(a) receive and process licence applications for energy undertakings;
(b) grant, revoke or amend licences granted under this Act and Energy Laws;
(c) approve tariffs, and prices of energy sales and services;
(d) monitor and enforce compliance by licensees with licences;
It thus invoked that power to announce that the price of fuel would be increased by 30% today.
But, unbeknownst to the public, the very credibility of MERA is questionable due to the fact that they do not have a properly constituted Board currently in place. S5 of the Act states that:
(1) The President shall appoint members of the Authority and each appointment
shall be subject to confirmation by The Public Appointments Committee.
(2) The first appointment of members of the Authority as provided for in subsection (1) shall be made within twenty-eight days of the coming into force of this
(3) The names of all members of the Authority as first constituted and every
change of membership of the Authority shall be published in the Gazette.
(4) In appointing members of the Authority under subsection (1), the President
shall have regard to the need for continuity of service on the Authority so that at least half of the members of the Authority appointed thereunder shall be reappointed for the next term of office.
Section 6 endows the President with the power to “appoint one of the members of the Authority as Chairperson and another member as Vice-Chairperson”.
On the question of tenure of the Board, S7 of the Act states:
(1)A member of the Authority, other than an ex officio member, shall hold office
for a period of three years and shall be eligible for reappointment: Provided that no member may be reappointed for more than two consecutive
From the above, it can be surmised that the Board which was appointed in 2008 by the President completed its tenure in June 2011 – but no new appointments have yet been announced, thus nullifying the legitimacy of this latest (inequitable) increase in the price of such a fundamental commodity.
A brief look at the fuel pricing structure may help to put things into perspective.
The landed cost in Malawi at Mwanza border on 8th Nov 2011 for diesel was K83.35/ltr (50c US), whilst petrol was at K79.12 (48c US). The gap between these costs and the pump prices at filling stations is attributed to duties, levies and price stabilization funds whilst the profit margins for the filling station owners is at a paltry K17/ltr (10c US) for diesel and K18/ltr (11c US) for petrol. But, there is a ‘black hole’ in the costing which has never been satisfactorily explained to date.
There is a spread of approx US$1.70 between the landed cost and selling price of Petrol (after deduction of reseller profit margin). One would assume that this will go to the numerous levies/taxes that are applied to fuel, but this is not necessarily so. In its brochure on Fuel Levies, MERA states that when the pump price for petrol was at K290 per litre, the levies component was about K100, translating into 34% of the pump price, whereas when pump price of diesel was at K260 per litre, the levies component constituted K72.50 per litre, representing 27% of selling price. The figures do not add up and gives rise to the question…..why is the pricing of fuel shrouded in such opacity – where is the other 50% going to?
In comparison, the price of fuel also rose in Tanzania. The difference is that their diesel increased by 0.14% and petrol by 2.47% – a stark contrast to the massive 30% inflicted upon impoverished Malawians!
The Presidential Jaunt
Whilst Malawians were patiently waiting in fuel queues, they were gob-smacked to learn that their President had decided to extend his stay abroad after attending the Commonwealth Summit in Australia. Rumours have been rife – some insinuating that it was for health reasons, others implying that it was a holiday while still others claiming that he had gone to China, with cap in hand, to beg for assistance to restore Malawi’s shattered economy. Whatever the case may be, he demanded, and received, the princely sum of US$500,000 for this outing – whilst the people continue to suffer incessant shortages of every kind with a mounting sense of indignation.
Furthermore, with the Vice President in the doghouse, one is inclined to question who is in charge during the Presidential foray abroad and, more importantly, who will preside over the reconvening of Parliament which will most certainly occur during the President’s foreign foray? The person/s who enjoy such presidential confidence, certainly do not have the electoral mandate to govern the country – giving rise to yet another question pertaining to the constitutional legality and credibility of this government.
This period (July 2011 to date) will haunt our memories forever because of the atrocities that we have witnessed – and because we now know that the campaign of terror will not cease until all opposition and dissent, whether real or perceived, has been inexorably extinguished amidst a miasmic fog of fear reminiscent of
It is quite obvious that the system of checks and balances entrenched within our constitutional democracy is woefully inadequate to curb or control the seemingly uncontrollable lust for absolute power evinced by our leaders and it is therefore imperative to reinforce and further strengthen the existing systems to prevent such ‘Big Man’ tendencies from resurfacing to haunt future generations ever again!
The only hope left now, is that the awakened spirit of the Malawian populace, which has learnt to speak out and express their discontent against the implacable wielders of power, will not be stifled but instead swell into an irresistible crescendo that is impossible for any government to ignore and in so doing, bring about the change that we all dream about – A Better Malawi For All Malawians!
Viva Mama Malawi – Viva Democracy!!