Barely a week before the Consumer Association of Malawi’s (Cama) much-touted January 17 demonstrations, some members of the organising committee have stepped down urging the organisers to engage government in dialogue.
The move comes hot on the heels of reports that government officials met some of the organisers in Lilongwe prior to the announcement made at an impromptu press briefing at Capital City Motel.
However, Cama executive director John Kapito, who is main architect of the demonstrations, said the protests—called to express consumers’ discontent with economic hardships due to government’s austerity policies—will go ahead.
Franked by 10 alleged former members of the main organising committee, Kingsley Mabalani, who acted as spokesperson for the committee, told journalists the group was overwhelmed by the nationwide outcry for dialogue.
However, Mabalani was quick to say the group still believed that the issues raised in the petition were pertinent and needed to be tackled.
He also emphasized that the organizers have a constitutional right to hold demonstrations and said Kapito has no ill-motive.
“We did support the call for demonstrations with total and strong conviction. We fully subscribe to the issues raised in the petition. Indeed, Malawians are suffering. However, in view of the nationwide calls for dialogue, we have decided to withdraw from the process,” said Mabalani.
He said the 10 members of belonged to a body called Network of Patriots (NEPA) which he chaired.
He hence said the group will now facilitate dialogue between remaining members of the committee and government.
But Kapito in an interview said the committee was intact and the demos would proceed as scheduled.
“I don’t think there is any¬thing to talk about. Perhaps he has quit because he was told to stop speaking on behalf of the committee two weeks ago,” said Kapito.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Council Churches (MCM) has also urged Cama to cancel the demonstrations. In a statement signed by secretary general, Reverend Osborne Joda-Mbewe, MCM said while Cama’s concerns were genuine, the Council feels the demonstrations should be avoided. The body said it believed there were better ways to resolve the economic suffering and urged the nation to draw lessons from the deadly July 20 protests. “The Malawi Council of Churches emphatically calls for the dismissal of the demonstrations. As the Church, we are worried that the otherwise peaceful demon¬strations may turn violent thereby threatening the lives of innocent people and their property,” reads part of the statement.
MCM called upon Cama to engaging government in constructive dialogue instead. Several civil society organizations too and some major political parties such as Malawi Congress Party and Peoples Progressive Movement have called for dialogue and the cancellation of the demonstrations.