Heavily armed riot police were deployed on the streets of Malawi’s major cities on Thursday as the government braced for protests against tough reforms designed to right the economy and win back investors.
The protests went on without incident.
CAMA’s resolve to press ahead with the protests is a triumph for democracy and the right to expression as the govt tried in many ways to frustrate the protests but eventually failed.
Governing ruling party bribed and threatened the people organising the protests and this led to some resignations from some of the organisers few days before the protests.
In Blantyre and Mzuzu eyewitnesses said riot police had been deployed along the routes the marchers were expected to take. In Lilongwe, the administrative capital, protestors were to gather at the district commissioner’s office.
Many Malawians are feeling the pinch from economic reforms that have been instituted by President Joyce Banda.
‚ÄúOur chief concern has been the flotation of the kwacha which has led to unreliable market prices and forcing the currency to slide down… against the dollar,‚ÄĚ said John Kapito, the outspoken executive head of the consumer group leading the protests.
The reforms, which are backed by the IMF, have ‚Äúled to the suffering of poor Malawians,‚ÄĚ he claimed.
Half of Malawi’s 14 million population live below the poverty line and the country is highly dependent on donors, who make up 40 percent of its development budget.
One year ago similar economic protests descended into nationwide rioting and looting that left 19 people dead.
Then the riots, to force the government of the late president Bingu wa Mutharika to make greater reforms, were fuelled by anger over chronic fuel and foreign currency shortages.
Against this backdrop police vowed to ‚Äúguarantee maximum security to protect life and property.‚ÄĚ
But while the situation remained tense, fears of widespread unrest appeared to have been overstated.
Many schools, banks and other businesses opened normally, although private schools shuttered their doors.
‚ÄúWe have called for peaceful demonstrations and we assure the business community not to panic,‚ÄĚ said Kapito.
‚ÄúWe have deliberately taken routes where business is not conducted.‚ÄĚ