From the city’s centre at Town Hall, what had slowly morphed into a raucous pack travelled up Victoria Ave, chanting loudly as it moved. Turning right onto Glyn Jones, the demonstration’s mood continued to sour. Tires were set on fire and the people sang louder. Stopped from continuing on its path down Masauko Chipembere, the crowd –still thousands strong– turned around and onto Haile Sellasie. And there, as can happen with large numbers of people who have grown impatient, a mob mentality slowly rose to grip the demonstrators, who only one hours earlier, had danced and sang in celebration of their right to protest against a government they no longer supported.
On Haile Sellasie, some individuals began throwing rocks at shop windows. I witnessed virtually no looting, but a lot of property was damaged. Further down the street, the crowds—by this time, fractured by security forces and engulfed in waves of anarchy—fell into violence.
Running battles with police officers and soldiers began to unfold in several areas of the city. The authorities fired many shots, though most I saw went into the air, meant as warnings. And teargas canisters rained down on the hundreds of people that still filled the streets.
Citizens who had gathered for the long-agreed upon purpose of a peaceful protest were sent running in every direction. The soldiers chased many down Market Street, still firing their guns and launching teargas canisters, despite the fact that the crowds had already dispersed and people were fleeing the city centre as fast as they could.
The civil society demonstrations of July 20 were over. The courts had kept matters tangled for as long as the people would bear; in this observer’s opinion, security forces had ensured tensions escalated to a point where it became excusable—at least in the eyes of the government—for them to use all necessary force to end the people’s right to protest; and civil society’s day for the government to hear its concerns, was over.
President Bingu wa Mutharika never wanted to listen to the demonstrators that danced in the streets on July 20, and with the police and military contributing to a situation that successfully shifted the conversation to the afternoon’s violence, the President is now in a position where he does not have to.
More photos at my Flickr stream.
Portions of this post were first published in Malawi’s Daily Times on July 21, 2011.Social tagging: bingu > blantyre > civil society > democracy > democratic progressive party > demonstrations > dpp > government > july 20 > malawi > protests > riot