Something to listen to while you read this post. Lucius Banda‘s “Tikamalira”. It means “why we cry.” Not a song that you hear on state-owned radio lot.
The joke around the office today is one about how many international news organizations paid for journalists’ flights into Malawi, only to have the day pass without a single dead body on which to file a story. It’s a tough life, right?
Leading up to August 17, it certainly looked like violence was in the cards. One month earlier, on July 20, nationwide demonstrations deteriorated into riots that left 19 people dead. The weeks following were nearly as grim. President Bingu wa Mutharika embarked on an erratic whistle stop tour, brushed aside the deceased as common criminals, and threatened demonstrators, promising to “meet them in the streets.” Another highlight: The country’s first lady, Callista, publicly told civil society leaders to “go to hell.” And right up until August 16, demonstration organizers maintained that vigils for those killed on July 20 would go ahead.
What happened next isn’t yet totally clear. Not to me, anyways.
The morning of August 16, the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation sent a communique essentially out of the blue.
“After long discussions and thoughts yesterday involving the CSOs organisers, Malawi Human rights commission, the Police and the UN team visiting Malawi we have decided to postpone the demonstrations on a number of factors,” the email read.
Three reasons were given. Quoting the email:
1. Because of the Injuncation which is in court
2. To give a chance to dialogue facilitated by the UN who are in country
3. In view of not losing more lives and peoples property.
I wasn’t totally convinced. By the afternoon of the 16, the courts had denied a request for an injunction to block the vigils from going ahead, so point number one was moot. And the risks of incurring more casualties and property damage had never dampened protesters’ enthusiasm for the vigils before. So what changed?
Point number two did include some new information. That was the first mention I’d seen of the United Nations getting involved in the president’s stand off with his electorate. But where did it come from?
Not one of the many reports that I read yesterday quoted anybody from the UN. It seemed that all civil society leaders and the newspapers were running on was a vague mention of UN involvement made by the president during a speech on the 15.
Since then, a document with some semblance of officialdom has surfaced. But while allegedly confirming the UN’s involvement, it still bears no signature from any international representative.
In my mind, questions remain. But as I write this, the sun is setting on August 17. And there have been no reports of real unrest from anywhere in Malawi.
Civil society has given the president a new deadline to address issues raised in a petition presented last month: September 17. And, so we’re told, dialogue is ongoing.
For the time being, Malawi may remain peaceful.Social tagging: august 17 > bingu > blantyre > civil society > demonstrations > july 20 > Lucius Banda > malawi > mutharika > protests