Aluta Continua! Malawi’s Own ‘Festival of the Oppressed’
The May 2019 Tripartite Elections came. With high hopes, people turned up in high numbers to vote. “Winners” were announced.
As is always the case, there were disgruntled voices on an election process badly managed. As it has happened in most elections – the exceptions being perhaps the 1993 Multiparty Referendum and the 1994 Tripartite Elections – during our young democracy, there were cries of a stolen election. There were loud howls over manipulated election results. The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) were mocked to have gone into studio for the music album, “Atibera, Vol 4”. In no time, under the leadership of the now household name the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), people descended on the streets of the cities and towns protesting the election results and demanding the exit of the Chairperson of elections body, Justice Dr. Jane Ansah, Sc.
Only that this time, people would not be having it and things would be different – they would remain on the streets. Demonstrations in Malawi would become a phenomenon, one that even this website recognizes to have been one of the major features of 2019.
Post 1994, these would be the most heavily patronized demonstrations after the 20 July 2011 ones where Malawians nationwide protested against perceived poor economic management and poor governance by President Bingu wa Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Twenty lives were claimed from use of excessive force by the police and no one was brought to book. People would be scared to patronize demonstrations again, despite the continued deteteorating living conditions. For the years that followed, their only recourse would be complete trust in their power to vote, albeit wrapped in a cocooned hope they could not expressly convey. When they felt even that power could not really be theirs, and the outcome of the 2019 Elections did not really reflect the impartiality the ballot was designed to guarantee, they returned to the streets, in numbers never seen before, to protest. And to show the extent of their “disgruntledness”, they would stay there for a while despite the election results being contested in the court of law.
Malawians are known to easily get over things. They will get angry about something today, make noise on social media for two to three days and then the issue fizzles out in a natural death. Politicians have studied this behavioural pattern and exploited it. Who wouldn't, anyways? Only that this time around, it wasn’t only the social media that felt entitled to the rage.
This anger permeated beyond the elite. It boiled in the hearts of the ordinary, the likes of Msundwe people. It ripened in the hearts of those that have suffered for far too long at the face of poverty and have lost hope in the manner of government the DPP runs. It boiled in the bosoms of the unemployed, of those that cannot access basic services, of those that are marginalised, of those that feel forgotten. It would not last two to three days like the short-lived social media one that we’ve witnessed in the past nine years. To the surprise of many, especially the politicians that ride on the laidbackness of Malawians, demonstrations would go on for months, even spilling over into 2020, and each time, with more gusto. Instead of apathy, the numbers increase with each call for demonstrations, causing numbness in the thinking capacities of the authorities.
The chief legacy of the retired inspector General of Police, Rodney Jose, would be cluelessness. He will be remembered for ordering a stop to demonstrations because he had no capacity to protect people and property during the same. Laughable as it may sound, it is this cluelessness of people in such high positions that’s stagnating the country. Malawians have the constitutional right to demonstrate, of course, peacefully. What made Jose think he was larger than the Constitution to, instead of performing his contracted duty, interfere in a political process? While the looting and violence that characterised the demonstrations cannot go uncondemned, the burden was on Jose and his bosses to resource the police adequately to not only be able to protect people and property, but also to be able to apprehend and bring to book the criminal elements that had hijacked the peaceful demonstrations. But this didn’t end there. More forces were involved as the brain numbness spread across the file and ranks of government.
The very respected, the honourable the Attorney General, also joined the circus. He moved from one court to another enticing them to join in the lawlessness of banning demonstrations. Instead, democracy won. The respected courts refused to play ball. And today, people are still on the streets.
One can tell that this is not just about elections. After all, the slight suspicion of foul play today triggers an excitement of a nice street chant. Malawians are demanding change, tired of the status quo. They want a new Malawi – a Malawi where there would be equality of opportunities and outcomes, a new Malawi with zero corruption, a new Malawi with proper use of public resources, a new Malawi where all will be equal before the law. They are no longer afraid.
When enough is enough, even fear seeks refuge. Malawians are determined. For them, they have nothing to lose. The struggle continues until change comes. It is a revolution. That revolution may be delayed, but it cannot be stopped. And as one Australian writer, Germaine Greer once said: “revolution is the festival of the oppressed”. And so will Malawians feast on it.