- CSOs threaten more protests
- To drag Mutharika to court for contempt
President Peter Mutharika on Friday defied a court order compelling him to receive a petition from civil society organisations (CSOs) which on Friday organised peaceful protests in the country’s four cities.
The order, granted late Thursday by the High Court, also compelled all State organs, including city authorities, not to alter the route of the demonstrations, particularly in Lilongwe, where authorities had sought to shorten the march’s route.
While the authorities heeded the court ruling on the route, Mutharika defied the order on his availability to receive the petition, and sent Lilongwe City Council (LCC) chief executive officer Moza Zeleza, to receive it.
One of the President’s aides, Mabvuto Bamusi, also witnessed the presentation of the petition.
High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire had specifically ordered Mutharika to receive the petition at Capital Hill, but Zeleza told the marchers on Mutharika had delegated him to do so.
“I have received the petition. I want to assure you that the petition will be handed over to the President. The President did not come, hence he has delegated me,” said Zeleza, amid boos from the marchers.
In an interview, government spokesperson and Minister of Information, Communications and Technology Nicholas Dausi also defended Mutharika’s actions on Friday.
“The Constitution gives powers to the President to delegate somebody. So, whoever receives the petition did so on behalf of the President,” said Dausi.
Mutharika’s absence angered the protesters. Some hurled insults at Zeleza and threatened to forcefully breach a police perimeter barricading entrance into Capital Hill.
But the organisers of the protests weighed in and calmed down the situation. Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HDRC) vice-chairperson Gift Trapence said the civil society groups would move the courts to take action on Mutharika for contempt of court.
Said Trapence: “No one is above the law. The President has disregarded a court order and we are going to the same court for contempt of court proceedings.”
CSOs also said they will petition Parliament, during its November sitting to impeach Mutharika if he continues to defy the country’s laws and also ignores contents of the petition.
The long march in Lilongwe
Earlier, scores of protesters endured one of the longest marching routes and a sunbath to deliver the petition.
The size of the crowd on Friday was considerably smaller than that the same organisers attracted, for a similar cause, in April.
The crowd that participated in the demonstrations last April is touted as the biggest in the history of demonstrations.
Malawi Congress Party, United Transformation Movement (UTM) and the influential quasi-religious Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and other organisations had earlier rendered backing to the protests. But leaders of these institutions, apart from Chakwera, were mostly conspicuous by their absence.
The MCP president and leader of opposition in Parliament made a cameo at the protests, saying the people were unhappy with Mutharika’s administration; hence, their wish to remove him from office.
MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka participated in the entire march. “I am speaking on behalf of people from all over the country.
People are tired of this government and it must be removed. People want a government with integrity,” said Chakwera.
The messaging on the placards the marchers hoisted and the songs they sang bashed the country’s leadership and blamed the government for alleged deteriorating standards of governance and rampant corruption and fraud.
CSOs query DPP activity in Mzuzu
In the North, Mzuzu City Council (MCC) failed to explain the presence of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) youth cadets who were spotted sweeping the streets in the city at a time HRDC was holding anti-government demonstrations.
MCC chief executive officer McLoud Kadammanja said he had not allowed the DPP to carry out the exercise, pleading with the protestors that the DPP had done so without his knowledge.
Even during interviews with the press, a visibly shaken Kadammanja could not explain the presence of the cadets, insisting: “I am not in a position to comment on that.”
Ironically, the same city council provided the cadets with wheelbarrows. Some city council officials, such as the cleaning supervisor Sylvester Mailosi, were present during the exercise.
During the exercise, Mailosi told journalists that in a democracy people are free to do what is right and the council could not deny the DPP their quest to clean the city, contradicting his boss that the council did not give the cadets permission.
The HRDC demonstrations in Mzuzu started at 9.51am at Upper Stadium, but it took the protesters two and a half hours to deliver the petition at MCC civic offices—a journey of less than three kilometres.
The delay for almost an hour at the Court House Roundabout came as HRDC leaders and demonstrators queried police and the council to explain why the DPP were conducting an activity in the city on the same day.
They also wondered why the city council refused to grant them permission to use the highway, yet the DPP used the same to get to the markets and to their Northern Region office and at some point camped at the Clock Tower Roundabout.
The cadets were led by DPP regional governor for the North Kenneth Sanga, DPP deputy director of operations Joe Thomas Nyirongo and DPP director of youth (North) Kelvin Chirambo.
The members mostly in DPP colours swept the streets leading to the bus depot, inside the depot, and the street from the depot entrance to the M1 Road. Happy Mhango, HRDC chairperson (North) and Charles Kajoloweka of Youth and Society confronted police and city officials on the matter, as the situation seemed to be getting worse.
Speaking after delivering the petition, Mhango said the actions on the day simply confirmed their fears that the DPP, police and MCC were conniving to frustrate the people’s right to express themselves.
But Sanga laughed off suspicions that the DPP members were trying to bring confusion having been fully aware that the HRDC was holding demonstrations in the city. He insisted that the party got permission from the city council earlier than the CSOs.
“It was a coincidence. We applied for this last month,” said Sanga.
Handful march in Blantyre and Zomba
In Blantyre, it was business as usual in the city with some residents acting as spectators to about 15 demonstrators led by HRDC Southern Region chapter chairperson Masauko Thawe.
However, there was heavy police presence, with over 100 police officers, escorting the demonstrators as they marched to deliver their petition to the Blantyre City Council (BCC) Civic centre offices at Chichiri.
Delivering the petition after a one and a half hours march, Thawe urged authorities to address their grievances as soon as possible.
“We have not given them a specific timeframe to respond to our petition, but if they choose to ignore us, we will return to the streets,” he said.
Receiving the petition behind a locked gate, on behalf of BCC chief executive officer Alfred Chanza, director of administration Lytton Nkata promised to deliver it to the relevant authorities.
The protesters marched from Chichiri Upper Stadium to Civic Centre offices through the Masauko Chipembere Highway to deliver the petition, instead of the initial planned district commissioner’s office downtown Blantyre.
Thawe explained that they changed the route to give a chance to the organisers to address the protesters at Chichiri Independence Arch to show the significance of the demonstration.
In Zomba, the protests were hugely patronised by young people and were manned by both heavily armed and unarmed police officers.
The protesters sang songs such as ‘Mbava zichoke, Mufotokoze za imfa za Njauju ndi Robert Chasowa and Tatopa Ndikuthimathima kwa magetsi,’ (get rid of all thieves, explain deaths of Njaunju and Robert Chasowa, we are tired of blackouts) as they marched towards Zomba district commissioner’s office to read a petition.
Zomba DC, Emmanuel Bambe and ZCC chief executive officer (CEO) Dyson Jangiya, Banda received the petition which, among other challenges, said the citizenry are waiting for government to address the plunder of public money, persistent blackouts and unemployment.
The demonstrations on Friday were a follow up of April 27, 2018, protests, when the HRDC issued a 10-point petition for Mutharika to act on within 90 days.
In that petition, HRDC asked Mutharika to reverse the appointment of Rodney Jose as Acting Inspector General of Police and resignation or firing of Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe and Minister of Local Government Kondwani Nankhumwa for their dubious role in the K4 billion payout to legislators.
They also demanded re-tabling of the Electoral Reforms Bills, an explanation on the K45.2 billion bailout to Admarc and an end to the persistent blackouts.
However, government on July 19, 2018, responded to the 10-point petition but refused to give in to most demands.
In on Friday’s petition, HRDC demanded that the K145 million which the DPP benefited from the Malawi Police Service food rations deal should immediately be returned to Malawians and that supplier Zamir Karim of Pioneer Investments and officers implicated in the deal should be arrested and prosecuted.
“We demand answers on 4.2 million litres theft of fuel at Escom. We want our fuel back. The Escom Board and chief executive officer must be fired. We demand independence of justice, regulatory, and accountability institutions, namely, Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB], Malawi Revenue Authority [MRA], Police, Macra, NGO-Board, stop politicising them to target government critics.
“Bring back our K65 million house for the mayor of Blantyre. Call for immediate suspension of the controversial Ifmis software procurement, the process must be investigated,” read the demands in part.
They have also demanded an end to corruption, suspension of deputy inspector generals of police Duncan Mwapasa and John Nyondo, and for DPP to stop inciting political violence and intimidation of CSOs.
HRDC has since warned that it will be all eyes and ears to ensure that the demands are implemented, failing which, they will go back to the streets on a weekly basis, to force President Peter Mutharika to step down.
Reporting by Joesph Mwale, Golden Matonga, Ntchindi Meki, Andrew Nyondo, Precious Kumbani and Bobby Kabango