President Peter Mutharika returned home from the United States of America (USA) yesterday and poked fun at civil society organisations (CSOs) over their September 21 anti-government protests which he described as a flop.
The President, who was in a visibly confrontational mood, claimed in his brief address to journalists at Kamuzu International Airport that Malawians had rejected demonstrations as a solution to national issues as evidenced by what he called a low turnout of protesters.
He said: “Let me take this advantage to say I sincerely I missed the massive demonstrations of 90 people in Blantyre and 220 people in Zomba. This is a sign now that these misguided people should know that Malawi people want dialogue, not demonstrations or confrontation.
“I hope this is the last time… This kind of attitude must stop, come to an end. Let’s work together as one country instead of pulling each other apart.”
In response to a question from The Nation on whether he was ready for face-to-face talks with the CSO leaders, Mutharika said he had always engaged them.
He said: “We have always met them. We have set up committees to engage them. What else do they want?”
Mutharika, who left the country on 21 September for the 73rd United Nations General Assembly (Unga) in New York, arrived on chartered jet and was welcomed by several dignitaries, including First Lady Gertrude Mutharika who left him in the USA to host US First Lady Melania Trump who visited Malawi on Thursday last week.
Reacting to the President’s comments on the demonstrations, one of the organisers for the September 21 protests, Macdonald Sembereka, yesterday described Mutharika’s remarks as tantamount to intimidation.
He said: “It is unfortunate that the President being a trained lawyer who knows the Constitution should be intimidating people on demonstrations. It is very unfortunate. He has spent a long time in the civilised world and one would expect him to exercise caution based on numbers. Citizens, even if they are just 10, they are expressing their views.”
Prior to the demonstrations, government extended an eleventh-hour invitation to CSOs for dialogue. However, the CSOs pulled out of the talks at the last minute, opting to proceed with the protests.
The CSO groups also obtained a court order on the eve of the protests, compelling the President to receive in person their petition. But the President, who was leaving for the USA later on the day of the protests, did not receive the petition and instead delegated Lilongwe City Council chief executive officer Moza Zeleza to attend to the petitioners.
Sembereka said the CSOs were waiting for the President’s return to seek court redress through contempt of court proceedings.
He said: “We have been engaging our lawyers and they will give a final legal opinion. Now that he is back, we will now go to court for redress on the matter.”
In their petition delivered in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba cities, the petitioners, among other challenges, said the citizenry was awaiting government action in addressing the plunder of public resources, persistent power outages and rising unemployment.
The petition was a follow-up on an earlier 10-point demand presented on April 27 this year.
On his trip to the USA where he addressed the Unga, but missed a scheduled meeting with Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) executives to discuss a second compact financing grant, the President said the outing was successful and exciting.