For close to a month now the country has been witnessing demonstrations led by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) demanding Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign. Amid the protests, there have been calls for dialogue. Our reporter Ayami Mkwanda engages Chancellor College lecturer in Conflict Management and Resolution in the Department of Political and Administration Studies (PAS) MASTER DICKS MFUNE.
Is the current situation beyond dialogue?
The current situation is not beyond dialogue. The only challenge is that each of the parties in this conflict is taking a hard stand on the issue: the State President, Peter Mutharika’s speech during the Independence cerebrations is an example. He spoke as if he were at Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] function. He said he would deal with demonstrators by using force. Second, Malawi Congress Party [MCP] indicated that they could not engage in dialogue and negotiate with a “thief” who has stolen your goat, implying they cannot hold dialogue with Mutharika as they believe he stole their votes. Third, HRDC feel the issue of Ansah—to resign or Mutharika to dismiss her—is still standing and non-negotiable, therefore, they have emphatically mentioned that whoever wants to call them to a dialogue table they will not negotiate on this
Perhaps it is too late for dialogue?
No. It is not too late to engage the stakeholders such as MEC, HRDC, UTM Party, MCP and DPP, [particularly Mutharika] in dialogue. Mutharika as State President should compromise for the sake of his legacy. Again, as a father to the nation, he has to show and act with love. I am aware there might be other people within DPP and Cabinet who are hardliners and advise him to the contrary since he will not again appear on the ballot paper. But he has to ignore such things and act as a father who loves all his children even the prodigal son that wastes the family’s fortunes and property. He needs to champion the dialogue by extending an olive branch and matching the same with action. The challenge is that at a particular time he offers an olive branch then no sooner than later he plucks it off and tramples it under his feet. This will not work. He needs to avoid holding rallies where there are masses that might motivate him to speak words that can hurt others at this point in time.
What about for UTM and MCP?
As for UTM and MCP, they should allow justice to flow like a river. As Lazarus Chakwera [MCP leader] says, do not obstruct justice. Why can’t they wait for the court ruling and take their action thereafter? There are over 198 strategies of holding non-violent actions with some of these capable of making Malawi come to a standstill from Chitipa to Nsanje, Nkhotakota to Mchinji without damaging any property.
Do you think DPP vice-president for the South, Kondwani Nankhumwa was sincere with dialogue talks?
He must be commended for initiating dialogue. It is unfortunate that Chakwera and Saulos Chilima [the UTM leader] are no taking him seriously. That is the challenge.
What about the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) pleading for end of the demonstrations?
The MHRC was right in appealing for calm despite demos continuing. It is easier to destroy than to build; peace processes takes time. MHRC could have done better than just calling for cease fire. Once a conflict escalates into violence, it is not easy to stop it because there are issues which require resolving through negotiations before peace returns. There is a give and take situation which is not easy to reach. It requires consultations within the conflicting parties. What MHRC could have done was to meet the conflicting parties to collectively bargain for an end to the demonstrations.
Do you think Bakili Muluzi has anything to offer in the peace talks he has so far embarked on?
Yes, Muluzi has something to offer in the peace talks he has embarked on. However, Muluzi is not the right person to mediate in this conflict because he is deemed impartial and credible. The political party that ushered him into power, United Democratic Front (UDF), was in a working alliance in Parliament with DPP. Muluzi has been seen associating with Mutharika and is allegedly seen as part of the problem. He shares the same views and opinions about the presidency with Mutharika. Muluzi is on record having said that he would not allow MCP to rule this country again. As a mediator, Muluzi demanded HRDC to give him seven days to meet the appointing authority. He was not supposed to do that. He was supposed to listen to HRDC and then take the message to the other party or he would have met Mutharika first and take the message to HRDC. After meeting HRDC, he would have met Mutharika again.
In that case then don’t you think we need external peace-brokers?
No. Malawi does not need external mediators to bring about peace at this time. You can only bring in external mediators when mediators in the country have failed. We have individuals, groups and institutions that can offer mediation. The Centre for Peace and Conflict Management at University of Malawi, Chancellor College is in the process of putting a forum for insider mediators, Public Affairs Committee (PAC) is initiating dialogue with Mutharika and some concerned citizens are willing to mediate.
Is there anything that Mutharika can do?
The President should consistently talk about peace in his speeches and refrain from using inflammatory words. He should live above party politics and condemn his lieutenants—cadets and the Police whenever they commit acts that are seen to instigate violence.