On April 21, it was reported that some People’s Party (PP) supporters disrupted a political rally organised by United Democratic Front (UDF) leader Atupele Muluzi in full view of the police, barely a week after President Joyce Banda saluted the police for tear-gassing Democratic People’s Party (DPP) president Peter Arthur Mutharika in Zomba.
Reports said it all started when PP youths removed UDF flags from trees. When the UDF youths tried to prevent the rival youths from removing the flags, chaos ensued. Since president Banda hails from Zomba, the PP youths feel the city is a no-go zone for any other political party.
Twenty-one years after multiparty politics came to Malawi, the country still suffers political violence either between members of the same party or with other parties. It is surprising that the trend is escalating when we are supposed to be enjoying the fruits of our hard-won democracy. Malawians suffered for 30 years under the single party rule of Hastings Kamuzu Banda when his youth leaguers were instrumental in all sorts of torture and disappearances.
Life was hard for someone who did not have a party membership card which was sold to the general public. Lest we forget: The Jehovah’s Witnesses were banished from this country and forced into exile because they refused to buy party cards. This was partly why Malawians were eager to disown the single party rule and welcomed the new multiparty dispensation.
It was good that we saw peace maintained in our country when people started forming political parties like drama groups or choirs. However, the situation is different now. There is usually chaos when two or more political parties meet.
When UDF was in power, the young democrats, branded as one of the most violent groups, showed no tolerance to anyone with dissenting views. Strong opposition parties then, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Alliance for Democracy (Aford), had their own versions of youth wings that wrecked havoc during political meetings of rival parties.
During the DPP regime, its youth cadets were empowered. In the streets of Blantyre, they terrorised those who were talking ‘nonsense’ about the DPP. Now, with only a year in power, the PP has also brought in their own irate youth who instead of concentrating on their business ended up climbing trees and removing flags that were flying innocently in the air just to provoke others.
Where is Malawi heading to? The civil wars going on in several African countries started from very simple issues. Political violence is what triggers-off such wars. Are we prepared for the same? The people that are being beaten or harassed are not foreigners. They speak our language and eat our nsima.
Is belonging to a party of your choice a crime? Choice is unlimited therefore it cannot be overemphasised on political grounds. Time is gone when brothers should fight. Let’s hold hands and fight against poverty, hunger, illiteracy and diseases if we are really itching for a fight. Let us fight violence instead of being violent. To make Malawi, the real warm heart of Africa, let us unite and speak one language – peace. We may have diverse views, but that cannot be translated into a feud.
I quote what Austin Misoya, National public relations officer for Young Politicians Union said in November 2O12:
“The violence in question is totally retrogressive, uncalled for and detrimental in as far as the development of multiparty politics is concerned. Parties in the country must avoid to use one corner of their mouths to argue that their parties are democratic while use the other to utter statements that are undemocratic”
His group, therefore, requested leaders of various political parties to embrace the spirit of interparty democracy if political violence were to be avoided.
—The author is a second year social science student at Chancellor College in Zomba