In the prelude to the July 20 2011 demonstrations and at the height of the public discontent and planned demonstrations led by civil society activists against former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika, there were some forces within State House who were all knowing and all powerful.
It was probably them who in their wisdom advised Bingu to lecture to his people on the economy, fuel and forex shortages, but more specifically on national sovereignty and self-reliance.
For two hours, Bingu delivered a ‘lecture’ televised and broadcast live on State-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) which in so many words just told Malawians what they already knew.
Bingu did not have answers to the fuel and forex shortages crippling the country at the time. But while he did not have immediate solutions, the demonstrations in the country’s three cities, he argued would not bring back fuel and forex.
In fact, his arrogance knew no boundaries or sense of shame as he expected Malawians who went on the street to attend his public lecture instead.
As he frothed and banged tables in that air-conditioned marquee, he was so far removed from reality that as he was preaching to the converted, police were on rampage in Mzuzu. They shot and killed 19 people on the streets for exercising the freedom of expression that Bingu and a selected few were enjoying beyond at the plush hotel marquee.
What went wrong, as it has been noted in the current University of Malawi fee hike impasse (dubbed #FeesMustFall protests on social media) was poor timing and arrogance on the part of the presidential advisers. Against a wave of disgruntled citizens, Bingu spit in their face and organised his own mini demo, right on the day of the public demonstrations and at his house, no less.
Before July 20, 2011, not a single Malawian could have predicted bloodshed and loss of life but increasingly Malawians are shying away from public protests fearing they would be a target of our trigger-happy police who are only too happy to throw teargas into a university hostels and slap female students around when the fancy takes them.
It goes without saying that the fees hike is unreasonable. Not that tertiary education should be free but the increase in tuition must consider the economic challenges that a majority of Malawians are going through.
The K400 000 per semester fees is a six-months salary for low grade civil servant with secondary school-going children. The president himself is not feeling the pinch of economic hardship, neither are the ministers whose fat pockets are lined with the sweat of private sector individuals reeling under heavy taxes and high lending rates.
Fast forward to five years later, his brother Peter has found himself in the 2011 script and by the look of things, the end of this impasse is nowhere in sight.
Because going by the tone of the press statement from State House this week and sentiments of the President after meeting the Unima student representatives, fees will not fall. n