From the interview he had with the BBC, President Peter Mutharika gave the impression that he is sitting on the fringe of the political impasse which has rocked the country. The economy is crumbling but the man who is supposed to save the capsizing ship does not have a full and clear view of the problem on his hands. The violence unleashed by the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations ruffle no feathers. Although the country has been burning, property worth millions of Kwacha has been looted, stolen and damaged, the President has no emergency or backstopping measures up the sleeve to quell the violence and bring sanity to a troubled nation.
In the BBC interview, the President had the effrontery to tell the world that the solution to what he rightly described as complicated problem will emerge from the court. In other words, he believes the Constitutional Court sitting in Lilongwe will soon deliver judgement on the case where opposition leaders are contesting results of the May 21 Presidential Elections and want them nullified. But the bold language from Mutharika is that he has crossed his hands and is completely closed off for discussions as he awaits conclusion of the case in the court. If this indeed is the case—God forbid—then he has a very strange and queer understanding of how long the case will take. More so after the court has hinted that the case will run for a minimum of four months.
So far, lawyer for the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), which is the first respondent in the case, has only finished cross-examining the first petitioner—UTM president Saulos Chilima and one of his key witnesses, Miriam Gwalidi. This week, Gwalidi was being re-examined by Chilima’s lawyers. One month has already gone since the court commenced hearing of the substantive case. The Attorney General, who is leading MEC’s legal team in the case, wanted to parade a legion of 240-something witnesses. Thank God, the court may have sensed filibustering on the part of the AG and quashed the number of witnesses to 73. As a matter of fact, 73 is no less dizzying, to say the least. For argument’s sake, if cross-examination for two people has taken a whole month and counting, who can buy into Mutharika’s odd line of thought that the case will be concluded soon? So far, we do not even know how many witnesses the first and second petitioners will parade. And there is a field of 27 or so lawyers in the case. Each one of them will want to be held so as to justify his or her presence in the case. So we cannot still be talking about four months.
In any case, four months is eternity when the economy is crashing. Four months is a century when companies are and businesses are downsizing and retrenching. From what I see, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the Mutharika administration has voluntarily entered a self-destruct mode. The political impasse adversely affecting the private sector—usually touted as the engine for economic growth—will sooner than latter choke it. Without regard for the welfare of the larger good, government has chosen to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. Government is killing the sector which is its main source of revenue.
Meanwhile, the demonstrations will continue. It is a constitutional right. By the way, during the BBC interview, Mutharika contradicted his Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani when he insisted that government has not banned demonstrations. How does Botomani, the government spokesperson, who early last week issued a statement purporting that Government will not allow demonstrations feel? I get the feeling Botomani is cruising at a terrific speed on a dangerous terrain. Smell the coffee. Slow down.
Thanks to the court which gave the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and the Attorney General a 14-day moratorium on demonstrations for the two sides to come to a round table and come up with ways for violence-free demonstrations. Malawians expect that HRDC and the AG are attending the discussions in good faith. The violence, looting and damage to property during demonstrations is a carbuncle we cannot live with. We all need to take responsibility. But the buck stops with President Mutharika.