Next week, on September 7, civil society organisations (CSOs) have planned to hold nationwide demonstrations against government. Our reporter AYAMI MKWANDA caught up with Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) national chairperson Timothy Mtambo on why the groups wants to hold demos instead of engaging government on dialogue.
Why are you resorting to demos instead of giving dialogue a chance with government?
We have received this question so many times but to say the truth, the people who are saying that have surely lost track of the nature of the present administration. Dialogue works where it is due, it must be genuine and must be founded on principles of mutual respect and trust. The problem with DPP administration is that they believe in manipulative dialogue. When you engage them, it is either they want to silence you or they want to pretend doing something with an objective of making the issue die a natural death. We have tried many times but failed. For example, after 2011 demos there was dialogue that was constituted to engage Government but it yielded nothing. The leadership of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) has tried to dialogue with the DPP-led government but nothing has been achieved so far. We tried to dialogue on NACgate nothing happened. We tried on the blue Nightgate and on the K4 billion. How can you dialogue with a leadership which majors in propaganda? It is so unfair to imply that CSOs do not want to engage in dialogue.
DPP administration is beyond dialogue engagements. It is also important to mention that dialogue has to be in keeping with the nature of issues and concerns at hand. For instance, how can you dialogue on the issue of bringing to book the murderers of Issa Njauju, Robert Chasowa, killings of people with albinism on electricity black outs, corruption? That said we should not demonise demonstrations. These are constitutionally backed up means of engagement. When we demonstrate we are giving citizens a platform to engage and dialogue with their government.
Some political analysts say that CSOs risk losing credibility over just holding demos anyhow. What do you say?
Those assertions are baseless and are not said in good faith. How can CSOs risk losing credibility over holding demonstrations on genuine issues? What credibility are they talking about? Such political analysts have lost touch with the reality on the ground. We are practitioners and we understand the dynamics on the ground. We are not dealing with theory here. We are very concerned with some comments from some political analysts. Some have even gone ahead suggesting that we should suspend accountability measures pending general elections. Really? Should we keep quiet and continue watching people stealing our resources because elections are imminent? Even if it is a day to elections, we need to stand by our constitutional values. Our credibility still stands intact considering the fact that we go to the streets with genuine and real issues affecting Malawians and not our personal interests. Malawians are better judges. The danger of such comments from such analysts is that they are encouraging the oppressors rather than standing with the oppressed.
What are the reasons you want demonstrate against?
Our major reason for demonstration dates back to the April 27 10-points petition which has been arrogantly ignored by the DPP administration. The petition was clear that after 90 days we shall make an assessment to evaluate government’s implementation of the citizens’ petition and that if we are not satisfied, we shall come back to the streets and demand accountability. As CSOs, we did the assessment and from the assessment it is clear that government has not just ignored the April 27 citizens’ petition but it has also engaged a bigger gear on accelerating impunity in this country. To mention but a few, blackouts are worsening, MBC is worsening, as already stated, corruption is on the increase. The theft of 3.5million litres of fuel at Escom worth K1.9 billion, failure to suspend those implicated in the K145 million corrupt case, abuse of statutory cooperation through routing of funds to finance ruling parties evidenced by the [DPP’s] blue night dinner.
So far PAC and MCP say they will join the demos. Who are other stakeholders?
We have not yet ruled out other interested parties to join in the peaceful demonstrations. So far we have received a lot of endorsements from many institutions and individuals, some refused to be mentioned but they have pledged to actively participate during the demos. Actually, I can say that we are ready. We have done a lot of ground work. We are hoping to see more patriotic individuals, religious and political groups joining us in due course. We would like to express our appreciation for the support rendered by the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the 2 prominent and big institutions have shown that they believe in a better Malawi. We expect to receive more endorsements from political parties.
: Tell us how government responded to the April 27 petition.
: The government response to the demands as per our petition was full of empty promises. The government underscored our expectation as it failed to address the critical issues convincingly. For instance as stated government has failed to address worsening corruption that has seen senior public servants being heavily shielded from being persecuted on corruption charges. Government scored a 10 percent in addressing the demands raised in the April 27 petition which exposes lack of seriousness and arrogance in the current regime. n