For the second time, former president Bakili Muluzi invited members of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) to a meeting. The agenda of the meeting was to try and impress on HRDC to call off their 26—30th September 2019 planned demonstrations at the country’s border posts and airports.
In the letter, Muluzi stated that he wanted to reason with HRDC members to consider other avenues to achieve their objective. Muluzi’s concern is that border posts and airports are very strategic places for government’s operations such as revenue generation, security and travel to and connection with other countries. No one can dispute that.
To start with, there can be no contestation about the merit in the idea and effort to invite the demo organisers to a round table. HRDC is holding demonstrations to force Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson Jane Ansah to resign for allegedly mishandling the May 21 elections and handing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Peter Mutharika victory. So much is at stake in any demonstration as has so far been seen. We are all witnesses to the unplanned negative consequences of the protests. Billions of Kwacha worth of property is being damaged, looted, burned down and stolen every time there are demonstrations in the country.
The anarchy is being perpetrated by people who join the protests with ulterior motives—to wreak havoc. The demonstrations, coupled with the shenanigans in the court hearing on the disputed Presidential election results, have plunged the country into a political impasse which is negatively impacting on the economy. Against this background, anything but demonstrations would be welcome as a remedy to the impasse. But demonstrations are an inalienable right as provided for in the supreme law of the land. Which is why, as many have stated, not even President Mutharika’s ranting and directive to the Police and Malawi Defence Force (MDF) to stop the protests will not stop HRDC from fulfilling their plans. Put simply, Mutharika’s order is illegal and uncalled for. As someone who swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, Mutharika’s order should be held in great disdain. He should promote rule of law and not fuel misrule. No wonder, his ill-fated order ruffles no feathers in HRDC who have vowed to fight all the way until they achieve their objectives.
This is the second time Muluzi has invited HRDC members to dialogue with him over the demonstrations. The first meeting ended in a stalemate after HRDC dug in arguing Muluzi should also have invited Ansah to the meeting because she is as much a solution to the problem as is HRDC. After the first meeting hit a wall, among other things, because Ansah was not part of the meeting, Muluzi would have done some soul searching and changed the strategy. These protests revolve around Ansah and so leaving her out in any discussion aimed to resolve the problem only gives the impression Muluzi is biased against HRDC. He knows this. And this casts doubt on whether the initiative to meet HRDC members is really aimed at finding a solution or he just wants to score a political point by being seen to be making noise.
If, on the other hand, Muluzi is also talking to Ansah, then he should have put such an intervention in the public domain for people to appreciate it. Anything less than that will not yield anything. Jane Ansah has dug in on the strength of the letter and spirit of the law. Her stand is that whether or not she mismanaged the elections, is an issue that is in court. Until the court pronounces its verdict, she rightly thinks she is innocent. But the legal or court route is just one of the many paths to the solutions. The more meritorious solution to the matter before the 18.5 million Malawians is not in the legal shenanigans in court. The political impasse the country is facing which is negatively impacting the economy needs a political solution. The President should think hard about whom he wants to serve—the interest of one person or 18.5 million Malawians who are suffering? Good leaders promote the larger good. n