For two long days, Thursday and Friday, last week, Professor Dr. Abiti Joyce Befu, Alhaj Mufti Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD), Nganga Maigwaigwa, PSC (RTD) and I, Malawi’s first and last Mohashoi, heeded the call of the self-proclaimed 1992 demonstrator-in-chief and civil society leaders to fearlessly join the many disgruntled men, women and youths who marched to ask for the political head of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah.
We joined the demonstrations essentially to understand if the marchers really understood why they were marching and what they were protesting against.
“I do,” said one lady, in a red T-shirt, adding “Ansah tippexed our votes. We won the elections!”
“But the issue is in court,” Jean-Philippe asked, “Don’t you think the marching is tantamount to contempt of court?”
“Which is more serious, to be in contempt of court or in contempt of Malawian voters?” the lady asked as she marched on.
“Sir,” responded a young-looking man, with a heavy Bin-Laden beard, “the issues before the courts have nothing to do with resignation of Mrs Ansah!” The courts have been moved to determine if the elections were free, fair, credible and legitimate in the wake of the 147 madando that Ansah and her commission acknowledged. We expect the courts to uphold the presidential elections results, order a recount of the votes or simply declare them invalid and order fresh elections.”
“For MPS and Councilors as well?” Jean-Philippe asked.
“Who cares about MPs and Councilors? In Malawi everything centers on the president! If people are jobless, it is because the president wants them to be jobless; if they are poor, it is the president’s fault. If there is violence, it is the president fault. This demonstration, this marching is all because of the president. Go to Rwanda. Their president wants people to be happy and the people are happy!”
“This demonstration is the fault of the president! So, you acknowledge him as the president of Malawi?” I asked.
“Of course, based on the 2014 mildly scandalous election,” bin Laden said, adding, “there can be no vacuum in the presidency. That’s the law!”
“Above all, the courts in Malawi are independent and full of intelligent judges who cannot be easily influenced or swayed by marchers,” said one leader of a civil society organisation, who signed the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) statement endorsing and declaring as free and fair the very elections he was protesting against.
We increased our walking speed and joined a group singing. “Ansah, paulendo, paulendo”. Nganga tapped one young man on the shoulder. The young man turned to face us. Nganga asked what happens if Mrs Ansah does not resign.
“Then we will march again, naked!” the young man answered.
“And if she resigns?”
“If she resigns, ah, we will be happy. We will suspend the marches. The next stage is to ask for the resignation of the whole electoral commission!”
“Why don’t you ask for the resignation of all the commissioners because all of them signed the tippexed result sheets and collectively the declared winner whose victory is being challenged in court? Ansah should not go alone. Don’t you agree?”
“To kill a snake, you cut off the head first, then….” the young man said.
“But some women feel Ansah is being targeted and victimised as a woman?” I said.
“Fodya eti? Aren’t they the same women that shouted abuses at Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first female president?” bin laden challenged.
Abruptly, the young man left us. And ran. And joined the singing marchers. The paulendo, paulendo song faded. Then, suddenly another song erupted, “onse, adzipita, onse, adzipita! Yaola imodzi, nsomba, zaola zonse, adzipita, onse, adzipita!”
As the new song spread to other marchers, we saw some police officers in uniform, armed with weapons of mass destruction: teargas cannisters and automatic rifles, approaching us. We decided to reduce our speed to allow marchers from behind to overtake us.
“You are not here to inflame the situation. Are you? A young lady, also in red, asked Jean-Philippe.
“I don’t talk to strangers except through our head of security,” Jean-Philippe said pointing at Nganga.