The first major peaceful demonstration against the Tonse Alliance government took place in Lilongwe yesterday, with hundreds of protestors giving the leadership seven days to respond to governance queries.
Ironically, the protesters used the same route—from near Lilongwe Community Ground to Lilongwe City Council Civic offices at City Centre—which pro-opposition demonstrators used in mass protests against ex-president Peter Mutharika just before he lost the court-ordered June 23 fresh presidential election.
There was tight police security, to negate violence, which used to be a feature in some of the protests against the Mutharika regime. Yesterday, the protesters sang and hoisted placards condemning what they viewed as poor governance in the Lazarus Chakwera regime.
Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (Cdedi) and the Lilongwe Small Scale Business Operators (LSSBO) organised the demonstration.
Cdedi executive director Sylvester Namiwa said he was happy that they presented a petition to the President through the Lilongwe City Council which promised to pass it on to Chakwera and his government.
“We have given the President a seven-day ultimatum to respond to 12 of our highlighted queries, which include irrational arrests, selective justice and the fact that illegal foreign nationals are taking over even businesses which struggling Malawians are supposed to be doing exclusively,” he said, adding that the large turnout at the demonstration proved that it had massive support.
Namiwa stated that if the government will not respond to the queries within the stipulated time, other protests will be held in Blantyre and Mzuzu before nationwide demonstrations ensue.
In his response, Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo-Banda expressed shock that in trying to champion the demonstration, Namiwa is using a highly sensitive issue of appearing to brand all foreign businesspersons living in the country illegally.
“We have been discussing this issue over and over, including earlier this week. Some of these foreign nationals have residence and business papers which, by the way, had been given some years ago by the former Democratic Progressive Party-led government.
“Of course, we are on the side of indigenous Malawians doing businesses in this country. This is why, recently, we closed some shops whose owners have no papers or whose papers have expired. But we are pursuing the solutions systematically and according to law, otherwise we may trigger xenophobia against the non-Malawians in question,” he stated.
On queries that motorcycle and bicycle taxi operators are being arrested and harassed, Chimwendo-Banda said the government is merely implementing the laws that demand vehicles to be registered, that the motorcyclists and their passengers wear crash helmets and that such operators have road licences.
“These measures are protecting the lives of the business people and their clients. We are losing many people on the roads in the current lawlessness. Namiwa should not cheat and encourage the people to live recklessly, without laws,” he added.