Honourable Folks, it beggars belief that 20 years after we chose the multiparty political system through a national referendum, and 19 years after adopting a Constitution that provides for freedom of association and freedom of assembly, the police can stop a leader of a major political party in Malawi from talking to supporters.
For those who gathered by the roadside on Wednesday as Peter Mutharika was driving back to Blantyre from Lilongwe where he had been incarcerated on treason charges before being released on bail later, they definitely weren’t expecting a political rally, just a greeting.
But that Mutharika could not even be allowed to say a word to them for whatever reason sounds strange in a democracy. I dare say it’s an act by the agents of the State that makes the multiparty system just as ugly as the one party dictatorship it replaced.
Such treatment can’t be meted out to People’s Party President Joyce Banda but I doubt if the police can stop anyone in PP from addressing the public without seeking their permission. Experience shows that the party in government always enjoys special treatment at the hands of the law enforcers.
But I’d not be surprised if the police were acting within the provisions of the Police Act as amended by the dictatorial regime of Peter Mutharika’s own late brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, in which Peter himself served as a Cabinet minister.
Much to the chagrin of those who risked their lives by standing up to Kamuzu Banda’s dictatorship in the early 1990s, Mutharika used the numerical strength of his party in Parliament after the 2009 general elections to change laws, giving the police powers that made a mockery of our civil liberties.
I’m still trying to get used to the fact that the police, who emerged so ugly in the post-one party era they had to reform and become a “police service with a human face” were given back powers by the Mutharika regime to search our homes without warrant!
That time, it was obvious that Mutharika’s target were his enemies—the opposition, civil society organisations and, of course, the media. Those in the ruling DPP had nothing at all to worry about; hence, their haste in enacting the bad laws.
Which is why, I have an angry message for DPP leaders who are shooting on all fours, crying for their rights and making horrendous claims that people were not gagged when DPP was in government: go and jump into the nearest river in shame!
Malawi moved many steps backwards on good governance and respect for human rights when DPP was in government, especially during Mutharika’s short second term. Interestingly, when all this was happening, Peter, a professor of law who has spent much of his adult life in the US, had the police at his beck and call so he was quiet. Power indeed corrupts. Will this humiliation make him any wiser?
Our country has many real stories of people in government who set traps for their perceived enemies only to end up in their own traps. There was a powerful lady during the reign of Kamuzu who proposed that politicians who fall from the Ngwazi’s grace should be banished from the cities.
It didn’t take long after her senseless proposal when she herself fell from grace and was tearfully kicked out of the city, losing the right to enjoy the fruit of her investments in the process.
There was also a very powerful politician during the Kamuzu era who proposed that prisons should only serve one meal a day because they were not hotels. Later he ended up crying of hunger in one of our crammed jails before he was hanged.
Last but not least, a plea to my friend, the Minister of Information Moses Kunkuyu. The law—if indeed there’s one—that requires a leader of opposition party to seek permission from government before holding a rally is a bad law and now is the time to repeal it.
Just as it is being used to gag Mutharika today, tomorrow it will be PP leadership being gagged by the same law. Don’t say you were not warned.