Honourable Folks, the spectacle in Blantyre on Wednesday and Thursday was a reminder of the biblical story of David and Goliath.
The Public Affairs Committee (PAC), an inter-faith civil society organisation, held an â€œall-inclusive stakeholdersâ€ conference at the Limbe Cathedral.
That venue was an alternative choice after government had thwarted an original plan to hold the conference at Mount Soche Hotel at the 11th hour.
PAC and its delegates were only armed with the Constitutionâ€”the supreme law of the landâ€”which provides for the â€œright to assemble and demonstrate with others peacefully and unarmed.â€
But government was not amused. A conference held under the theme â€˜Time to reclaim our destiny: seeking redress to political and economic challengesâ€™ could only be funded by donors to force a regime change through mass demonstrations.
The Arab Spring, which has toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, is fresh in the memory of the Mutharika administration. Only Syria offers solace since, with the backing of Russia and China, government there is pounding the rebels with machine guns and heavy artillery, killing people and razing to the ground whole compounds.
Unless the West provides military support to the rebels, the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad just might become the first one to survive the rebellion of its disgruntled citizens who demand democracy and respect for human rights.
Like heavily armoured Goliath, the Mutharika regime reacted to PACâ€™s conference by displaying police power much more formidably than the one we saw on July 20 last year which shot to death 20 people.
Riot police, armed to the neck, mounted so many roadblocks within the city. You also could not walk 500 metres anywhere between Blantyre and Limbe without serious-looking police officers, most of them donning new camouflage uniform, on patrol.
For the first time, I saw scary armoured vehicles in blue colour which, in my fear, looked deeper than the blue colour of DPP, a party which is averse to intra-party democracy, but is ruling democratic Malawi in a manner which, in some cases, is just as bad asâ€”if not worse thanâ€”Kamuzu Bandaâ€™s dictatorial regime which many Malawians rejected in the 1993 referendum.
The question that comes again and again to my mind is: How come the Mutharika government, which got an unprecedented support from all parts of the country in the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections, is now defending itself with guns and ugly armoured vehicles against its own people?
PAC and the other civil society leaders who converged on the Limbe Cathedral to â€œtake a resolve to maintain the original vision of consolidating democracy and to rekindle the original motivation to reclaim the future we have always wished to seeâ€¦â€ are the same people who embraced Mutharika when UDF, the party that ushered him into office in 2004, got incensed at his inaugural speech and decided to pull the carpet from under his feet.
What had gone wrong in the peopleâ€™s relationship with the Mutharika administration to necessitate PACâ€™s resumption of the role it played during the transition period as an umbrella organisation for us all who felt short-changed by the MCP governmentâ€™s tendency to play the all-knowing God and think for us as if we were zombies?
The conference chair, Bishop James Tengatenga of the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi summed up, the problem rocking democracy in Malawi is lack of trust between our elected political leaders, especially the President, and the electorate.
Section 12(iii) of the Constitution states: â€œThe authority to exercise power of State is conditional upon the sustained trust of the people of Malawi and that trust can only be maintained through open, accountable and transparent government and informed democratic choice.â€
The President seems to believe by virtue of voting for him in 2009, we gave him the mandate to make any decision on our behalf and lead the country in any way he considers appropriate. I guess this is why he could leave for Abuja without a word only to feel very offended when The Nation felt duty-bound to tell Malawians where their President was and why?
The presidency and the critical public seem to understand accountability and transparency of government on the one hand and the need for people to be equipped with adequate information with which to make informed democratic choices, on the other, totally differently.
No wonder just calling for a conference to discuss issues and find way forward was dubbed as plotting regime change.