A group of concerned citizens yesterday braved the scorching sun to march in Lilongwe against “the high cost of living and poor governance under President Lazarus Chakwera’s administration”.
The sizeable group, protesting under the name Social Revolution Movement, marched from the trademark Lilongwe Community ground through Mchesi to Civic offices via the Kenyatta Drive, much to their frustration after police changed their initial route from Lilongwe Town Hall via Bwalo la Njobvu–Mchesi to Civic offices through Kenyatta Drive.
Presenting the petition at the Lilongwe Civic offices, one of the protest’s organisers, Phunziro Mvula rebuked the police for their action, which he said was aimed at stopping people from participating in the protest.
“It is a shame that the police are compromised. They changed our route just to stop others from exercising their right to demonstrate. We know it was a ploy to have people think that the demonstration had been cancelled.
“Is it not a shame that the police are failing in their duties? People are reported missing every day because the police are absent from duty,” he said.
Throughout the march, protesters sang anti-Chakwera slogans and carried placards with different messages—with some of them attacking Chakwera.
In their petition, the protesters raised a number of issues, including the rising cost of living due to what they called “punitive taxes”, failure to create more jobs, failure to support local farmers and worsening levels of corruption as well as nepotism.
“They blamed DPP [Democratic Progress Party] of corruption and now DPP is gone but corruption remains rampant. They blamed DPP. We are talking of how they mismanaged K6.2 billion and K17 billion meant for Covid-19 activities. These people cannot be trusted,” said Mvula much to the excitement of his audience.
The protesters are accused the Chakwera administration of allegedly perpetrating nepotism, which they said was one of the reasons DPP was voted out of power, saying the Cabinet constitutes about 79 percent of people from the Central Region.
Among their demands, the demonstrators want the President to trim the number of ministers and reject the proposal to increase the number of constituencies from 193 to 228, saying this is not commensurate with the size of the economy.
The group has since given the leadership seven days to address their concerns, failing which they will stage a vigil at State House as well as organise what they described as “a countrywide shutdown”.
While the numbers of participants were way below the massive nationwide protests against electoral injustice ahead of the fresh presidential election in 2020, Mvula said what was important is the message the group has delivered. Notable faces during the march included executive director for the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiative executive director Sylvester Namiwa.
Meanwhile, in response to our questionnaire on the protesters’ petition, government spokesperson Gospel Kazako said government is aware of the difficult times and spaces the nation is passing through, and it is doing all it can to normalise the status “but this requires patience”.
“We are aware of the cost of living which the citizens are experiencing. We are listening, we are hearing,” said Kazako.
He said most of the allegations on governance issues were already addressed.
On increasing the number of constituencies, Kazaka said it is an issue of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).
“The commission is given an independent mandate by the laws enacted by Parliament. Any intrusion in MEC’s decisions will fall into a specie of interfering in an independent body. Remember, we are a government that believes and observes the rule of law,” he said.
A few days ago, another group of youths in Blantyre also staged a protest demanding Chakwera’s resignation for poor governance.