Four years ago, on July 20, the civil society and concerned Malawians organised demonstrations as a way of expressing their discontent, despair and disillusionment with the state of affairs the country was facing.
These demonstrations were organised under the banner Uniting for Peaceful Resistance against Bad Economic and Democratic Governance—A Better Malawi is Possible.
This step was taken after exhausting all efforts to engage in dialogue with government offered through many channels by various actors, such as the civil society themselves, the media, the faith community and development partners.
The demonstrations which were organised to be peaceful, unfortunately turned violent. The nation saw 20 people killed and many others wounded. Further, people’s property was looted and destroyed.
What went wrong for the nation to witness such bloodshed? Yet Malawians are known to be peace-loving. As we remember this day and all those noble sons and daughters who sacrificed their lives, those who lost their property, we need to reflect to avoid history repeating itself.
What are the lessons we can pick from the 20th July 2011? For one, the violence that erupted was a sign of people’s frustration and anger built up as a result of lack of commitment by government to address the various economic and governance challenges the country was facing.
The right to peacefully demonstrate was misunderstood by the public, leading to violence. Therefore, public awareness building and education on peaceful demonstration is paramount.
The Malawi Police Service (MPS) needs to protect all people with impartiality and professionalism as constitutionally obligated and desist from being political in the course of discharging their duties. Further, MPS should abide by international standards in public order management and avoid use of lethal weapons on un armed civilians.
That as it may be, what are some of sustainable ways of moving forward as a nation?
Our governments should be taking serious steps to address public outcry on any national issues i.e. insecurity, economic and governance to avoid leading the country to anarchy. Leaders should genuinely consult all stakeholders before making any national decision that will impact greatly on people’s lives and before passing any law of national importance, as failure will result in public resentment, mistrust and anger.
Even more importantly, governments should desist from conduct or making remarks that may fuel volatile situations and instead should foster effective genuine engagement and nation-building process that is fair, inclusive and respectful of human rights and premised on constitutional principles.
On its part, the civil society should avoid agendas for demonstrations from being hijacked by other interested parties as this might lead the nation into further crisis. All efforts must be made to try contact and dialogue first.