There is a boost for the demonstrations over the economic situation in the country planned for January after the majority of Malawians interviewed in a survey lent their support to the protests being organised by the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama).
But the fact that the people who support the demonstrations does not constitute an overwhelming majority of the respondents has given Malawi’s Minister of Information Moses Kunkuyu the ammunition to pick holes in the rationale for the protests.
The survey, which Nation on Sunday has been conducting the past week, asked Malawians whether they support the demonstrations. Out of the 1 713 respondents sampled, 1 001 supported the demonstrations, representing a 58 percent majority.
The week-long poll was conducted by a team of correspondents in 19 districts, in addition to our SMS line and the social media.
Those in support of the demonstrations generally pointed to what they called the arrogance of the Joyce Banda administration, the constitutional right to demonstrate, the tough economic times and the fact that Banda spoke in favour of demonstrations in 2011.
One instructive detail that has implications for the success of the protests is the rather lukewarm support the idea received in cities, which are the traditional epicentres of mass action in the country.
Out of 185 respondents polled in Lilongwe, Zomba, Mzuzu and Blantyre, 99 went for the demonstrations, while 85 gave them a thumbs-down.
When presented with the data yesterday, Kunkuyu was bullish about government’s potential to win the punch-up with Cama and other civil society organisations behind the protests.
“The right to demonstrate is enshrined in the Constitution, but we are questioning the rationale. If there was a survey ahead of the 20 July demonstrations, there would be 97 percent support for them, and this is an indication that Malawians are unsure of Kapito’s motives.
“More than 90 percent of civil society organisations are saying they are not part of the demos. Last year, by May, Malawians were aware of the exact places and security details of the demonstrations, but so far, we are 10 days from January and we do not know a thing about Cama’s demonstrations,” he charged.
Kunkuyu said the Joyce Banda administration will not counter the demonstrations. He said government respects the right to expression by citizens, but argued that the State needs to know the details so that it can provide security.
Some respondents, speaking on Nation Online, feared the prospect of the bloodshed that characterised the July 20, 2011 demonstrations.
Said Harold Waluza: “Demonstrations will take us nowhere, just bring solutions, not demos. Remember July 20; the people who died were not even participating, be careful my Malawi!”
Another respondent, Collins Blaimu, said Malawians have no choice but to take to the streets because life is increasingly becoming tough.
“He who feels it knows it; life is becoming impossible in Malawi. Now it’s time to act,” said Blaimu.
Cama executive director, John Kapito, was brisk in his reaction to the survey and Kunkuyu’s arguments.
Kapito refused to give the exact date of the demonstrations and said Cama would communicate when the time is ripe.
He also declined to respond to Kunkuyu’s remarks and said he was rushing into a meeting.
Human rights activist Billy Mayaya said as much as he is not part of the demonstrations, the right to demonstrate is constitutionally guaranteed and that there is nothing like the right time to demonstrate.