The President cannot travel without the military these days. Judges travel sandwiched by armoured vehicles, too.
And maybe you heard it, but this newspaperman and a fellow lady journalist joined the long list of victims of the violent protests that have engulfed the country since the country’s presidential vote was rejected by the opposition as fraudulent in May this year.
At the protests, while working, a group of mostly youthful protesters attacked this journalist and were it not for the intervention of the military, almost assaulted this writer. Some long fingers still ensured this writer went home without his phone and wallet.
Of course, these are hazards of the profession. Some jobs, like the presidency, like judges presiding over high-profile cases of matters of national interest, or civil society gurus demanding accountability and justice, or journalism, are not for the fainthearted.
But allow me to say something about those “deplorables” I met on the street on Wednesday; allow me to describe the near ‘demonic’ look on their face and tremor of terror they inflicted on this poor soul.
It was like they were not real humans, maybe zombies, maybe a cast from a horror movie—boys and men, baying for blood.
Yet, this not what the story about the protests should be about. At its heart is a genuine cause about a genuine grievance the courts will help settle soon, yet these ‘deplorables’ have provided wrong colour and sound to the protests. They have marched with those idealistic to hope for justice if, indeed, justice is the goal but have instead looted shops and vandalised offices to give the demo a bad name.
And Wednesday reminded us that the country’s social fabric is disintegrating, and disintegrating very fast.
The President, who travelled to the airport under military escort is exercising his authority to the bare minimum—able to hire and fire the Cabinet and the rest of the State machinery, but not able to command the respect of the people. Or galvanise them to any cause.
Then, we have the police, whose duties and obligations, as important as they are and stipulated by the Constitution, have been completely obliterated in the current atmosphere.
After years of acting as a subsidiary of State House, or even successive ruling parties; after watching ruling party thugs beat up rivals or members of the public without doing as much as raising a finger; after watching impunity grow under its very noses; Area 30 is paying a bitter price.
To their chagrin, police chiefs have discovered that the citizenry is no longer playing ball and upped the temperature by burning houses and vehicles of the police, stoning, beating, undressing officers, and when they are in mass; effectively chasing the police from the streets and removing any semblance of police authority.
Parliament, too, is buying time till the courts resolve the “elephant in the room”. The choice of Leader of Opposition says as much of the opposition’s strategy and attitude to the current Parliament as much as the heckling of Mutharika during his first address to the House since his re-election.
Files are gathering dust at the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and National Audit Office (NAO) as the two institutions play watch-and-see over the political crisis while thieves continue to plunder the country.
Town councils are in disarray and doing anything but town planning or efficient service delivery. Power blackouts are back. Half the students write national exams and as if they are also waging a silent protest; hence, half fail.
Our country, is in paralysis. My favourite writer would say ‘flux’. The institutions of government and governance are failing.
Only President Peter Mutharika, don’t see the crisis; hence, can travel for a month-long trip to the US. When it comes to the annual US pilgrim, Mutharika never gets weary.
And the only institution still standing, from whatever remains of this plummeting national fabric, is the military; escorting a frightened president, frightened journalists and judges.
But the military and democracy are not the best buddies. Deployed regularly to do the job of the conventional police, they are fast losing the fear factor that once earned them adulation of the public. How ironic!
The pictures that should serve this lesson are not those of military rescuing yours truly from the thugs at the protest, but those from Karonga, when after being slighted—I am told stoned—the soldiers went on a campaign of terror. This country, is treading on dangerous territories.