Not long ago—two months ago, to be precise—Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters blocked the Victoria Avenue and all other central business district (CBD) streets, during the peak hour just after 5pm when President Peter Mutharika was passing through the city to Sanjika. Aim—to prove wrong what some researchers had published about the alleged waning popularity of the President. To say that people were inconvenienced by what the DPP supporters did is an understatement. They were tortured after being bottled in for close to two hours. I am yet to be convinced if the aim of the whole act—to show the president’s popularity—was achieved. This is because it soon dawned on all and sundry that the whole thing was staged. If anything, people ended up directing their anger to the President for seemingly condoning his party members to jam traffic for so long during a peak hour.
From the comments that many people posted on social media, motorists, whether driving own vehicles or on public transport felt it was a bungled strategy of showing how popular the president is among the people. The president ought to be the first person to be concerned about and condemn when his supporters take advantage of his travels to jam traffic and inconvenience people. Time, as they say, is money. And people are on the road for different reasons. Some are rushing to pick a sick person to hospital. Indeed others to attend to the sick. To fail to arrive at the hospital in time to save a life because some party clowns were in town to showcase their buffoonery is the last thing one can expect.
Fast forward, on Wednesday this week, the President was opening the 29th Malawi International Trade Fair at the Chichiri Trade Fair Grounds in Blantyre. It pleased the authorities to cordon off a section of the Chipembere High Way all the way from The Polytechnic to Shoprite. From around 10 am to 1:30pm motorists from Blantyre heading to and from Limbe and Kwacha side had to be diverted along the Salmin Armour Road via the already congested Road Traffic Directorate road. The result was chaotic. A drive from the Clock Tower in Blantyre to Limbe that should, under normal circumstances, take no more than seven minutes was taking motorists close to two hours. What a way to waste time and burn fuel! The Chipembere Highway—which is a double carriage way—is already congested, and to divert all traffic to a single lane road through the peak hour, is surely, the best way of courting people’s wrath to the planners of the President’s travel itinerary. For all we know, the President may not even be aware that every time he opens the Trade Fair the Highway is completely closed off during the whole time he is at the Trade Fair because he does not plan his travel itinerary to the last detail.
It is always good for the President to open the International Trade Fair as this shows the importance he, as head of State, attaches to the function. But there is a better way of ensuring the President’s security than torturing hundreds of motorists by diverting traffic in the manner we see when the President has a function at the Chichiri Trade Fair Grounds in Blantyre. What is all this paranoia about the President’s security? This should change.
We all know the President is by law entitled to State security wherever he or she goes in and outside the country. But how that security detail is planned and executed is the work of the police and other presidential aides. My humble plea to those who plan and execute the President’s travel plans in the city is to avoid subjecting motorists to torture. There is no mystery about how the President’s travels are planned and I am saying this in good faith. Driving in town should not be a nightmare when the President has a function in town.