Hon Folks, Malawi is on the world map for wrong reasons-violence.
Earlier in the week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Southern African Human Rights Defenders issued statements, condemning violence unleashed against government critics.They urged the police to be on top of things and bring the culprits to book.
Prior to that, MEC chairperson Justice Jane Ansa and various other civil and political leaders also expressed alarm at the increasing incidents of violence in the run-up to the 2019 tripartite elections.
The victims-opposition leaders and civil society activists-have either been physically manhandled or seen their property, including houses and vehicles, damaged. These are crimes and it’s the duty of the police, as law enforcers, to investigate, arrest the perpetrators and make them answer for their crimes in court.
But this isn’t what’s happening in our country. Weekend Nation of August 25 2018 reported that between 2014 and mid 2018, there were 14 major incidents of violence blamed on DPP cadres but the police made no arrest, not even when violence was unleashed in their full view at Parliament Building as the President was presenting the State of the Nation Address on May 18 2018!
Over the same period, there was one incident of fracas which occurred in March 2016 in Mzuzu during a solidarity political rally jointly held by MCP, PP and Aford. The police arrested four suspects!
Interestingly, APM has not openly said a word on violence, not even prodding the police to arrest anyone indulging in violence.
Instead, on his watch we have seen the consolidation of the age-old tendency by the law enforcers to grant extra-judicial powers to people who break the law in the service of the governing party.
It’s an abhorrent practice that brings to memory the excesses of chiswe (Youth League) back in the one party era. That impunity can still be the norm for perpetrators of political violence in the multiparty era under the 1995 Constitution which enshrines the Bill of Rights and asserts the equality of all people before the law only serves to show how we’ve messed up the multiparty agenda.
But the police should know better than the rest of us that when people are dissatisfied with law enforcement, they tend to take the law into their hands-mob justice.
We thank God that Malawians have jealously guarded the peace since 1964 but it’s foolish to take its prevalence for granted and assume we can’t lose it even if we’re reckless with elections.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya (2007, 2017), Zimbabwe (2008, 2018), Cote d’Ivoire (2010) and the Gambia (2017) are some of the democracies where election-related violence resulted in loss of life and damage to property. In the case of Kenya (2007) and Cote d’Ivoire (2010), the loss to the economy was incalculable.
This is the past we can draw free lessons from and avert tragedy. Already there are indications that fewer people are registering to vote in 2019 than was the case for 2014. Researchers established a voter apathy trend starting with the local government polls in 2000.
Those who give up their right to vote feel grossly short-changed by the self-serving tendencies of political leaders who promise one thing and deliver the opposite.
Those who believe their votes still count assume a violence-free voting process that is rated free and fair by all and sundry. Trying to secure tenure of office by unleashing violence on those with dissenting views is playing with fire.
How amazing that Kamuzu, the touted dictator, respected the will of the people when his successors, masquerading as democrats, have no qualms rising to or retaining power by hook or crook? Kamuzu accepted the outcome of the 1993 referendum. He also accepted defeat even before MEC officially declared the outcome of the 1994 general elections. No rigging whatsoever!
If MBC ever operated professionally, it was between the 1993 referendum and 1994 general elections when the country still had Kamuzu at the helm. He alone provided the statesmanship that preserved the peace and yielded a smooth transition from the one party to the multi-party system of government.
His successors “fall on us like a tonne of bricks” especially in election times.