Despite the euphoric celebration of Africa’s first court-ordered repeat presidential election won by an opposition leader, some Malawians are still nursing wounds of the struggle. As our News Analyst SUZGO CHITETE writes, they look back at the battle for electoral justice with poignant recollections.
Katie Kussein, 41, was injured when the police tear-gassed protesters at Kanengo in Lilongwe on May 10 2019—just 10 days before then president Peter Mutharika’s nullified re-election.
The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) supporter was marching against Malawi Revenue Authority’s (MRA) decision to hold on to MCP imported campaign materials.
While MCP executives were discussing the matter with the tax collectors, some youthful supporters, mostly clad in party colours, were chanting political slogans outside the party offices.
However, hell broke loose when heavily armed police officers descended on unarmed party supporters, who scampered in all directions.
Kussein and her friend escaped to a nearby warehouse where a security guard gave them refuge and some water to neutralise the itchy tear gas in the air.
But as the two tried to sneak out to rush home, the unbelievable happened.
Kussein recalls: “I was apprehended by officers and one of them, a female cop, dropped a canister inside my T-shirt. I felt something ‘hot’ moving around my body.
“At first, I thought it was a live bullet. I fell down and wept bitterly. Afterwards, I collapsed and woke up on a hospital bed.”
In a widely shared video, Kussein cries for help as deep wounds and fresh scars cover her back and abdomen.
We presented the clip to three police officers and two suggested that Kussein may have been hit by a canister fired from a launcher.
The two contend that if the canister was dropped in her clothes, the injuries would have been extensive.
But one said it was possible to drop the canister inside a T-shirt.
However, Kussein is struggling to go back to normal. She cannot do business.
“I can only do light work because I’m still in pain,” says the mother-of-one, who currently stays with her sister for maximum care as she requires frequent medical check-ups.
The sisters never reported the matter to police because of fear and lack of trust.
But Kussein said MCP, now in power after 26 years in the doldrums, promised to report the incident on her behalf.
MCP spokesperson Maurice Munthali, whom Kussein mentioned to have been following up the issue, says he engaged Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo, who assured him that the matter is being handled by police.
Police sources say detectives can easily use the deployment order to track officers who got the tear gas launcher, who fired and who gave the order during the operation.
“But how do you pinpoint the officer to blame if three or four people fired tear gas?” queried one officer.
Victor Mhango, executive director of Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), says police impunity and brutality are increasing due to the absence of the Independent Police Complaints Commission stipulated in the Police Act activated in 2020.
“In the absence of the commission, police know that they can harass anyone and get away with it. This is why we are embarking on a campaign for establishment of the commission,” he says.
Numerous organisations, including UN Women, have visited Kussein to document her experience and promised justice which is yet to come.
However, like most cases in which the police are accused of attacking people they are supposed to protect, justice is delayed.
Monica Katanga, 32, wants an end to police impunity because no one is above the law.
In January 2019, suspected Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cadres in Mangochi forced her to strip off a UTM T-shirt she was wearing and videos portraying her bare-breasting were widely shared on social media.
However, her attackers went scot-free until the Malawians voted out Mutharika and his party in June 23 rerun presidential election.
In Lilongwe, women activists and female politicians from all major political parties gathered to condemn the horrors of political violence against Katanga.
In an interview, the mother-of-three said her husband had dumped her “because he did not want to be associated with the shame of having a wife undressed in public”.
Tired of waiting for justice on her case, she migrated to South Africa as she was struggling to take care of her three children singlehandedly.
“I know people were arrested and that’s it. I would love to be compensated for what I went through because of that experience. Is it a crime to participate in politics?” she asks.
UTM Party spokesperson Joseph Chidanthi Malunga says the party led by Vice-President Saulos Chilima hopes to see a conclusion to the case.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said investigations into both cases are ongoing and would not share details to avoid “giving a chance to wrongdoers to interfere with the course of justice”.
However, gender activist Emma Kaliya says: “If there is no justice, such may potentially scare more women from participating in politics.”
Malawi signed up to the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) Gender and Development Protocol which requires equal representation of men and women in politics as well as an end to gender-based violence.
Kaliya commends the recent High Court ruling which ordered the police to compensate victims of sexual assault caused by the police in Msundwe, Mpingu and Mbwatalika in Lilongwe. The court also ordered prosecution of suspected officers.
“There is hope that things may begin to change, but there is need for urgent action on both Kussein’s and Katanga’s cases,” she says. n