Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king.1 Samuel 15:23b
Malawi this month commemorated 55 years of independence. During these years, there have been serious ups and downs that have threatened the republic. During 31 years prior to democratic rule, there were seldom uprisings because they were thwarted even before they sprung up. However, the picture started changing in the few years before the country embraced multiparty democracy.
It is important that when such revolts occur, the leader responds in a manner that answers the concerns of the protesters as well as keep the country united.
Because the leader holds a national and not a party position, the response must be done without regard to one’s political party, especially when these are of national concern. Highlighted in this article are few cases that show the ways in which Presidents responded to people’s concerns.
In the run-up to the 1993 Referendum, there were two revolts, namely the industrial dispute and the Catholic Bishops 1992 Pastoral Letter. Both these revolts prompted then president Dr. Kamuzu Banda to respond.
In the industrial revolt, the workers spilled into the streets and indiscriminately harassed any woman because Kamuzu’s mbumba at the time sung against any sort of uprising. The protesters held all women responsible for the low wages they were earning at the workplace.
In response to this outburst and open harassment and intimidation of women, Kamuzu summoned MBC to Sanjika Palace and addressed the strikers, asking them to get back to work.
The next day, workers returned to work and life returned to normal.
Following the Pastoral Letter, President Kamuzu Banda, who had met the Bishops a few days earlier, accepted the call by Malawians to consider multiparty through a referendum which was held on June 14 1993.
Kamuzu continued to speak to Malawians. In 1993, he announced that multiparty democracy proponents had won and in 1994 Kamuzu conceded defeat to Bakili Muluzi.
In the middle of his second term, former president Bakili Muluzi flirted with the idea of changing the Constitution to allow him to run for a third term. The people of Malawi vehemently opposed this through demonstrations and the bid was defeated in Parliamentary. Muluzi spoke to Malawians, accepting the defeat and hand-picked his successor Bingu wa Mutharika.
Bingu, however, soon spoke out when in February 2005, he resigned from the United Democratic Front (UDF), the party that ushered him to the presidency, and formed his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Fast forward to May 21 2019, Malawians, through the ballot, spoke. However, amid evidence of white altering fluid on many tally sheets, it is alleged that the Malawi Electoral Commission was pressured by the DPP to declare President Mutharika the winner in the elections.
From the day of the announcement (May 28 2019) to July 5 2019, Malawians have poured onto the streets in protest of the election result. Malawians have been speaking and loudly chanting.
Within hours of the announcements, the President was sworn in, parliamentarians sworn in. The President for unexplained reason, has for the past week resided at the Chikoko Bay Residence and Sanjika Palace. His recorded message to protesting Malawians one evening was (sic) “You can protest until you get tired.” This is as if President Mutharika is saying, “I’m going to sit here phwiii, whether you like it or not; you’ll get tired, I don’t care.”
Mr President, this is what taxpayers expect of you:
1. Taxpayers are your employers (their taxes pay you, your ministers, the parliamentarians, the police, the army and other civil servants);
2. Taxpayers deserve (being your paymasters and mistresses) your respect;
3. Taxpayers are looking for justice, and they expect to get justice (this is a constitutional right);
4. Taxpayers are not your fools, so don’t treat them like wild or rabid animals by sending the police to indiscriminately throw tear gas at them or burn their properties;
5. Taxpayers, irrespective of political party affiliation, expect you to listen to them, understand their grievances, and address them without fear or favour, but most importantly without favouritism.
Mr. President, please speak to the Malawians wisely. You should not taunt Malawians with “the DPP won the elections” rhetoric.