By Eugenio Njoloma
Being December, the final month in 2019, common sense should have made the first line of this article to read: “Bye Bye 2019 and Happy New Year 2020!” If not, at least a lively opening should have been considered. Indeed, many that entered this year in January have not completed it. For others, their life resolutions have come to pass. A demonstration of some thanksgiving and excitement should have, thus, been necessary.
But with the thick cloud of uncertainty lingering over the May 21 presidential election debacle, apprehension has gripped many. As a matter of fact, it may be emotionally scathing to others to publicly proclaim a happy and prosperous 2020. Certainly, the minds of the majority of Malawians are, at the moment, heavily loaded with two scenarios: fresh elections in 2020 or the validation of the same election results that “retained” the Mutharika presidency.
Whatever the worry, only judges Healey Potani, Ivy Kamanga, Dingiswayo Madise, Mike Tembo and Redson Kapindu possess the solution, albeit a cosmetic one, to this very pressing electoral enigma. They will, at a very appropriate time, make a determination of the outcome of the case. They are that privileged at the moment. When that time finally arrives, and whatever the outcome, every Malawian shall, with a heavy heartbeat, witness either the remaking of Malawi’s political history or the massively organized public ridicule of the judiciary for the first time.
Whatever the situation, what cannot be ignored is the likelihood of violent protests following the judgement. In any case, situations associated with the shedding of blood remain remote in the lives of so many Malawians. But this time around, there is no escape. Without appropriate mitigation measures in place, thousands of lives and property worth billions of Kwachas shall be lost.
This inference is not, in any way, a prophesy of doom. But rather, it is only propagating the truth. One thing, for sure, is that the professionalism of the judges can never be put into question.
This, therefore, makes irrelevant suggestions that the judges could succumb to overwhelming pressure, particularly from those that have, since May or June this year, intrinsically protested, not really against Jane Anshah, but against the ruling DPP regime.
Similarly, the judges do not have to please any one, including the ruling party by making a judgement with limited thoughtfulness or a deliberately skewed one to just satisfy political egos of some individuals. After all, it is already clear that in this election case, perhaps only UTM seeks justice on issues regarding the electoral process, which should, indeed, be the case if Malawi is to move forward. Any claims of “koma ine, ine, ndikuti ine pano ndinawina,” are only retrogressive and devoid of political maturity.
On 6th December 2019, the hearing of the case is supposed to be concluded. In not more than 45 days later, after hearing of the case has been concluded, a verdict will have been made to either retain President Mutharika in power for the remaining four years or to order a fresh election. When either of this scenario prevails, only fire and big fire will have to be anticipated.
This proposition is given credence by violent protests which Malawi has experienced in the recent past. In fact on 13 November 2019, the HRDC’s leading duo, Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence, reiterated the need for further protests “to ensure Jane Ansah resigns.” But for over five months now, the MEC chair has disregarded these calls and she continues to execute her duties ‘normally.’
To show that she is not really moved, she hosted delegates from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for a SADC Electoral Commissions Forum in Blantyre. Again, very recently, she had been in charge of a by-election, which, ironically, the Malawi Congress Party participated despite invalidating the credence of MEC and its chairperson.
It is for this reason that this article insists that the protests have nothing to do with the MEC chair. On 13 August 2019, for example, Timothy Mtambo of HRDC insinuated before journalists that the mass protests are meant to force regime change. Such a position is what will make the situation very dangerous should the judges decide to dismiss the petitioners in the case based on the insufficient evidence grounds.
But even should the judges proclaim judicial victory of the petitioners, there is no guarantee that the DPP camp will easily accept the results.
The wild excitement and the ridicule of others on the losing side could worsen the situation. In fact, most of the DPP supporters are relatively quiet this time around. But this does not mean that they have forgotten the exact spots where they buried their hatchets. Remember, once a panga wielder always one. After all, they will be faced with limited guarantees of success in case of a fresh election.
The situation is being steadily aggravated by public commentaries of the ongoing case. In particular, supporters of the petitioners, especially those on the MCP camp are already proclaiming judicial victory. In particular, when Daudi Suleiman, for example, began his testimonies, the hype in the MCP camp elevated significantly. In fact, it mirrored the noise that permeated people’s minds prior to the casting of the vote on May 21. As it looks, many (MCP) supporters highly believe that the judges “cannot make a mistake of ruling against the petitioners.”
Yet with court issues, nothing is certain. As many people have observed, it seems everyone is making comments with party colours in mind.
That is the problem. As a matter of fact, court processes and issues are not necessarily settled by the truth on the ground but rather the evidence to the case. This is why a murderer can go scot free simply because the fingerprints on the tool he used for the atrocity do not match his own. Hence, should the court decide otherwise, the apparently excessive excitement would become the source of extreme disappointment.
Given the scenarios above, it is only proper that relevant stake holders step up to prepare people’s minds for the either outcome of the court ruling. In the most likely event that many people will be gripped by disappointments, the attainment of a peaceful environment remains the responsibility of relevant stakeholders to begin providing civic education today to the masses so as to ensure the normalcy of life in the aftermath of the court ruling.
To be precise, civil society organizations possess requisite tools in terms of the appeal to bend people’s emotions. The HRDC, for example, has recently shown this through its commanding of a very huge following in the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations. Although the protests eventually appeared to have turned leaderless, as exemplified by the Nsundwe and other destructive incidents, it remains key in holding sensitization rallies to inform its followers of the need to remain calm and observe peace following the ruling.
Similarly, churches and mosques can also be important vehicles of information to their respective congregations. Usually, religious institutions are best known for propagating peace and coexistence. The same gospel of ‘love thy neighbor,’ which is preached on every day of prayer has to be emphasized even more this time around. Moreover, the respect which church leaders command among their congregations can importantly facilitate positive reception of the messages by the people. Likewise in schools, teachers and lecturers have to continuously remind their learners and students about their future, which if disturbed today, will be lost forever. Hence, preserving peace is important for a prosperous Malawi.
Finally, the political leaders themselves remain the mostly critical agents for preparing the minds of the people for the court ruling. It is never too late for them to start talking about reconciliation today. The huge crowds they pulled during the campaign period and the convincing messages that persuaded millions of supporters to give them a vote constitute important pieces of evidence that the leaders remain key in easing the tensions. However, it all depends on how willing they are to get involved in this process. If they continue to think that they are more important than the country, Malawi will feature highly in the atlas of civil wars or that containing geographies of failed states.
*Njoloma is a regular contributor to the lamp magazine. For feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org