Uncertainty for how long?

By Eugenio Njoloma*

Since vote irregularity stories began to emerge right after the close of 21 May 2019 polls, Malawi has not been the same. For over eight months now, Malawians continue to sail through the tornado of political uncertainty. Surely, it seems nobody possesses the ability to predict the political future of Malawi anymore. Not even the President, Arthur Peter Mutharika, wakes up in the morning with full knowledge of his being in control until he gets a heavy nudge in the belly by those close to him.

Look, for all these months, politically motivated protests have become the norm. The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has been unrelenting in its mobilization of Malawians to see the ills of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regime.

Protests have become a way of expressing anger among disgruntled citizens

Although it has been dubbed a terrorist organization by President Mutharika and his “agents,” the response the HRDC commands from the public has been often overwhelming. In the process, however, lives have been lost and an extensive range of property, much of it without the cover of insurance, has been damaged.

In sincerity, such mildly violent protests are expected in this vastly socioeconomically deprived society. A society that is sufficiently endowed socioeconomically will march on the streets only with songs of disapproval and placards carrying messages of dissatisfaction. It will not plan to root grocery shops and cause unnecessary disruption of freedoms of others. Yet here in Malawi, the societal mileage to political civilization is just unimaginably big.

In fact, failure by the political leadership to contain the currently tense atmosphere will result into a continued hail of fire. This will even become worse should the constitutional court ruling of the May 21 polls case irk the supporters and sympathizers for both camps of the petitioners and defendants. This, thus, only bares the inevitability of violence post the court ruling. Indeed, the situation will be that nasty should the leadership continue to treat issues with its characteristic indecisiveness.

Of course, appearing to invoke doom is the most grievous taboo any Malawian should ever spell for his or her own society. But when the doom is construed within the walls of logic, its reality and the fatal consequences it may carry need not to be trivialized or dispelled as irrelevant. As such, continuing to associate negative peace to Malawians is the most dangerous fallacy one, particularly those crisscrossing the corridors of power, can make.

On his departure to the United Kingdom on 17 January 2020, President Mutharika implored (not sure if the tone was right) the HRDC, the Malawi Congress Party, and the United Transformation Movement to stop inciting public ire through mass protests because “they have made their point.” 

But as everyone, even elementary school learners understand, the president cannot just call off protests in that simple manner. He cannot do it in the style of a primary school teacher who orders learners in class “to sit down and maintain silence.” This, perhaps, explains why primary school learners in Mzuzu got busy in the third week of January to try to force authorities to honour salaries for their teachers.

In truth, things should not have got this ugly. The president possesses every opportunity to silence his critics through a very simple equation: let him become politically correct by, among other things, ensuring sufficient socioeconomic endowment.

Yet he stands on a political podium and castigates his opponents. He does not even reprimand those that sarcastically cross the paths of his critics. Imagine the political clout which the president could have garnered if he only focused on socioeconomic delivery in the wake of the anti-Jane Ansah and anti-government protests.

Delivery of public goods constituted a strategy that his deceased brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, used in the face of impeachment charges. He had simply become focused on winning the hearts and minds of the poor Malawians. He did not necessarily use propaganda to achieve this, but remained practical about it.

It is no wonder he got a big reward in the end by garnering a landslide victory in the 2009 general elections. Thus, if only President Peter Mutharika distracted his critics by delivering public goods in the wake of concerted political uncertainty surrounding his government, and if he only avoided podium insults in response to the protests, he could have, without doubt, built a considerably large base of support.

And what is this that the country is currently seeing about the Malawi Police Service? Is this not the organization that is mandated to safeguard security interests of Malawians? In truth, the role of the Malawi Police Service has become so hazy in the wake of the organized protests.

Public trust in the Service has diminished and it has become that alien that even its sight in various neighbourhoods causes episodes of disgust to many. It is all down to the Service’s dwindling professional conduct, which manifests in deplorable actions when in the line of duty.

So even if the Malawi Defense Force has come into the fold, appearing to replace the Malawi Police Service, its presence in the front line only indicates unnecessary overzealousness. While some people have got excited with their presence, it (the excitement) could be short-lived simply because the Force is engaged in a wrong duty, which not even the republican constitution could rationally justify.

The military’s proactiveness should, thus, be a cause for uncertainty since nobody knows what its tomorrow will be like. Will it stand in the way of politicians that would want to distort the outcome of the court process or it will systematically clash the public’s resolve for a genuine democracy?

What shall happen in the event that the Constitutional Court orders a rerun? Whether a rerun or the maintenance of the status quo, political uncertainty shall still prevail. Where political problems are solved by non-political processes, the likelihood of the subsistence of the problems remains high. It is certain that the rejection of the electoral results is more propelled by political machinations than the reality that the vote was indeed stolen.

Protesters calling for the removal of Malawi Electoral Commission chair, Dr Jane Ansah

What if the electoral irregularities had been in favour of either Dr Lazarus Chakwera or Dr Saulos Chilima? Surely, not many could have whined. In fact, many could have said “achita bwino” simply for the dislike of the DPP government. The anti-DPP sentiments during the campaign period give credence to this position.

It is known that the court ruling will be made before 3rd February 2020. In case of a ruling in favour of a rerun, who, among the three (Prof Mutharika, Dr Chilima, and Dr Chakwera) can realistically take Malawi forward? That again remains a very big uncertainty. With issues of political bickering in MCP, rays of optimism already become faint.

The current political uncertainty should not have existed if the country’s political process had been correct. Unfortunately, the political climate in this country is seriously broken. This is a country where politicians derive satisfaction in filling their bellies. The political prostitution of Mr Sidik Mia and the rhetorical contradictions of Dr Chakwera, for example, reveal the compromises of the country’s political atmosphere.

When the court judgment is delivered, it seems nobody knows what will happen next. Will Malawi become another DRC or Sudan that will host UN peacekeepers and enrich thousands of both local and foreign elites? Or will the country return to the negative peace it has lived for over fifty years? If the country is yearning positive peace, what, who, or how will it be delivered? Indeed, nobody knows!

*Njoloma is a regular contributor to The Lamp magazine

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