Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why I'm Opposed to Jan. 17 Demos

Malawi president Joyce Banda has shown a rare and contradictory character which might have been inherent in her all these days. Like her predecessor, who left us when we least expected it, the second woman top leader in Africa, doesn’t easily follow those she is leading.

There are people in this country who see in our noble leader a reckless top-most person whose sole agenda is to rewrite the conventional precepts of how presidents should behave in moments of crisis. We, as a country, are in a horrible economic crisis. But, just like anywhere else, our president and those who surround her, seldom feel the pinch.

They live on our sweat – and treat us with undeserved contempt. We must never cease to react, for if we do, we are doomed to be driven elsewhere. We are justified to physically protest peacefully; after all, it is a sacred provision enshrined in our sovereign Constitution.

There apparently are very few seemly ways to protest. But, that’s what crops up in a country that has thrived on love and unity, and hasn’t been given a chance to protest in its streets in times when it should have. It must be so clear that they protest best that have satisfied tummies. The other party is often a frustrated one, and can become very violent and vindictive.

That’s why I’m opposed to the [forthcoming] physical demonstrations organised by Consumer Association of Malawi Executive Director, John Kapito. Kapito is a fighter, or he could be one. People say his driving passion is the desire to see consumers, nay Malawians, live fine lives. That might be true, but then, he isn’t some demigod who declares what should happen and it happens right away.

He too can be wrong at times, and pursue an erroneous case. That’s why we haven’t immediately given him the benefit of the doubt. We have analysed his concerns and efforts. They seem good-natured and indicative of a lone voice that’s struggling to clear the way for posterity.

But, his passionate tackle of the demos doesn’t speak volumes of a patriotic director who knows when not to go to war. I would be an obsessive protestor on January 17, but I have a thousand reasons not to. The organisers don’t draw lessons from the mists of time; lessons which should be clearly evident to date since they haven’t instantly been tucked away.

The infamous July 20 demos reared one of the ugliest heads of African protests. Twenty human lives were lost and the killers have the dark stories hidden in the deep recesses of their hearts while their victims, whom we christened martyrs -- perhaps, to salvage some solace -- will never return.

The police were never right to kill, but neither were we justified to burn shops and block roads. It should have been a peaceful demonstration and, essentially, a peaceful demonstration doesn’t demand excessive presence of the police.

It went haywire because we misunderstood our rights and burnt our responsibilities. People have talked about the police failing to control the protestors. That’s somewhat ridiculous. How on earth do you give yourself the task of controlling a peaceful person whose agenda is to walk from one point to another and deliver a petition? Then, period!

If you organise a protest and let your followers destroy property and injure innocent people, shouldn’t you be taken to task? Well, in Malawi, you can rest on your laurels and let tomorrow be another clear day. The same laws which tell you that you have the right to protest peacefully don’t boomerang on you if you fail to have power over your right.

The 20 July demos could, perhaps, have been somehow peaceful if the organisers had accepted that they would be responsible for any damage and endorse a peaceful demonstration. If Kapito and company are resolute about their noble cause, they must be ready to face the consequences.

What if the ugly scenes of 20 July reappear? Will Kapito be taken to task? What if more lives are taken by our overzealous officers? Will they be taken to task? We have seen it before; we shouldn’t see it again. It’s us the lesser humans who are most affected by demos of this nature. In 2011, out of the 20 massacred men, not a single one was a civil society leader. That should tell us something.

Government invited the CAMA Executive Director to roundtable discussions on the matter. He rejected the tender. Of course, we know we still have a government that seldom wants to compromise on anything. Kapito might have read the writing on the wall, but not all of us read it. He should have gone for dialogue and come out furious after failing to agree with government’s terms or conditions. He didn’t, and that’s where the trouble lies.

I have always wondered if there is only one option when it comes to protesting against government policies. A protest in the streets may last a day in large part, but a sit-in may be a daily aspect until our grievances sink deep at the State House. We can start with mass strikes in the civil service and see how it works. Civil servants are consumers too and can listen to Kapito.

Well, I have no right to stop those who are keen on demonstrating in our streets. Nevertheless, I have a reason to. The 20 July scenario might not be repeated, but then, there is no guarantee. Government could be arrogant and therefore deserve some awakening, but, you don’t have to be the next victim of ‘stray’ bullets and unnecessary stampedes. Stay home, be safe!

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