The government of Malawi is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to suppress the forth-coming August 17, 2011 Mass Demonstrations against escalating socio-economic challenges.
Civil Society leaders have given embattled President Bingu wa Mutharika until August 17 to respond to the petitions they presented during the bloody July 20 demonstrations.
But Information and Civic Education Minister, Symon Vuwa-Kaunda, maintained in an interview with Zachimalawi on Thursday Mutharika is yet to receive the petitions.
"As far as I know, no single petition has reached the President yet. How does one act on something that is not there? However, we would like to urge Malawians not to be used by people with ill-motives. Let us maintain our peace," said Vuwa-Kaunda.
Presidential Spokesperson, Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba, said he was yet to verify with the President on the issue of the petitions, and promised to make a public announcement within the next nine days.
"Let me cross-check first and, then, we will come up with our public position on both the petitions said to have been presented, and the August 17, demonstrations. Personally, I think it is a bad idea, looking at the number of people who lost their lives, and the bad image we are relaing to the rest of the world. We are a peaceful nation; let us maintain this peace," said Ntaba.
However, government's recent appeals for unity and peace contradict what is going on on the ground.
Sources told Zachimalawi in Lilongwe on Tuesday and Wednesday that Mutharika's government has engaged an extra-gear in its quest to frustrate the planned August 17 demonstrations.
Among other preparatory measures, Malawi has engaged the Zimbabwean government on the need to deploy its law enforcement agents. Already, unconfirmed reports indicate that Zimbabwean Police officers were also engaged during the July 17 demonstrations.
Apart from the possibility of enlisting Zimbabwe's police service, govenment has already imported 20, 000 battle sticks in preparation for a crack down on demonstrators.
As part of this crack down, government plans to prevent people from getting to the Central Business Districts of Malawi's main cities of Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Zomba, Blantyre.
But the civil society leaders are unfazed.
"The president has been making regrettable public statements, including those insinuating that the victims of the July 20 demonstrations died for nothing. This is painful, and is one of the reasons- aside from fuel and forex shortage crises- we will continue to press ahead with demonstrations. We will not relent; peaceful demonstrations are a human right," said Undule Mwakasungula, one of the civil sociey leaders to have been publicly singled out by Mutharika.
Mutharika has promised to 'deal' with Mwakasungula (Chairperson for the Human Rights Consultative Committee, HRCC), HRCC's acting National Coordinator The Rev. MacDonald Sembereka, Vice-President Joyce Banda, veteran leader of the Opposition in Parliament John Zenus Ungapake Tembo, among others.
The president has asked institutions that suffered from massive property damage during the July 20 demonstrations to take the mentioned leaders to court.
On Wednesday, Mutharika continued his damage-assessment tour, and was in the Southern Region.
State-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation radio and television have capitalised on the assessment tours to mobilise people against marching, citing the damage inflicted on property during the July 20 demonstrations.
Prior to the July 20 demonstrations, the very same public media went on bad-mouthing rampage, disseminating information that the demonstrations' real intent was not to express dissatisfaction against deteriorating livilihoods but the promotion of gay rights.
That, apparently, backfired as more people than expected turned up for the demonstrations. This came against the background of a court injunction stopping leaders of the demos and all 'unknown' people from going ahead with their plan.
The injuncton was obtained close to midnight, and he delays to vacate it played angry games on people's minds,a factor that organisers have blamed for the violence that errupted on the da.
Part of the blame has also gone to Police officers, especially those from Lilongwe; they beat people up for no apparent reason, and these included organisers and journalists.
With civil society leaders saying the demos will go ahead come August 17, First Lady Callista Mutharika bashing NGOs for promoting minority rights, government importing battle sticks from Mainland China at a time of a forex crisis, the engagement of Zimbabwe police- all could be set for an interesting spectacle.
The coming in of Zimbabwe is not a surprise to Malawians. The Southern African Development Community member state, under the dynamic leadership of Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe, owes Malawi millions in default of maize supplies.
President Mutharika's government was last month engaged to secret discussions with the Zimbabwean regime on the possibility of rubbing off the debt.
But government officials have denied reports Malawi has 'forgiven' Zimbabwe on the debt issue, saying the enangement of Zimbabwe police could be one of the means of 'forgetting' the debt.
As of Mainland China's envolvement, few are surprised. The Chinese Ambassador to Malawi was last week condemning the demos, saying the damage suffered was 'irreparable'.
In fact, wo Chinese ICT experts arrived in Malawi three weeks ago, and are being blamed for fanning out Nyasa Times from public access in Malawi.
Malawi is going through challenges of sorts.There seems to be no short-term
President Mutharika has ridiculed civil society leaders for organising demonstrations that have never offered solutions to the fuel and forex shortage problem.
"Do we have fuel, or forex, after the July 20 demonstrations? I say no," Mutharika said in Zomba recently.
It is a direct reference to the public lecture he organised on the day of the demos at the New State House in Lilongwe. Civil Society leaders leaders such as Faustace Chirwa and Catherine Munthali attended.
Taking its turn, civil society leaders have wondered whether Mutharika's July 20 lecture has led to the end of fuel and forex shortage.
Asks Benedicto Kondowe, National Codinator for the Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education: "Has President Bingu wa Mutharika's lecture ended fuel and forex shortage? No."
Malawi is becoming an interesting place; a place of so many questions, and a myriad of answers- all of which scale over the point.
It may be for this reason that First Lady Callista Mutharika this week bashed civil society leaders for raising points irrelevant to the needs of rural masses. She said people at the grassroots level need neither fuel nor forex.
What she overlooked, apparently, is the fact that pregnant women in rural areas need ambulances (which ambulances need fuel for combustion) to ferry them to referral hospitals in cases of labour complications and other health complications.
This, therefore, contradicts her role as Ambassador for Safe Motherhood.
That, too, is the reason Malawi has referral hospitals. Complications always occur, that is a fact.
These complications have rippled the socio-economic fabric of Malawi, and the symptoms include lack of fuel and foreign currency.
Callista has ignored, and said, bruntly this week: "Things are going on well in this country."
It is the first time an incumbent President's wife has spoken out strongly in support of her husband.
But this has raised questions, too.
Has Callista started calling the shots in Bingu wa Mutharika's head?
Neither public lecturers nor demonstrations, no matter how peaceful, can answer this.
Only Callista Mutharika can.
Nevertheless, what Callista can not bring- at least, for now- is an end to forex and fuel shortage.
She ca only bring trouble and confusion, adding on to the fire of anarchy burning through Malawi's twinkling skies.