Due to a number of enquiries by colleagues from Embassies of Member States, International partners and other concerned parties; the Malawi Embassy in Addis Ababa has decided to issue a statement on the disturbances that took place in Malawi on the 20th and 21st July, 2011. The Malawi Embassy hastens to add that any gaps in this statement will be filled by a report of a High Level commission of Inquiry which will include a Representative of the UN Secretary General and also a Representative of SADC.
The Embassy of the Republic of Malawi would like to point out that the Government that is currently in place in Malawi subscribes to the international conventions of human rights and democracy. It has made the promotion of human and democratic rights a core indicator of its performance in various sectors of government, including the process of budgeting. The decision taken by Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), the Malawi media and opposition political parties to make public demonstrations a key means of achieving their ends is infact a result of the government guaranteeing freedom of expression not hither to enjoyed in Malawi.
When Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Malawi announced their intention to mount demonstrations, the Government and Local Leaders requested them not to go ahead with the same for the following reasons:
The declared issues motivating the demonstrations were issues that could not be addressed overnight.
The Government was already putting in place strategies and structures for a comprehensive dissolution of the issues of concern.
The organizations leading the demonstrations had shown neither the requisite restraint nor capacity in organizing such events.
In order to create a broad platform for national debate and consultations, the President had invited on 20th July 2010, all stakeholders in the country, including cabinet ministers, representatives of NGOs, opposition leaders, religious leaders, private sector, the media, university staff and students, women activists, legal experts and parliamentarians to an open forum at which he was going to present for debate and improvement, comprehensive government plans for addressing the issues prioritized by NGOs. The NGOs and opposition leaders however had flatly refused this gesture and had instead, called their supporters; urban youth, to demonstrate in the streets on the same day the President was articulating Government plans.
When it was clear that the concerned NGOs were committed to their demonstrations and could not accommodate calls for a rethink, the police engaged them in planning meetings, aimed at reaching a consensus on demonstration routes, the parameters of the demonstrations and security provisions.
On the day of the demonstrations however as the procession progressed on the designated route, the police received reports of another set of demonstrators that were vandalizing property away from the designated route. They were looting banks, shops, Supermarkets, factories, business offices and homes. Police had to redeploy to go and stop the looting. Confronted by looters wielding various weapons and tools of destruction and journalists looking for photo opportunities, the police were overwhelmed.
In the confrontations that ensued, arson, trampling and gun fire led to loss of lives. These activities continued on 21st July, a day after the official protests. Indeed out of the 19 deaths that occurred, only 4 occurred on the official day of the demonstrations.
The Constitution of Malawi does provide for freedoms of association but it also puts an equal responsibility on government to protect lives and property of citizens who invest material and human resources to produce goods and services that sustain both their livelihoods and the economy of the country.
Declared Motives for the Disturbances
The key justifications for the demonstrations, as presented by the organizing NGOs were; shortage of motor vehicle fuel; shortage of foreign exchange and intermittent supply of electricity.
These shortages have always been experienced under previous governments formed by the same Opposition parties that have partnered with the NGOS. There is no record that either the NGOS or Members of the Opposition parties ever demonstrated in the past against these shortages. Infact the current Government of Malawi is the first ever to eliminate the problem of food shortage and to present comprehensive plans for long term solutions of the other shortages.
The problems of fuel shortage in Malawi, arose first because the World Bank prevailed upon the government to privatize the purchase, importation, marketing and distribution of petroleum products from a former government owned enterprise; the Petroleum Control Commission to a privately owned Petroleum Import Limited. The privatization of this strategic commodity has rendered Government helpless to regulate the flow of fuel into Malawi, let alone to maintain any reserves. Second, the landlocked nature of Malawi, with very long and difficult distances from Indian Ocean ports has meant that any delays at the ports result in the depletion of the limited fuel reserves in the country.
With respect to foreign exchange, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) insisted that the proceedes from Malawi’s major exports, including tobacco, the strategic crop of great national significance, be kept with Commercial Banks and not the Central Bank of Malawi. As a result, all Malawi foreign exchange earnings are held by private banks outside the country where governments cannot exercise control.
If the Government had rejected the above prescriptions it was certainly going to be condemned by the NGOs fearing that this would jeopardize their funding which totally comes from outside the country. Accepting the prescriptions has led to consequences which have provided the NGOs with justifications for the demonstrations.
Even in good times governments do have to prioritise, in the case of the Malawi Government, it has been prioritizing the procurement and distribution of farm inputs and hospital drugs which benefit majority of the population.
Finally, the intermittent electricity supplies are due to major repair works following lack of maintenance of energy generation plants by previous governments. They are not a permanent feature.
The demonstrations were organized by NGOs, opposition parties, in collaboration with members of the media. The common thread linking all these is a strong belief that governments are constituted for the sole purpose of implementing instructions from donors. They have all condemned government for daring to question universal prescriptions that do not fit the local context. This goes right against the project that Government has put in place to promote self awareness and self reliance that should sustain the concept of Malawi as a nation of achievers. The breakthrough in food security greatly enhanced the self confidence of Malawians; Government’s goal is to build on this confidence and not erode it through the gratification of dependency.
The NGOs in Malawi receive a lot of covert funding from outside the country. They have not invested this in laying down the foundations for economic development like skills training; they instead invest these funds in lofty agendas that ran contrary to the cultural tenets and moral fabric of the nation.
The political parties are using the demonstrations to access the excessive financial resources of the NGOs in promoting their political agenda. Two of them have formed governments before with disastrous results. Malawi is a democracy that holds regular transparent elections, the opposition parties however, see these demonstrations as an opportunity to get into government without submitting themselves to due process.
It would appear that a coercive world order, NGOs anxious to have a platform and a predatory media have combined to exploit the unfortunate incidence, by first forcing structure on local reality and calling demonstrations that took place in five of the twenty-eight districts of Malawi; nationwide. It is regrettable that parties have sought to comment on the incident first and to varify facts later
Malawi has currently in place the most competent, assertive and accountable government. It is very easy to see where citizens taxes are being invested. Undermining such a government cannot be for the benefit of the country or its people. The government of the Republic of Malawi needs the space to govern. It is not proper that it should operate under ultimatums and prescriptions from special interest groups.
The Embassy of the Republic of Malawi to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa