Peaceful protests by Malawi activists scheduled for last week did not live up to expectations but activists are adamant that they still managed to keep the pressure on President Bingu wa Mutharika’s government.
Activists organised a three day vigil beginning on September 21 as a follow up to the July anti government protests that left several Malawians dead.
The latest protests scheduled for the streets, candle lighting ceremonies and prayers across the country were thrown into confusion after government circulated messages a day before they were due to start urging Malawians to ignore them.
Civil society leaders subsequently declared a ‘vigil at home’.
Despite the setback, Voice Mhone, spokesperson for the civil society dialogue team meeting with government and the United Nations (UN) and one of the coordinators of July demonstrations said they were still determined to push for better governance in the country.
Reverend MacDonald Sembereka, board member for Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) who was one of the organisers of the protests shared similar sentiments.
“I am participating in the vigil at home,” he said. “In the morning, I went out to assess the situation.
“I went around the streets checking the situation on the ground and taking note of the shops that were opened and those that were not.
“And then I returned home and observed the vigil.”
However, both leaders said they were frustrated by government’s refusal to allow the protests to go ahead.
“I think it all boils down to the government for not giving us permission.
“All along, we had plans that there would be a vigil on September 21.
“Letters were submitted. But in the last minute, they didn’t give us the go ahead,” protested Mhone.
“Of course, civil society leaders tried to hold a press briefing yesterday and that did not happen. So I am aware that the message did not get to every household”.
Sembereka said: “There have been court battles and a number of issues playing out in the courts.
“So because of that, some said that they would not participate in the vigils.
“Also, some have had their homes or their offices burned down.”
Commenting on the vigil, a political analyst at Chancellor College Mustafa Hussein said although the vigil was not a success, a message had been put across.
“It is expected that people do not want to be associated with vigils at this stage,” he explained.
“However, what is important is the cause which was noble.
“I think the vigil was not a flop, as far as am concerned, people here in Zomba observed and held the vigil.”
Hussein said the only reason fewer people observed the vigil was because there were no guarantees for security that people stayed home.
“The civil society was worried because it did not want any lives to be lost like in the previous protest.
“Otherwise the gesture was vital and the message has been sent,” he added.
Most Malawians who were interviewed said that they stayed home on the first day of the vigil for security reasons.
David Nyahoda, an auditor in Limbe said he remained at home on Wednesday because he feared there would be violence.
“The last time, the protests ended up being violent,” he said. “So this time, we stayed home. It was a matter of safety.”
CURE International Malawi executive director Stuart Palmer said they closed their offices on Wednesday to ensure the safety of their workers.
“It was nearly impossible to read the situation in advance and I did not want to put any of our staff at risk,” he said.
“We would dearly like to have been working here and around the country as normal, but after the events in July I guess we are just more cautious now.
“It did not seem sensible to force staff to work when we could offer them a day of leave and be sure that they keep safe.”
Meanwhile, in Mzuzu, one civil society group says it wants to maintain the pressure on wa Mutharika.
Moses Mkandawire, the director of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod Church and Society announced the launch of a “red campaign”, where Malawians would be asked to wear a piece of red clothing every Wednesday.
The protest is meant as a remembrance for those who died during the July protests.
“We want to do things concurrently; vigils, red campaign, and dialogue can take place at the same time,” Mkandawire maintained.
“What we want is to put pressure so that key resolutions made at the dialogue table are respected and implemented.”
Activists have accused the Malawian leader of dragging the nation back into the dictatorship citing the passage of a number of bills, which they say impinge on citizen rights.
Understand Africa's tomorrow... today
We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.