Of rallies and security
On March 26, 2007 my brother called in the evening to ask me if I’d seen the editorial in The Nation of that day. I had not and he wasn’t happy. He felt the comment lacked balance and fair comment.
The editorial centered the March 25, 2007 abortive political rally in Mulanje by the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) following intervention by the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) personnel who had mounted road blocks in several strategic places.
It was that intervention that had prompted The Nation and others like the Malawi Commission for Human Rights (MHRC) to unreservedly condemn the action by the Army.
As it turned out there was no attempt on the part of the paper to balance the commentary by, say, giving government the benefit of doubt as to why they decided to employ the services of the MDF to stop the Chisitu rally or, for that matter, why the meeting itself was stopped.
The paper even quoted sections on freedom of association and the freedom of movement in the Republican Constitution. Well, The Nation is entitled to its opinion.
First, let us go back to what has been happening in this country. The government does not stop anybody, including the UDF to hold a rally. After all Bakili Muluzi and other opposition leaders have held public meetings in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mangochi, Balaka, etc.—nobody stopped them.
Neither the UDF nor anybody is stopped from holding a rally anytime and anywhere, including at Chisitu. In fact, Muluzi and his supporters held two public meetings in two consecutive days: a mini-rally at Muluzi’s BCA Hill residence on Sunday and another one the following day in Mulanje.
Muluzi or indeed anyone are not stopped from associating with anybody they please to. Neither is their freedom of movement infringed upon, otherwise they wouldn’t have travelled to Brown Mpinganjira’s home for the mass rally on Monday.
We should understand why the UDF were advised (not stopped) to hold their public meeting on another day other than on the very day the President was addressing a rally 30 minutes drive away from Chisitu.
Malawians are a peace-loving people. It is the responsibility of all well-meaning citizens to encourage and promote peaceful co-existence by checking inflammatory or provocative language or confrontation.
And potentially explosive situations between supporters of opposing political groupings ought to be avoided by all means. One can imagine what would happen if political antagonists are allowed to intermingle within a relatively small radius where each group fights for recognition and the glorification for their beliefs and leaders.
Tensions and tempers are bound to flair up among supporters of rival political parties that have no love lost between them. And we are all aware of the strong influence of ‘group think’.
Imagine the situation of a former ruler gunning for a return to state house at the expense of a sitting President whose followers are intent on safeguarding the presidency from a hostile opposition. There is no trust and therefore no love.
Under such circumstances where passionate opposing views meet or interact, complete in their party colours, the imminence of burning pride, high tension, confrontation and clashes would perhaps be an understatement.
Some decisions are made for political and national expediency. After all, the Constitution is there to serve and safeguard the national interests and not to enslave or endanger citizens.
Why were the MDF officers engaged to disperse the meeting in Mulanje? That question has been ably and professionally handled by army spokesperson Lieutenant Frank Kayanula who told the media that the Malawi Police Service (MPS) could not be deployed for the occasion because they were restrained by the court injunction and, as law-abiding professionals, were incapacitated by the law.
To say that the MDF’s duties do not provide for internal security at times other than when there is a state of emergency is completely missing the point.
The MDF have always been called upon even within the country to enhance peace and internal security. Whenever there is a general election our officers and men from the barracks serve the nation and very well. And the MDF, in conjunction with the MPS, have been instrumental on important assignments such as ‘Operation Chotsa Mbava’, and ‘Operation Dongosolo’.
On top of that the MDF have also constructed bridges when the urgency of the situation calls for their intervention.
—The author is a lecturer at the Malawi Institute of Tourism.