Malawi still overcast by July 20 riots

14:16, July 27, 2011      

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The date July 20, 2011 has found its way in the history of the Southern African country, Malawi, as one of the ugliest moments worth not recalling with a smile on one' s face.

This is the day a dark cloud billowed low over Malawi, the second most peaceful country in Africa (after Botswana) according to UN index, and turned its major cities into no-go zones where shooting and looting was the order of the day.

What was intended to be a peaceful march against perennial fuel and forex shortages, coupled with high cost of living among other things, turned into an act of violence due to several factors.

Triggering FACTORS:

One week before the much publicized July 20 "peaceful march" a certain group came into the scene in the name of "concerned citizens" who declared a counter-march against the July 20 demos.

The group said they would conduct their march right on the same day set aside by the civil society and the opposition; July 20.

Presidential spokesperson, Heatherwick Ntaba, was quick to condemn the intentions of the "concerned citizens" through the local media, advising them not to hold the countermarch.

About 72 hours before July 20, the date the country's civil society organizations had set aside to hold a national peaceful march on the said matters, a strong rumor swept across the country with claims of President Bingu Mutharika having directed that there be no marching of any kind.

This, the rumor said, was to allow the concerned citizens attend the presidential public lecture on the challenges rocking the country to be held at the New State House in the capital.

However, the nation was relieved when the local dailies on July 19, carried banner headlines that President Mutharika had given a go-ahead to the peaceful march, as it were.

But on the same July 19, five ruling Democratic Progressive Party, DPP, pick-ups were seen going round the streets of Blantyre carrying people between the ages of 16 and 35 brandish machetes and warning for a showdown on July 20 should the civil society and the opposition go ahead with the planned demos.

The news about the fuming youth in DPP vehicles was broadcast on local private radios and pictures of the same were posted on the internet but nothing was said from the DPP and/or government authorities.

It would thus be concluded that as July 20 arrived, the marchers woke up psychologically prepared for a showdown following the July 19 "demos" by the "DPP" youth patrons.

The July 20 riots thus were in the making.

As if the July 19 "DPP demos" were not enough, another trigger- factor came on the morning of the D-Day, July 20, when the protesters headed to the points of assembly for the national march.

Upon arrival there, they were told that at around 1 am local time on the same day, July 20, one citizen by the name of Chiza Mbekeyani had obtained a High Court injunction stopping the "peaceful march."

In the capital the organizers of the march were whisked away by the police to the Central Region Police Headquarters where they were told that there was an injunction against the march.

A renowned lawyer was engaged to process the vacation of the injunction so that the peaceful march should be conducted.

Meanwhile, the police dispersed the people who had gathered at the Lilongwe designated point of assembly ready for the march – and that was the trigger-factor of the riots in Lilongwe.

Some of the peaceful march organizers ran for their lives and took refuge at a church premise in the city together with journalists from the local media industry.

According to an eye witness, it was when the detained organizers in Lilongwe returned to the point of assembly that the violence broke in the city as the police stormed the church premise where journalists, civil society and opposition leaders had hidden.

"The police started beating the journalists and the organizers of the march including the Vice President's sister, Anjimile Ntila Oponyo, Human Rights Consultative Committee, HRCC, Chair, Undule Mwakasungula, and the opposition Malawi Congress Party, MCP, spokesperson, Nancy Tembo, among others," a local journalist told Xinhua.

"Mwakasungula was beaten with tree branches while the journalists and the other civil society leaders were gun butted."

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