Tag Archives: protest

Mphatso Banda's shows off the bullet wound he got at a protest in Lumbadzi, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

Victims of Malawi’s bloody protest speak

July 21, 2011 was an unruly day in Lumbadzi, Malawi – a violent protest paraded through the streets. While some citizens were using the protest to loot shops and pelt stones at police officers, many innocent people were injured.

“I started to run, but I felt numbness in my left foot. I realized that there was a lot of blood and I was told that I was shot,” said 16-year-old Stanley Zacharia, who said he was shot in the foot by police following the demonstration against corrupt governance charges.

The violent protest left 20 people dead and over 200 people injured.

It has been over seven months since the occurrence and families of surviving victims have yet to receive answers, advice or assistance from any organization.

Mphatso Banda's shows off the bullet wound he got at a protest in Lumbadzi, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

“I rushed to the scene and when I got there I saw my boy was lying in a pool of blood. He couldn’t walk or sit. The blood was oozing so much,” said Albert Zacharia, who described the day when he thought his son, Stanley, was going to die.

Zacharia wasn’t the only 16-year-old to be shot during the July demonstration. Mphatso Banda, who was on the verge to play for Malawi’s national under-17 soccer team, now lives with a bullet in his leg. He was also shot by a police officer. He said he wasn’t a threat to police, but rather he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I was coming back from the trading centre and that’s where I was shot. In fact, I didn’t even know I was shot until someone told me,” said Mphatso.

A lot of money was spent on hospital bills. While Zacharia is left with two broken toes and a wound that may cause infection, Mphatso was told by doctors at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe that resources for his recovery would be readily available at a hospital in South Africa. However, due to the lack of financial means, he cannot afford to pay for his full recovery.

There has been financial compensation to families who have lost loved ones, but those left with permanent injuries like Stanley and Mphatso have not received any compensation.

During a 2012 New Year’s speech, Malawi police chief Peter Mukhito admitted that the police force did not have adequate equipment to handle July’s demonstration. Rather than using rubber bullets, the police used real bullets.

Davie Chingwalu, the national spokesperson for the Malawi police said cases like Zacharia’s are still being investigated.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission is a government organization that investigates cases in which police may have caused unnecessary injuries. John Kapito, the chairperson of the MHRC said during their investigation, they did discover the injustice on both Stanley’s and Mphatso’s cases. He said their next step is to determine what action should follow.

The human rights activists who organized the July 21 demonstration, among others, have been paying tribute to families of people whose lives were lost during the violent protest. MacDonald Sembereka, the national coordinator of the Human Rights Consultative Committee, was one of the many who organized the demonstration and said there are legal actions that victims can initiate.

“We are looking at legal address for them. We know who shot them and they are liable to sue the government in this circumstance. We want them to take this to court,” said Sembereka.

Albert Zacharia, Stanley’s father, worries about the lack of action taken by these organizations that are forefront of the investigations.

“Who do I blame? Should I blame the government, the civil society, should I blame myself? Should I blame the boy? There are no answers to these questions. At the moment, I need assistance in figuring out what should be the next step,” he said.

In Malawi when ‘Life’ gets tough, it gets banned

Saturday night in Blantyre and the drinks are flowing at Mustang Sally’s, a fluorescent bar with a swimming pool centerpiece frequented by ex-pats and a new generation of young Malawians who have money.  The laptop DJ plays LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” for the eighth time of the night.

No longer under the strict censuring control of one-party-state president Hastings Kamuza Banda, Malawian airwaves have opened up to music that in the 20th century remained an unknown.  In the years following the country’s first multi-party elections in 1994, the Malawian music industry has diversified, with Malawian artists more free to perform traditional, gospel and reggae-inspired sounds, and some images and styles even being scavenged from sexually provocative, explicitly violent and drug-saturated music on  stations such as  MTV.

Today Malawians can praise any God, they can even party rock, but if you ask Lucius Banda they still can’t protest.

Lucius Banda, the first Malawian musician to use his platform to protest government. Photo submitted.

The first musician to sing openly against political oppression in Malawi during the decades of one-party rule, Banda says growing up in absolute poverty and amid systemic social injustice inspired him to “make sure there’s an alternative voice from the government.”

“Coming from a broken family living in absolute poverty, life was difficult,” remembers Banda.  “We had to go to the Catholic mission houses to clean toilets to pay for school fees.  After we’d paid that, we’d go to school, and then if the president was visiting your area you had to raise money to give him as a gift.

“We couldn’t afford that and so we wouldn’t be allowed in class, maybe for two or three weeks.  It was like getting candy from a grandchild,” he says.  “I don’t forget that.”

In the 1980s Banda began his music career singing gospel songs as part of the Alleluya Band, but eventually branched out on his own to produce music that would “sensitize people to regain their conscience.”

“I didn’t like singing love songs,” he says.  “I talked about injustices, the suffering of the people, that was my main concern.”

In 1993 Banda released his first solo album titled “Makolo”.  The single “Mabala” which means “wounds” was critical of the ruling Kamuzu Banda regime, which he said afflicted pain on those already living in absolute poverty.

In 2001 when then-UDF chairman and President Bakili Muluzi attempted a third term, Banda released the song “How Long.”

“I did a lot of songs rebuking [Muluzi],” Banda says.  “Why should we have become a friend of Mugabe and others who were clinging to power?”

In 2005 he released the album “Enemy (of the State)” where he criticized current president Bingu wa Mutharika for quitting the UDF party that had ushered him into power to seek re-election as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate instead, and in 2006 and 2008 he released the albums “Survivor” and “Freedom” respectively with messages meant for Mutharika: “We’ll survive you” and “You will see when people realize the truth.”

But in 2011 his latest album of protest music and its title track “Life” attracted negative attention from the Malawi Censorship Board and a ban by the Malawi Broadcasting Company (MBC).  Now that his music is banned from Malawian radio stations, Banda says Section 35 of the Malawi Constitution has failed him and that without free expression the music industry is “harsh” in Malawi.

“You can’t criticize people who are in positions where you put them with your vote,” he says.  “They say, ‘Stay quiet as I’m sitting on your money’ at a time when we don’t have a strong opposition and [Malawians] are weaker than we were in terms of our reactiveness to dictatorship… The Malawians you meet today are not the Malawians of 1994.  In 1994 Malawians were aggressive.  We were patriotic.  The Malawians you meet today I’m sorry to say are desperate, everyone for himself, ‘as long as I get mine it’s OK.’  That’s why we cannot come together and fight one common enemy.”

Though he still believes Malawians who love their country should show that they’re not happy with what is happening, Banda says the MBC ban has hurt his medium.

“Because of the ban, slowly [my] music is dying, people don’t listen to it, youngsters don’t listen to it, so they [government] are succeeding,” he says.

“Today you have to censor yourself so much when an artist is supposed to be free.  If I were going into the industry now, in this environment, I wouldn’t go.”

This article was originally published on the Toronto Star website on March 8, 2012.

Listen to Banda’s song “Tikamalira” (Why We Cry) here.

Steven Malunga, chairperson of the Vendors Association for Tsoka Market

The street vendor’s motto: “Freedom is bought by blood”

Lilongwe street vendors have been headlining Malawi media for quite some time and it doesn’t look like their name will be out of the news anytime soon.

There have been a few battles between street vendors and riot police, creating chaos in the city. Since moving their business onto the streets of Lilongwe, street vendors have been confronted by city council officials and police, advising them to vacate the streets and return to their original selling spots in the markets.

This week, Lilongwe will have to prepare for another showdown.

It all started after the recent attacks on some Malawian women who were not wearing long skirts. Street vendors in Lilongwe said their name was tarnished from being accused of such acts.

“We love women and we protect our women. We would never hurt them,” said Steven Malunga, the chairperson of the Vendors Association for Tsoka Market.

“After the women boycotted us because they heard we were the ones attacking them, business has not been the same and now street vendors left their spots in the market to sell their merchandise on the streets.”

Malunga said he wants to put an end to what he considers defamation of character to all street vendors by using a seven-day campaign.

“The campaign is a method to disassociate the street vendors from thugs who are the real culprits of the attacks,” said Malunga.

He said thugs selling their merchandise on the same streets were posing as street vendors. Street vendors and thugs were being categorized under one title – vendors.

















Steven Malunga, chairperson of the Vendors Association for Tsoka Market (Photo by Kara Stevenson)


















A joint operation with police authorities, the Vendors Association and city council members decided to use the seven-day campaign to get street vendors who are selling their merchandise on the streets, back into the market. This way authorities are able to differentiate who are the real street vendors and who are not.

“We are looking for the original vendors. Not the fake vendors. I want the original vendors to go back to the market to trade their business,” said Malunga.

Justin, a street vendor selling his merchandise on the street said he heard about the seven-day campaign and said he does not intend to move back into the market.

“Business on the street has increased sale profits. Also, there is no space to accommodate all vendors in the market,” said Justin.

Malunga said if street vendors are not situated back into their designated posts, anything could happen. He used this example: “If a child doesn’t listen, what happens to them? They get punished.”

Justin and many other street vendors challenge to face any officials after the seven-day campaign is over.

“We will deal with them when the time comes,” said Justin.

The seven-day campaign will officially end this Monday. According to a message (written in Chichewa) that was posted on several trees in Old Town, the street vendors stand strong; they will not be moved!


A message from Lilongwe street vendors (Photo by Patrick Maulidi/ZBS Journalist)





On their mark: Ramp up to the 2012 Ghanaian Elections

With over a year left before Ghanaians take to the polls and ink their thumbs for the election ballot, major political parties in Ghana are leaving bigger and bigger bread crumbs behind them on their political trails.

In the past few months the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the New Patriotic Party (NPP), and the Convention People’s Party (CPP) have been galvanizing media and supporters as they attempt to posture themselves for the coming election.

A lagging CPP made history and appealed to Pan-Africanists across the country by appointing Samia Nkrumah the first female chairperson in Ghana’s history. Her father -Kwame Nkruham, Ghana’s first president – would be proud.

NDC – currently in power – is taking the proverbial high road by ignoring accusations of corruption, pooh-poohing defaming remarks from opposing parties, and generally trying to avoid adding fuel to the fire. Key word: trying.

Then there’s the NPP. Oh… they’re good.

They want John Atta Mills out, Nana Ado Ada in, and and they’re not being shy about saying so.
To be fair, the NPP party members can’t get all of the credit for making all the noise.

While they’re calling on God for support, one of their affiliates – the NPP youth group known as the ‘Young Patriots’ – are quite adamant about making their message known as well.

As I got off my tro-tro on my way to work recently, I walked through the Obra Sport yard at Kwame Nkruma Circle, and I heard a rumble in the streets.

I found myself surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of YP protestors, as they ramped up for a demonstration that would take them through the streets of Accra towards Osu Castle.

Their mission: to present Government with a petition and strong reminder that NDC does not have their vote.

A crowd of protestors descended on my recorder and aired their grievances:

Malawi’s Vice President speaks out about protests

Vice President, Joyce Banda. Photo by Katie Lin.

Seated on the porch of her state residence in Blantyre, Malawi’s first female Vice President, Joyce  Banda, wraps a thick, white shawl around her shoulders and clasps her hands together, indicating that she’s ready to be interviewed.

There is a calmness about Mudi State Residence, with its towering trees and extensive gardens. In such a setting, it is difficult to imagine the starkly different atmosphere that engulfed Malawi’s commercial capital just one month ago.

On July 20, nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations against economic and administrative mismanagement took place, but it wasn’t long before these organized marches disintegrated into chaos and the country erupted into two days of rioting, widespread looting, and violent clashes between police and civilians.

The use of lethal force by police resulted in 19 deaths, dozens of injuries, and more than 500 arrests.

“Where Malawi is at [right now] is as a result of two or three years of frustration and pain and trying to reason with government – and government refusing to listen” Banda says.

Long plagued by fuel, electricity, water, and foreign-exchange shortages, Malawians presented President Bingu wa Mutharika and his administration with a 20-point petition on the day of the demonstrations. A dialogue between civil society organizers and the government to discuss the petition is scheduled for Sept. 17.

While Banda hopes this dialogue will yield viable solutions, she explains that the root of these problems lies within the political agenda of the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP).

“The President wants his brother to take over from him,” Banda explains of the cause for tensions within the DPP.  “And that’s where [the problems] start from.”

In December 2010, the Vice President was expelled from the DPP for her stance against this unconstitutional succession process – and her strained relationship with Mutharika, her honourary “father” and mentor, only appears to be worsening.

Just two days after the protests, Mutharika threatened to arrest numerous political and civil society leaders – including Banda and leader of the opposition, John Tembo – accusing them of organizing the July 20 demonstrations to topple his administration.

Despite having been openly critical of the President’s constitutional breaches, Banda insists she did not organize or participate in the demonstrations.

“I called upon those that were going to exercise that right to march to march peacefully and not to destroy property. I asked the police to protect lives on the road. I also asked the leadership of this country to discuss matters that affect Malawians and resolve any problems peacefully.”

For Banda, Mutharika’s accusations are unwarranted.

“When I hear my name, top on the list of those who are wanted, to be persecuted or to be killed or to be smoked out … I’m surprised,” she explains, “because I don’t know what crime I have committed.”

“But if the crime is that I stood by Malawians when they suffered, when they protested, when they were not happy, then I am ready to be persecuted.”

Most recently, the People’s Party (PP), a political party formed by Banda and her supporters, officially registered and claims to have already gathered more than 1 million members, further strengthening speculation she is a strong presidential candidate for the 2014 national elections.

“Joyce Banda is a shrewd politician, both in terms of organizing and in terms of making an appeal when she speaks,” says political analyst Blessings Chisinga. “So when you look at the potential contenders for the 2014 elections, she is clearly a frontrunner.”

He explains that the emerging PP may offer a fresh and credible alternative for Malawians in the 2014 elections, as disillusionment towards the DPP grows and opposition parties enter a state of flux.

“Malawians are fed up and are very keen to welcome a new brand of politics.”

Malawi: reverting back to dictatorial roots?

Protesters hold a sign that reads, “Bingu is shit” Photo by Elena Sosa Lerín

I arrived in Malawi three weeks ago – just in time to see ‘the warm heart of Africa’ break into chaos.

Violent protests swept across the small southeastern African nation last week, leaving 19 people dead and at least 98 injured after the police and army dispersed protesters by firing live bullets and teargas. Over 250 people were arrested, including three journalists.  The protesters dressed in red demanded the registration of President Bingu wa Mutharika, due to the high cost of living and fuel and forex shortages.

Despite the government issuing a ban on the protests, demonstrations began peacefully in the morning of July 20th ,  the same day as the President’s national lecture.  However, tensions grew after the President failed to address the protesters’ grievances.  By the afternoon, looters were targeting the businesses and properties of political allies of the President. Demonstrations were only planned for July 20th but protests and violence carried over to the next day.

Yet, while Malawians reach their breaking point, it seems that the country is, in fact, reverting back to its dictatorial roots. As Malawi faces a growing list of problems, it appears that the President – a once praised economist and leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) – has become a power-hungry autocrat.

This was evident in his government’s violent response to the nationwide protests.  On the eve of the demonstration, machete-wielding pro-DPP supporters drove around Blantyre in the ruling party’s trucks trying to intimidate those who planned to protest.  Groups of men scraped their knives against the pavement sending a menacing message to onlookers.

Nevertheless, thousands of Malawians took to the streets in most major urban centres across the country.  Mutharika responded by calling protesters, “Thugs and sons of Satan.” He warned protesters that if they went out into the streets again that, “This time I’ll go after you […] I’ll smoke you out.”

Despite these warnings, another anti-government protest is planned for August 17. Even before July 20th protests, freedom of speech and of the press seemed to be the first under Mutharika’s attack.

Chancellor College in Zomba was closed after lecturer Blessings Chinsinga, told students that Malawi’s government could encounter similar uprisings to the ones in Egypt and Tunisia due to fuel shortages in the country. Chinsinga was interrogated by police and later fired. The college remained closed for several months and was only partially reopened to teachers who wanted to return in July, but most classes remain cancelled.

The press also has to deal with growing restrictions, including a law that allowed the Minister of Information to shut down newspapers.

According to Amnesty International, eight journalists were beaten by the police during the protests. The same day, private radio stations suspiciously went off-air and various online publication offline.  However, government-run stations remained on-air.

Sharp criticism of the President and the DDP isn’t rare, but has often been met with a strong fist.

The British high commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, said he was promptly asked to leave after calling Mutharika “autocratic and intolerant of criticism” in a leaked cable – a costly dismissal for Malawi, as Britain recently canceled almost $40 million in aid to the country.

The United States also suspended a $350 million grant for Malawi’s energy sector after the government’s violent crackdown on protesters.

Malawi’s budget relies heavily on foreign donors.  The landlocked country gets 40% of its annual national budget from donor countries. To make up the difference the DPP raised taxes, which was a huge hit to the nation’s population as 75% of Malawians live on less than $2 a day.

To make matters worse, the cost of living in Malawi has been rising steadily due to fuel and foreign exchange shortages.

Malawians have plenty of reasons to fight: censorship of academics and the press, poor international relations and the high cost of living are just a few.

But most importantly they are fighting to defend the hard-fought democratic gains made since the country’s first democratic election in 1994, which removed dictator Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda from power.  Now, it seems, another egocentric and intolerant leader is stomping on those gains.

Rallying for academic freedom across Malawi

Lecturers at Chancellor College in Malawi, protest limits on academic freedom. Photo courtesy of Daily Times.

It began with a lecture.

At Chancellor College in Zomba, political science professor Dr. Blessings Chinsinga told his public policy class that Malawi’s shortages of fuel and foreign currency could ignite political uprising. To make his point, Dr. Chinsinga drew matter-of-fact comparisons to the mass protests that toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia.

Though such discussion of current events may seem commonplace during a university politics lecture, Dr. Chinsinga’s words have since sparked an unprecedented country-wide battle over academic freedom.

On the morning of February 12, 2011, Malawi’s Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito summoned Dr. Chinsinga for police interrogation. The associate professor was asked to respond to allegations that he was inciting students to demonstrate against the government.

Upon Dr. Chinsinga’s release, the academic community responded by staging a public protest on February 21.

“The protest was very peaceful,” recalls president of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union Jessie Kabwila-Kapsula. Dressed in graduation gowns—with mouths bound by handkerchiefs—lecturers paraded to the Zomba police station, where they presented a petition demanding the right to academic freedom assurance from police and government.

“On that day we got permission from police, and they actually escorted us to and from the station,” Kabwila-Kapsula says. “It was a very colourful, interesting time.”

Kabwila-Kapsula says the demonstration was important, particularly because Malawian academics in past decades feared arrest and violence. “In the 1970s and 80s, there were academics who were arrested and taken to prison because of what they wrote and said in class,” he says.

Faculty members at Chancellor College have refused to return to lecture halls until the police and government assure the free exchange ideas will continue in Malawian classrooms unhindered. Students showed support for their mentors by staging their own peaceful demonstrations.

But instead of backing the striking lecturers, the government chose to publicly speak out against the academic freedom protests.

President Bingu wa Mutharika denounced the Chancellor College demonstrations, and demanded lecturers to return to class.

“If some teacher one day just wakes up, ignores the subject for that hour and comes and says, ‘you students, do you know that you can overthrow this government? And the way to overthrow this government is to follow what’s happening in Egypt’… Is this what we call academic freedom?” the President said.

Mutharika went on to characterize the university’s call for freedoms as “academic anarchy,” saying the Inspector General of Police was tending to a matter of national security, and should not apologise for his actions.

The president did not respond to any of the lecturers’ concerns or demands.

Meanwhile, continuous campus protests have resulted in clashes between students and police, with teargas being used in residential areas on at least four occasions.

Academics at the Polytechnic Institute in Blantyre have since joined the sit-in, saying the call for academic freedom is a constitutional matter.

Six weeks into the conflict, lecturers have yet to reach an agreement with the government. “Up until this morning, there had been no effort to reach out to us formally,” Kabwila-Kapsula said. “We’ve asked the courts to interpret this as a constitutional matter.”

While no agreement has been reached, Kabwila-Kapsula says the university has been “showered in support” since the beginning of their demonstrations.

“I am very proud to be Malawian at this time,” says Kabwila-Kapsula. “This shows that we own our democracy, and can fight for our freedoms.”

“Farting law” causing stink, while democratic crisis hits Malawi

Malawi is starting to look more like it did during the days of dictatorship-rule, say human rights activists in the country.

While recent international media interest has been limited to the country’s so called ‘farting law,’ aconfusing law about public flatulence, there is more serious news happening in this small African country.

A decade-long delay of local elections, an expansion of police powers, the government giving itself the power to ban newspapers and the refusal to legalize homosexuality are some of the issues drawing the ire of critics.  Now a fuel shortage is leading human rights activists to say basic needs cannot be met.

A protest was to take place last week against the shortage of petrol in the country, but police temporarily detained organizers and placed heavily armed officers at meeting points.

Human rights activists say the fuel crisis means goods and services cannot move, grounding the economy to a halt and leaving citizens without the ability to support themselves.

“This is the worst crisis in this country,” says Malawi Watch Director Billy Banda. “There are so many Malawians . . . that have died because of this crisis,” explaining that emergency vehicles and medicinal drugs are facing serious challenges in getting around. Officials could not confirm the number of deaths.

Minister of Justice, George Chaponda, says the protesters have to follow the right procedures in order to demonstrate, suggesting the proper channels were not informed.

The suppression of the protest is the latest in the series of moves by government of President Bingu wa Mutharika causing widespread consternation.

“We may be taking Malawi ten, twenty years backwards,” says Mavuto Bamusi, one of the protest organizers who was detained. Bamusi is also executive director of the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), an umbrella group of NGOs. “We may be taking our political systems into some sort of political absolutism, or indeed, some form of parliamentary dictatorship.”

These moves have prompted action from donors. The German government has suspended a disbursement of 2.5 million Euro, a 50 per cent cut in funding sighting “concerns over human rights and freedom of the press.” The United States has also announced that about $350 million USD allotted for Malawi will not be released. And the Norweigan government is now revoking a donation, saying funds were not spent on what they were supposed to be.

Representatives of Germany, the US and Norway have been joined by France, Iceland, Ireland, Japan and the UK in issuing a strongly worded joint release stating they are concerned about “good governance and respect for human rights” in the country.

The government is defending itself and standing up to foreign donors, saying Malawi is a sovereign state that will not change its laws under the pressure of foreign governments.

It also says its laws are misunderstood, sighting both the publication law and the law about “fowling the air.”

“Some people want to paint a bad picture of this country,” in order to hinder development, says Chaponda.

Bamusi says the government is making laws “contrary to the spirit of our constitution,” adding that parliament is becoming “a rubber stamp of the executive  (which) is a blow to democracy.”

But Chaponda insists the government’s laws are healthy for the country. “In ten years,” he believes, Malawi will be “out of the poverty trap.”