2011: The Worst Year in Malawi’s History?

When the year 2011 began, everyone hoped for better amidst fuel, foreign exchange and political challenges in Malawi. This led some Malawians to choose chigubu (a jerry can for fuel) as the most popular item in 2011.

At the beginning of the year most Malawians did not expect that the fuel lines would be even longer at the end of the year. This has reflected the growing economic challenges in the country subsequently affecting people across the country.

The temperature in the political sphere became even hotter as the year progressed with campaign for the 2014 presidential election already set amidst a growing rift between the president and his vice president.

Several bad laws such as the Injunctions Bill, which restrains Malawians from getting temporary reprieve from courts against the government, were introduced much to the dislike of many Malawians.

Police versus academic freedom. Source: Joseph Banda's Academic Freedom in Malawi Facebook page.

Police versus academic freedom. Source: Joseph Banda's Academic Freedom in Malawi Facebook page.

Media practitioners became even more resolved to write and publish despite growing intimidation by ruling party functionaries. Some journalists decided to simply withdraw or demonstrate self-censorship.

Malawi's diplomatic relationship with its major donors, including Britain, hit a low point with the expulsion of the British Ambassador to Malawi.

The battle for academic freedom grew stronger and the intelligentsia finally won the battle when the Chancellor swallowed his pride.

The country's human rights record got worse with 21 people dead in July following anti-government protests, which were the first of their kind in democratic Malawi and resulted in the highest known number ever killed by security forces in Malawi.

As 2011 came to a close, few had reason to celebrate the festive season in style. Some have offered prayers for Malawi hoping for better in 2012. Others look back with pain, relieved it has gone.

Bloggers across the world have keenly followed the events in Malawi. Some decided to avoid posting about the problems but many had the courage to blog on Malawi.

Glad 2011 is going

Vincent Kumwenda stated:

Very bad decisions were made in the year like the expulsion of the British Ambassador, the bad laws which were passed by our honorable members of parliament. Malawi could have done better without these decisions and our governance and socio economic problems could have been averted.

While on Zachimalawi, journalist Richard Chirombo posted President Mutharika’s picture with a prayer:

As we prepare to enter the New Year, our prayer should be: ‘God, as you bless other nations, do not forget us. Do not forget Malawi”- Malawi's President, Ngwazi President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Fuel crisis

Boniface Dulani advised the government to discuss ways of solving the long-standing fuel crisis. In a blog post titled ‘zones zimatha nkukambirana‘ (Discussing issues can sort out the crisis), he suggested that Malawi should address the underlying concerns that led to problematic relationships with donor countries:

Going to the World Bank and the IMF with the sob-story that Malawi is hurting without addressing the concerns that led to the suspension of the Extended Credit Facility, ECF, in the first place is just wishful thinking. Merely meeting donors and asking them to resume aid when we have taken zero steps in addressing the concerns that led to the suspension of aid in the first place reflects myopia of the highest order.
Let us act and address the challenges and concerns that got us into the current situation. We can then have something to discuss. Until then, Mr Gondwe and your likes, you are increasingly being revealed to be the jokers that you are.

As the year was getting to a close, Ndagha was surprised that he could easily fill up the tank. He took this as a Christmas gift:

Today on my way from a Christmas church service, I saw a short fuel line at gas station within my residential location. I could not believe that there was petrol and the line was that short. I quickly dropped my family members home and rushed to the gas station. Anxiously on the fuel line, I kept wondering how much they were to allow me to purchase.

As my turn came, I told the attendant to fill the tank. I had just decided to borrow the money if I was to fill up, I could not believe he accepted and filled it. I paid and drove off. This was the shortest gas filling opportunity at a gas station in more than four months! Of course the shortest but expensive are those fuel vendors.

Academic freedom

As reported earlier, the fight for academic freedom was one of the major areas for low points for the Mutharika administration in 2011. While majority were not happy with his conduct during the crisis, he nevertheless had support from some including Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Director General Bright Malopa, whose position is no surprise.

Malopa, wanting to play good boy to the powers that appointed him, played down the academic freedom fight in his article titled ‘Disappointed with the conduct of Chanco staff Union‘:

It seems straight here that the current regime is tolerant therefore pausing no threat to academic freedom and democracy at large. The essence of the current regime it seems has always been a belief in human nature as distinct from abstract ideology. And the essence of human nature is adaptability, flexibility, ingenuity. I have no reason to doubt that the current adminstration’s policies throughout the last seven years have been designed to give these virtues room to grow. Now People have all the freedom they wanted on planet earth. The only trouble though is that they don’t know what to do with it.

Other netizens had own views most of which were contrary to Malopa’s view.

Human rights

Right from February, civil society wanted to lead demonstrations against growing economic and social problems in the country. The protests were banned while some of their civil society leaders were silenced. As the year progressed, Malawians could not remain silent. Possibly inspired by the protests elsewhere in the world, July 20 was set.

Even though the government tried to stop them, the justice system smiled on Malawians. The security forces handled this badly leading to deaths of about 21 people and over 300 injured following city-wide demonstrations in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Zomba and Karonga.

Journalist Kondwani Munthali chronicled the events as they happened in Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe on July 20. In a personal post titled ‘Malawi Violence: July 20: What I witnessed‘, Munthali gave account of the events of the day:

'United for Peaceful Resistance Against Bad Economic and Democratic Governance'. Image courtesy of 'DEMO YA TIYENI TONSE PA 20 JULY' Facebook page.

'United for Peaceful Resistance Against Bad Economic and Democratic Governance'. Image courtesy of 'DEMO YA TIYENI TONSE PA 20 JULY' Facebook page.

10.14 We arrive at Zodiak station and the offices are disserted, with Emmanuel Chibwana we start off to Lumbadzi where the riots are intense. We are warned 1km away from the trading not to proceed. We Abandon the vehicle and walk to the riot zone. A body is lying on the streets and PTC and other shops are on fire.

Eye witnesses say the man was a builder who had gone to watch the riots.
Police stop us from taking photos.

11.30 We get a call from a Circulation officer that another man has just been shot in Chilinde. I trace the man he was with my childhood friend Suzgo Kwelepeta and they were talking of business when a Policeman shot him on the mouth. He died instantly.

12.00 We return through Area 25, where we meet a Red Cross vehicle carrying a semi conscious man allegedly shot by Police. Everyone tells us of stories of tear gas being thrown at people’s houses.

Many feared for this day and it has since been a bad reference point for the Mutharika regime. Broadcast stations were ordered to stop covering the events live. It was tense.

Was the freedom of expression and the right to information assured? Following what happened, some journalists decided to take a low profile for fear of reprisals following threats from the ruling party sympathizers. What remains to be known is whether this trend will continue in 2012.

Bad laws

For reasons best known to the DPP-led government and its legislators, several bills were enacted into law in 2011. This led the Public Affairs Committee to describe the year as the worst in governance. Thankfully, the government has moved in to review bad laws. The zero-deficit budget was introduced last year, debated heavily and eventually passed. This was possibly the first time that most Malawians heard about the Zero Deficit Budget.

As Malawians enter 2012 it remains uncertain as to when the fuel, forex, economy, human rights, political and energy problems will be overcome. Certainly the majority would want this be a passing phase for a better Malawi in 2012.

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