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Malawi’s July 20 protests, a year later

20 July 2012

Today marks a year since Malawians took to the streets to protest declining economic and democratic governance. Demonstrations were held across Malawi and 18 people were killed on July 20, 2011. Many others suffered injury. That day I wrote a blog post about the #20July events from here in College Station, TX, USA. Most of my information came from reliable sources via Twitter and Facebook (and some phone calls to folks on the ground).

To commemorate the loss of life, Malawian leaders (including new President Joyce Banda) have gathered in Mzuzu for a memorial ceremony. Mzuzu is the northern region’s capital and suffered the most violence last year.

President Banda called for forward movement when she addressed the crowd at Mzuzu.

Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, Lilongwe, things are not so quiet and reflective. Yesterday I received a message from the US Embassy in Lilongwe issuing a warning for potential clashes in the Old Town area of Lilongwe. Here is an excerpt:

July 20th, marks the one year anniversary of last year’s civil unrest that started peacefully, but ultimately led to the deaths of at least 20 civilians, many injuries and widespread commercial and private property damage in all the major cities of Malawi. Further, city officials in all regions have mandated that street vendors must move out of commercial areas tomorrow. Apart from causing tension with legitimate businesses the street vendors are associated with criminal activity and have traditionally clashed with police during previous eviction attempts. These clashes in the past have tended to take on a life of their own and spread from Old Town areas of Lilongwe to residential neighborhoods where looting and general chaos ensued. The U.S. Embassy highly recommends that U.S. citizens use caution and maintain a high level of vigilance tomorrow and through the weekend. Commemorations of the protests could take place at local cemeteries or churches. Avoid public gathering places, congested areas, and if at all possible avoid venturing into Old Town and adjacent areas.

It appears the warning was warranted:

Though it now seems that things are under control in Lilongwe:

Capital Radio FM-Malawi has reported there have been 10 arrests so far.

Though vendors in the southern region’s capital, Blantyre also disagreed with the call to remove vendors from the streets, there are no reports of problems with vendors there.

I’m not sure whose idea it was to remove vendors from the streets exactly a year after Malawi experienced such a terrible loss of life and challenge to its future. Certainly, things are different today with then-President Bingu wa Mutharika having died suddenly in April and being succeeded by President Joyce Banda, ending speculations that Malawi would slip further into authoritarianism.

Reports indicate some progress in prosecuting those who had a hand in the intimidation and violence of last year’s events. My hope is that in the end, there will be justice for those that lost their lives while exercising their right to protest an increasingly authoritarian government.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason permalink
    20 July 2012 11:45 am

    The arrest of 5 of the people who went around to last year’s protests waving pangas was in the local paper earlier this week, along with quotes from people who were criticizing the arrests. Maybe the arrests preceded the commission’s recommendations? Why else would you oppose arresting folks who were threatening people with machetes?

    • 22 July 2012 10:48 am

      It’s hard to imagine why those arrests would be criticized. Exceptions might be for the wrongly accused. There are quite a few photographs, however…

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