by Mabvuto Banda
UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has said that he is happy with the signing of a joint communiqué by the Malawi government and civil society organisations in efforts to calm tensions in the country after 19 people were shot dead by authorities to quell protests in July. Ban said in a statement that the signing of the communiqué is the first step to continue efforts to create a conducive social and political atmosphere conducive to addressing challenges in the country.
“Ban is pleased with and strongly supports the facilitation role played by Joao Honwana, director at the UN department of political affairs and reiterated the UN’s readiness to continue its facilitation efforts as requested by the parties,” the statement read in part. The July 20 demonstrations claimed at least 19 lives after the situation went out of hand and 18 of the deaths were attributed to police gun shots. Such unrest is almost unheard of in Malawi, ruled for decades after independence in 1964 by the iron-fisted Hastings Banda, and echoes popular uprisings that have engulfed North Africa and the Middle East over the last seven months.
Rights groups called off a 48 hour vigil planned for August 17 citing the court process as one of the reasons. The group also said that they wanted to give chance to new mediation efforts led by the UN. The groups want President Bingu wa Mutharika to respond to a petition they presented to him to resolve the dollar crunch, widespread fuel shortages. They also want him to explain his wealth after he built a mansion in his home village in southern Malawi at an estimated cost of over $20 million. The claims, however, have not been verified.