Why Malawi Groups Changed their Minds

Malawi civil society leaders were left with no choice but to postpone the August 17 protest after police revealed that they didn’t have enough officers, no tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets and only had live rounds to help control unruly protesters. Senior police officers are said to have pleaded with a group of civil society representatives at two meetings held at the Area 3 Police board room on Sunday and Monday – the 14th of August and 15th respectively. The civil rights groups were represented at the meeting by Udule Mwakasungura, Emma Kaliya, Rogers Newa, Billy Mayaya, Robert Phiri and representatives of the Malawi Human Rights Commission. The Malawi police were led by Commissioner Lot Dzonzi, Commissioner Clement Kainja, Commissioner Dave Nyongo and Legal Services officer Barbara Mchenga. “They told us that there less than 10,000 officers which is not enough to police a mass protest of the proportion we had planned, they said that they had run out of tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets meant to be used to control the crowd and protect property,” said one of the civil society leaders who attended the meeting.  “They said that they only had live rounds and feared that they would kill more people if the demonstrations went ahead,” said one of the members of rights groups. According to a Malawi Police website, the service has about 10,000 police officers translating into a police/citizen ratio of one police officer per 1,300 people. The website says that the Eastern region has a police/citizen ratio of 1 officer per 2,000 people. 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. The planned 48 hours vigil was called off 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.