Government hides the truth

If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that's something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can't live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.
Noam Chomsky

Power is a drug on which the politicians are hooked. They buy it from the voters, using the voters' own money.
Peter Newman


The Mhlako Triumvirate

Friday, February 4, 2011


Current events in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world have revealed that people who feel oppressed by their governments often reject the (civil) Police as a tool of suppression and adopt the Army as a stabilising counter-force. This is strange given that Army coups in the past brought long-time rulers into power. But Army coups have gone out of fashion - even in the home of army coups - Latin America. More importantly, wherever army coups have taken place in recent years the new strong men have found it very difficult to continue in power because of the unity of the world's governments  pressurising them to make a transition to democratic rule.

We are fortunate in Malawi that our soldiers have resisted all temptation to involve themselves in the civil affairs of the country - except in operation Bwezani (Revenge). [Sorry - forgot another under Mutharika that I will mention below] And it was exactly that - revenge. While we were agitating in 1993/4 to bring about democratic change in Malawi, one of the last organisations that was seen as a threat was the highly politicised para-military organisation, the hated Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP). Operation Bwezani was not a pre-planned putsch. In an apparently alcohol-fuelled argument a Pioneer killed a soldier in Mzuzu. The Army exploded. In an operation that met with the overwhelming approval of the majority of Malawians, the Army went on the rampage raiding all MYP bases and hounding the Pioneers into their hidey holes. As far as I am aware there were no deaths or serious injuries. But that was the end of any threat from an oppressive regime.

As President Muluzi saw the tide of his popularity receding in 2000+ and a growing resistance to his bid to change the Constitution to allow him to stay 'forever', my perception was that he was doing all in his power to please the military - possibly to recruit them as another source of repression. Fortunately for us, the Army resisted all blandishments and remained in their barracks as observers. They played no part in the political process. So it is time for us to review the constitutional situation, illuminated by the TV pictures of the army and protestors in Cairo where the Police have disappeared from the scene and the army is seen as a force for stability and public order. I would hope that things would not reach such a situation in Malawi but, given the recent erosion of our liberties and the oppressive action of a politicised Police, we need to remind both the Police and the Army of their responsibilities. The people, who generally do not read the Constitution, must be aware of where we all stand in relation to each other.

I have already highlighted in the preceding post that the Police are becoming, once again, an instrument of oppression (if, in fact, they had ever been anything else - 'Government of the Day', you know.) They are supposed to be impartial upholders of the law. But they are not. Let us write them off until such time as they demonstrate to us that they are truly reformed.

That leaves the Army. Shortly after Mutharika ditched the United Democratic Front (UDF) that had ushered him into power, an understandably injured former President Muluzi whose campaigning skills, determination and, who knows, perhaps direct interference in the electoral process (and I will reveal all at some future time) - organised a public meeting to rally the faithful in Mulanje - an area with tribal affinities to Mutharika. The Army turned out to block the roads and prevent people from driving to Mulanje. Mutharika's regime is the only one that has misused the Army in this way. I published an article in the Nation explaining the legal situation and remonstrating with government for its illegal actions. Then Vice President Cassim Chilumpha, a former lecturer in law at the Polytechnic, phoned me to congratulate me on that article. It is time we looked again at the Constitutional responsibility of the Army.
We all know that the Army (Defense Force - note, 'Force' not 'Service') has to defend the nation from external threats. But when can the Government call on the army and what are the constraints on abuse of army power - especially in the civil sphere?
As ever I quote my bible - the Constitution:
Section 160 (1) (a) uphold and protect the constitutional order in the Republic and assist the civil authorities in the PROPER exercise of their functions under this Constitution.
Section 160 (2) No person in authority may direct or deploy the Defence Forces of Malawi to act in contravention of this Constitution.
.               ...... and I count the President as Commander in Chief as 'person' and the abuse of the Police to oppress the people as an IMPROPER exercise of their functions. Furthermore, should the President decide to use the Army in the civil sphere he is subject to the recommendations of the Army Council subject to the scrutiny of a Defence and Security Committee of the National Assembly.
I am not sure whether the relevant enabling laws have been passed under this section or whether the relevant bodies are established and functioning. Those who have knowledge should comment below. If the Police cannot resist political pressure we ask the Defence Force to maintain their almost unblemished record and be our friends of last resort should we ever reach desperation point as, so obviously, have the people of Tunisia and Egypt.
As I am writing this I am watching the people of Cairo after their Friday prayers calling for the ouster of their President. It should not be necessary but our leaders become deaf to their people and believe that they can hold on for ever. They should learn the lessons of history.
The time is now for us to become very vocal to save us from becoming physical.
Mpamvu kwa anthu! Machiri kwa wandu! (Power to the people!)

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