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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Lessons for Malawi from North Africa

More and more Malawians believe that our man in Malawi and his praise singers have lost the plot. Everything, once again, revolves around the person of the President and the maintenance of crony privilege. Forex shortages, fuel shortages and official obscuration of the truth give the impression that the economy is no longer in the safe hands that we so trustingly voted for in 2009. We rightly wonder whether anything can change before the much awaited 2014 general elections – assuming, that is, that we will have an Electoral Commission by then. Given recent developments that looks increasingly less likely.  But, if things do not change our economy will soon be in tatters.
Current events in North Africa, where corrupt and despotic leaders and regimes are beginning to crumble, have set many people dreaming of regime change here in Malawi. Those who believe that this scenario could be replicated in Malawi should take a reality check. The US-based Intelligence organisation, Stratfor, in its weekly Geopolitical Weekly report entitled Revolution and the Muslim World, places current events in a historical perspective relating to other revolutionary periods in history makes a number of perceptive observations on the nature of revolutionary change.
 The key principle that appears to be driving the risings is a feeling that the regimes, or a group of individuals within the regimes, has deprived the public of political and, more important, economic rights — in short, that they enriched themselves beyond what good taste permitted. …. Any regime dominated by a small group of people over time will see that group use their position to enrich themselves. ….. avarice emerges along with the arrogance of extended power ….. And we can add to this that they are people who were planning to maintain family power and money by installing sons as their political heirs.
In any event, the real issue is whether these revolutions will succeed in replacing existing regimes. Let’s consider the process of revolution for the moment, beginning by distinguishing a demonstration from an uprising. A demonstration is merely the massing of people making speeches. This can unsettle the regime and set the stage for more serious events, but by itself, it is not significant. Unless the demonstrations are large enough to paralyze a city, they are symbolic events. There have been many demonstrations in the Muslim world that have led nowhere; consider Iran.
It is interesting here to note that the young frequently dominate revolutions like 1848, 1969 and 1989 at first. This is normal. Adults with families and maturity rarely go out on the streets to face guns and tanks. It takes young people to have the courage or lack of judgment to risk their lives in what might be a hopeless cause. However, to succeed, it is vital that at some point other classes of society join them.
A revolution only of the young ..  rarely succeeds. A revolution requires a broader base than that, and it must go beyond demonstrations. The moment it goes beyond the demonstration is when it confronts troops and police. If the demonstrators disperse, there is no revolution. If they confront the troops and police, and if they carry on even after they are fired on, then you are in a revolutionary phase. Thus, pictures of peaceful demonstrators are not nearly as significant as the media will have you believe, but pictures of demonstrators continuing to hold their ground after being fired on is very significant.

This leads to the key event in the revolution. The revolutionaries cannot defeat armed men. But if those armed men, in whole or part, come over to the revolutionary side, victory is possible. And this is the key event. In Bahrain, the troops fired on demonstrators and killed some. The demonstrators dispersed and then were allowed to demonstrate — with memories of the gunfire fresh. This was a revolution contained. In Egypt, the military and police opposed each other and the military sided with the demonstrators for complex reasons obviously. Personnel change, if not regime change, was inevitable. In Libya the army has split wide open.
It is this act, the military and police coming over to the side of the demonstrators,  that makes or breaks a revolution.

Let us hope that the current regime in Malawi does not, by its stubbornness, drive the nation to such desperation. Do I detect a change? Recently, the Police in Zomba acted correctly by facilitating the demonstrations. The President has issued an invitation to human rights NGOs to meet with him. Unfortunately, he has not divulged his agenda and, without an agenda, a number of NGOs have expressed unwillingness to attend. Country-wide demonstrations are planned for next week. This will be a crucial test of the Government’s change of mind or a change of heart within the Police Service.
All we need now is a President who respects the Constitution and a Government that will repeal all of the recent changes to the law that have been aimed at undermining our constitutional rights.
What else do we need?
A truly independent Electoral Commission
Unbiased national TV/Radio
The issuance of new licences for would-be TV and radio broadcasters
A depoliticised Police Service

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