I have a whole list of mundane topics I want to post on (where I am living, my Chichewa courses, my planned research, etc.), but the events of the day must come first.
Tension has been rising in Malawi recently, over the extreme fuel shortages, lack of forex, and frequent electricity outages. On top of that, the University of Malawi, Chancellor College has been closed (first officially, and now effectively) over the firing of four lecturers. The disagreement began when Dr. Blessings Chinsinga, professor of politics, was detained and questioned over his discussion of the Arab Spring in a lecture. In addition, the government has passed two controversial laws – one to limit freedom of the press and the another that limits judicial checks on the executive. All in all, Malawians are fed up.
The atmosphere is different here than the last two times I’ve stayed in Malawi. People are talking politics all the time, and they are outspoken about their opposition to the president.
All this culminated into mass protests scheduled for today (July 20). After the demonstrations against the state of Malawian politics and economics had been planned, the president, Bingu wa Mutharika, scheduled a public lecture for the same day. His government tried to block the protests via the judiciary, but the injunction was ultimately stopped by a counter-injunction. In a nice piece of irony, Bingu’s speech on how the problems aren’t really as bad as people say, was interrupted due to a power outage.
I’ve been unable to gather much information, but from what I hear from others there are large demonstrations in Lilongwe (the capital), Blantyre (the commercial capital), and Mzuzu (the third largest city). Unfortunately, there are also reports of violence, looting, and rioting. The full extent of the situation is not yet clear.
While there were demonstrations planned for Zomba, the town has been deadly quiet. I walked around a bit earlier today, and all the shops are closed, the streets are quiet, and people are in their homes. There were also many soldiers and police stationed around town, though they seemed bored and not on high alert.
While the conditions here have been frustrating, and will definitely complicate my field research, I have to say that it is exciting to finally see people pissed off and willing to do something about it. The newspapers have been surprisingly outspoken in their criticism of the government.
I have no idea how this will turn out, but I’m glad I’m here to witness it.