The riots that broke out in Malawi yesterday as opposition groups protest against President Mutharika continued today. The President blamed opposition demonstrators for igniting violence that has left at least 10 dead and 45 injured.
But opposition leaders say the demonstrations against fuel shortages and currency controls were peaceful and did not spark today’s widespread looting, rioting, and running battles with police.
Eight people were reported dead at Mzuzu Central Hospital. This was confirmed by Ministry of Health spokesman, Henry Chimbali. One of the victims died before getting to the hospital.
“We urge those that are still in the streets and looting to refrain from this unlawful act,” civil society groups said in their report. “Doing so is against the laws of Malawi. Take note that all the concerns were presented to the President through all known channels of communication.”
The president however, blamed civil society leaders for the riots. “They are telling vendors to loot businesses. Is this going to bring fuel in the country? Will looting solve the problem of poor foreign exchange rates? I ask the civil society and opposition leaders to come to the round table for discussions. Violence will only destroy the gains that we have managed to realize over the years,” he said in a televised speech.
Mutharika told Malawians that it was not the fault of the government that food and fuel prices are rising, and that beneficial foreign exchange rates are difficult to obtain. He also blamed the British government’s aid policies and the International Monetary Fund, IMF, for failure in the stability of Malawi’s economy since independence in 1964.
The IMF has counseled Malawi to devalue its currency in order to attract more foreign investment and to reduce the cost of goods bought and sold in Malawi.”IMF believes the kwacha (Malawi’s currency) is overvalued but that is not true. If this is true, let them tell us the equilibrium rate of the kwacha. Malawi has big structural problems since 1964 and the solution cannot only be devaluation of the currency.”
The president also denounced relying on foreign aids. “After 47 years we are still heavily relying on foreign aid,” Mutharika said yesterday. “We are operating an externalized economy, export proceeds are externalized, your money, our money is not within banks here. Your money is in Pakistan, India, Dubai, United Kingdom.”
But Billy Banda, executive director of political and economic watchdog, Malawi Watch, blamed the economic instability on poor government decisions and policies that does not favor the poor. Most Malawians still live on less than $1 a day and can only afford a single meal a day.
“Against this backdrop our president has a tax-payer-sponsored jet, a hefty salary, a salaried wife and listens to no one,” Mr. Banda says. “Even his own cabinet can’t advise him on anything contrary even if heavily criticized.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Mutharika assured the nation that his government would protect the lives of Malawians and their properties as stated in the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the police sounded a warning that they would deal harshly with rioters acting barbaric and unlawful.
Picture by AP