Malawian Protests – an update from Karonga/ N.Malawi

In lieu of repeating what has been said here, here, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14217148, and elsewhere; I will just make some brief observations regarding the protest/anti-government riots currently occurring in Malawi.

7:30AM
On our way to Karonga from Uliwa (a small trading center near the lake shore in N. Malawi), and keeping an eye out for people wearing the colour red (which was unanimously adopted as the protest colour, complete with accompanying slogan: “Make Bingu see Red”). Things seem normal in the rural villages we pass on our way to K-ga.

I get a phone call from my mentor who seems worried and wants to make sure that I stay safe and stick with Augustine.

5 petrol tankers pass me as I sit by the side of the road waiting for a field work team to get dropped off at the end of a village access road. Somehow this seems artificial and a tell-all case of too-little-too-late.

9:30AM
Karonga seems more tense than it was last time I visited. There are dozens of cops walking or driving around and the air feels thick. We get stopped at a roadblock close to town and an officer carrying a high powered assault rifle waves us through.

11:00AM
People everywhere are gathered around radios listening to Bingu’s speech and to the news. The president talks about Malawi standing on its own (well it will have to since it has alienated its major donors) and finding its way through the energy crisis (somehow the suggestion that Malawi will build a pipeline from the ocean seems both ill conceived, unlikely, and not immediate enough). Augustine and Wyson are shaking their heads and no one seems placated.

Shops are closing early and there are more and more people thronging in the streets. Many are wearing red t-shirts. We are followed briefly by a pickup truck filled with shouting men in red. I snap a quick photo but it all seems surreal and almost funny.

We receive news that cars and houses (particularly those belonging to government MPs) are being set on fire in Blantyre and Lilongwe. Augustine is receiving news of violence and rioting in major cities. I am becoming increasingly glad that the expats I met on this trip are mostly out of the country now. On the other hand, one of them had spent some time at the Zomba army barracks and would probably be in a key position to tell us how the army is reacting to the situation.

2:00PM
People are gathering in larger and larger numbers. Augustine tells me that Karonga has a history of violent conflict between the police and civilians. Apparently people here are not afraid of stoning police stations when they are upset. This concerns me and we decide to leave before the now marching crowd reaches the police station towards it seems to be inexorably drawn. I imagine that the men in red from the truck are leaders of this new mob. We saw them a few hours ago, standing in a group and sending out messages to friends and colleagues.

4:00
We are back at Vipya cottage and people here have received no news from the “outside world.” They are eager to hear about the demonstrations but I am of little help. Some part of me wishes I had stayed a bit longer in Karonga, seen how things had played out. Another part of me is entirely glad that we left.

For now it is enough to say that I am safe and hopeful that peaceful protests emerge somehow from these riots.

More updates tomorrow.
L

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3 responses to “Malawian Protests – an update from Karonga/ N.Malawi

  1. I’m glad to hear that you chose safety over curiosity. Good to see you a few weeks ago, however briefly.

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