Opinion

What to make of the violence in Karonga?

Several people have been injured in the political violence in Karonga

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There has been a spite of violent incidents in the run-up to the Karonga Central by-election, which takes place on the 10th of this month. People have been hacked by unknown criminals and political flags uprooted. There have been at least 8 cases reported and as is usually the case with these things, the blame-game has begun.

UTM supporters say the violence is perpetrated by MCP supporters, and that consequently it shows that MCP as a political entity has not changed from the violence that defined it during the days of Kamuzu. But MCP denies this ‘inflammatory language’, and says there is no evidence that its supporters were responsible, and in fact some MCP supporters have been wounded recently in the clashes.

But what is driving it?

Indeed, both the current leaders of MCP and UTM have in the past denounced political violence and have said it has no place in a democratic state. Two days ago, MCP’s Secretary General and Eisenhower Mkaka, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs, strongly condemned the violence and escalating political tensions.

Last Saturday, at a Mulptiparty Liaison Committee meeting, all the 5 contestants in the by-election, reaffirmed their commitment to promote peace amidst escalating political violence.

In September, when the violence reared its ugly head, UTM put out a statement saying “Political Violence & intolerance are the very evils UTM has fought against since its inception & will continue to do so until political diversity ceases to cause instability in Malawi”

There has also been accusations that Citizens for Transformation (CFT)’s ‘Commander in Chief’ who is also the Minister of Civic Education and National Unity, Timothy Mtambo, made statements regarding Frank Mwenifumbo, the UTM candidate, which incited violence and which comprise hate speech during his campaign tours in support of the MCP candidate.

The Karonga by-election was triggered by the death of the area’s last MP, Dr Cornelius Mwalwanda – who died in July this year, several days after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

Following the latest spite of violence, Karonga Police Station has put out a statement appealing to political party leaders to discipline their supporters, so that such incidents do not happen again. Speaking to the media, Officer In-charge Assistant Commissioner Sam Nkhwazi said those breaking the law will be arrested, irrespective of which political party they belong to. He added that Karonga Police will tighten security measures and roll out additional patrols during the campaign period to ensure a peaceful environment free of intimidation or violence.

Four political parties will contest the by-elections, namely UTM, whose candidate is Frank Tumpale Mwenifumbo, MCP, whose candidate is Leornard Mwalwanda, MMD whose candidate is Nellie Sichali, and DPP which is being represented by Ernst Mwalughali. There is also an independent candidate – Shackie Mary Florence Nthakomwa, who stood for UTM in the 2019 elections, but left amidst accusations that UTM’s top brass was favouring Mwenefumbo, a recent UTM member, as the default candidate for Karonga Central even before the primaries.

However, while the other contestants may claw away some votes, political analysts in Malawi agree that the real contest is between Mwenifumbo and Mwalwanda.

Thus, given how close the race is between the two main contestants, it is likely that some lone supporters on either side, acting on their own misguided initiative, and possibly driven by a desperation to gain approval (or some form of recognition) from party operators – may be responsible for at least some of the violence. This is the most likely source of the violence given Malawi’s traditionally neopatrimonialistic politics. Otherwise, given the fact that both MCP and UTM are in the governing Tonse Alliance, it is unlikely that any of these political parties could have instructed their supporters, even implicitly, to commit acts of violence.

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