As the sun is setting on July 20th, at least 11 people are dead in Mzuzu, countless have been beaten in Lilongwe, including seeking sanctuary in a CCAP church. Numerous homes, businesses, and vehicles have been burned, and thousands showed up to demonstrate in Blantyre.
Please keep in mind that all of this is reported second hand – Sandy and I stayed home and followed events on facebook and twitter. Many thanks to the brave reporters and photographers who kept everyone informed.
The day started slowly as lawyers fought against the injunction filed to prohibit the protests. Small crowds gathered and in Blantyre, everything remained calm and dignified. Protesters sang songs, danced, and carried anti-Government signs.
The injunction was vacated around mid-afternoon and thousands more joined the protesters. The crowd is currently massed outside the civic center waiting to sign a petition. In Blantyre, tires were burned and teargas was fired at an unruly crowd at the DPP (the ruling party) headquarters.
In Lilongwe, things were more out of hand – buildings, including an MP’s house, the Chambe Tea factory and Lilongwe Auctioneers office, were burned. As the day progressed, violence broke out and protesters were beaten. One bystander was shot and a police officer is in critical condition. Teargas was used and black smoke billowed from many areas of the city.
Mzuzu, in the northern region, has seen the greatest levels of violence. Early on in the day there were reports of DPP vehicles being burned, the headquarters being looted, and the most recent reports are that the military has stepped in and is firing into crowds indiscriminately. Eleven are confirmed dead, but there are rumors that the number is much higher.
There has been a media blackout for the past four hours and several more progressive online papers have been blocked. Instead of turning on TV or radio, we discovered twitter. Long praised for its hand in the Arab Spring, I suddenly understood its power. We could receive minute to minute updates on what was happening across the nation. Well wishers from around the world used twitter to post messages of support and solidarity. Twitter connected everyone and facilitated the exchange of information when it was blocked in every other way.
Some of today’s events are extreme, and no one seems to know or consider what might come next.
Malawi is a peace loving nation – often rated one of the happiest countries in the world, but today, protesters decided they had had enough. Malawians are so proud of how peaceful their country is that I admit I am surprised by the gravity of all that has happened today.