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Malawi Government Shocked by MCC Aid Withholding Decision

  • James Butty

Malawi police patrol on a street of Lilongwe on July 20, 2011

Malawi police patrol on a street of Lilongwe on July 20, 2011

Presidential spokesman Heatherwick Ntaba says the July anti-government protests were peaceful in most places

Malawi’s government said it is surprised by the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) decision to withhold $350 million worth of aid package to Malawi because of recent deadly clashes between police and anti-government protesters.

Related video report by Mariama Diallo

The MCC, the U.S. government’s agency that assists development countries, announced Tuesday that it was concerned about the Malawi government's use of force and restrictions on media reporting of the demonstrations.

At least 18 people were killed last Wednesday and Thursday as police battled street protesters in three Malawian cities.

But Heatherwick Ntaba, spokesman for President Bingu wa Mutharika, said the demonstrations were peaceful and became violent only when protesters began looting and throwing petrol bombs at police.

“What we can say on our side is that we are surprised they (MCC) or made such an announcement before hearing the facts on the ground because the demonstration in the country per se happened peacefully. There was no violent incident whatsoever. However in places far away, there were people looting, breaking into stores and banks. And this was not part of the demonstration,” he said.

At least 18 people were killed last Wednesday and Thursday as police battled street protesters in three Malawian cities.

Ntaba said the 18 fatalities were looters and not demonstrators.

“18 people were killed during riots on the following day in places quite far away from the demonstration cite. These are facts that can be verified. Now, these were not demonstrators; these were people who were looting banks and burning shops on the 21st (of July) away from the demonstration area,” Ntaba said.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation is designed to reward developing countries that protect human rights and practice the rule of law.

Its decision to withhold $350 million worth of aid package to Malawi followed Britain’s decision recently to cut its economic aid to Malawi in the wake of a diplomatic row between the two countries after President Mutharika deported Britain's envoy for describing the president in a leaked cable as "autocratic and intolerant."

Ntaba said President Mutharika is not “autocratic”. Instead, he said the president follows laws enacted by Malawi’s democratically elected parliament.

“That’s a matter of opinion. I think they would make claims like that to justify some of their demands. The president is consenting to laws that have been passed by a democratically elected parliament,” Ntaba said.

A coalition of up to 80 civil society organizations and religious and student groups organized the demonstrations on July 20 in three main Malawian cities to protest shortages of foreign currency and fuel, poor economic conditions and increasing repression by the government of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Ntaba said President Mutharika is aware of the civil society organizations’ demands. But he said the group has yet to respond to the president’s call for dialogue.

“The president and the government are aware of the demands that the civil society people are making. That’s why on the 20th of July the president called them all and said let’s meet. He said if you are ready and put your team for discussion together in three days, I’ll be ready to meet you. But so far the civil society has not presented their team for these negotiations,” Ntaba said.

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