Malawi is in upheaval.
Just as when Tunisians first rose up against their government, few outside are paying much attention.
The same basic forces — unemployment, high food prices, human rights abuses and mistrust of government — which sparked the revolt in Tunisia and then led to today’s widespread popular revolution across the Arab world, is now at play in this small, southeastern African nation.
Time magazine sees From Malawi to Senegal, signs of a Sub-Saharan Arab Spring:
Malawi is the latest in a series of sub-Saharan countries to face political unrest in recent months — what some analysts claim are echoes of the Arab Spring that swept North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year.
John Githongo of Next similarly reports that Growing poverty may push Arab Spring into Sub-Saharan Africa:
By 2025, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to a quarter of the world’s people under the age of 24, and their anger is growing. For Africa’s youths, many of them educated and unemployed, the future seemingly holds no hope under the current arrangement. Speak to them of GDP growth and their reactions are visceral. “The economy is growing for whom?” they ask. “Not for us!” ….
The idea of revolution has arrived, among the minority of youths with access to social media but also among the masses via the poor man’s Facebook: FM radio. And their geriatric presidents and prime ministers are nervous.
Those are the views from the 10,000-foot level.
On the ground in Malawi, people are being thrown in jail and 19 protesters have been killed by security forces. The government of President Bingu wa Mutharika claims the protesters are basically criminals, looters. Journalists who report otherwise have been jailed, beaten and threatened.
I reported earlier this week on the harrowing experience of one Malawian journalist, Collins Mtika, who was jailed under grisly conditions for doing his job. I know Collins and was relieved to learn of his release, but he and other journalists remain at risk.
For a blow-by-blow account, you can read an extensive report spanning several days from another journalist in Malawi, Kondwani Munthali, who was beaten by police and witnessed a number of other abuses. An excerpt from Munthali in his July 26 post:
I see Oponyo falling down, I see Nancy Tembo being hit with a gun butt. Two journalists are whipped side by side by one officer and so I ask all journalists to run for their lives as they will be killed.
I approach the officer in charge to protect us but he pushes me back, “I have been telling you since morning and this is what you wanted.” He pushes me backwards towards the officer with a huge stick and he whips me at the back. I try to run past a blocked vehicle and a police woman hits me with a gun butt at the back.