Malawian street vendors out of control – clashes in capital Lilongwe
After the Lilongwe Vendors Association in cooperation with the Malawian police last week launched a campaign to clean the city’s streets of youths lounging around, street vendors clashed heavily with anti-riot forces. About 45 suspected persons have been arrested so far and the police claims to have reinstated “law and order” in the streets of Lilongwe. What remains are reproaches and unsolved tensions.
In January the scene in shopping and market areas in Lilongwe was ruled by obscene situations. Mostly young street vendors undressed women to make them wear ‘appropriate’ clothing following the example set by former president Banda. The Malawian public was indignant about what had happened in the capital’s streets.
Following earlier violent clashes beginning in January, Lilongwe Vendors Association distanced itself from the discriminating infringements on women’s right of dressing individually. The Association represents all the official vendors that operate in market areas that are built for the purpose of organized market scenes. Since such official places exist, unofficial vendors moved to the streets, then operating illegally.
Only a day after a public apology to Malawian women, the Association announced a campaign of a seven-day clean-up in Lilongwe’s streets. The aim was to move all illegal activities of criminals masquerading as vendors in the streets. Every suspect had seven days either to give business up or to move with to particular planned market places.
The campaign was carried out with support of special anti-riot forces of the Malawian police. Actions began last Sunday and on Monday heavily armed police forces clashed with street vendors. Those threw stones at police patrols which was answered immediately by the police firing tear gas into the suspected crowds. In a heroic statement the so called illegal vendors communicated they would not leave the streets voluntarily. They further stated they would remain in the streets following their business:
We will die for our country the way Ghadafi and we will walk in line with his words that peace is brought only with blood.
According to officials at Kamuzu Central Hospital at least four children were treated because they had collapsed. After vendors went into running street battles with the police, the scene moved into residential areas where police fired tear gas into houses. Some areas have been covered by clouds of tear gas. As soon as the clashes began, all shops in the affected areas have been closed and mini busses stopped operating, leaving their passengers often stranded aside the road.
The government closed 18 primary and secondary schools in Lilongwe in order to protect the pupils. According to Zodiak Radio the Ministry of Education Principal Secretary, John Bisika, said the schools will remain closed from Tuesday 7th February until the situation in Lilongwe would calm down again.
These new tensions that have been rising, assume alarming proportions. Not only the dissatisfaction of the often jobless youth hanging around in the cities’ streets is worrying but also the hidden political reproaches that show through these clashes. The clashing vendors blame the Vendors Association’s chairman Steve Malunga for being a member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). He is seen as one among many marionettes of the government that basically only carry out the governments will.