Organizers in Malawi on Tuesday canceled plans to hold anti-government protests, weeks after security forces met demonstrations with deadly force and the president vowed to quash any attempt at regime change.
Anti-government demonstrations across Malawi last month came amid worsening economic conditions and complaints about President Bingu wa Mutharika's increasingly autocratic style. At least 19 people were killed by police when the demonstrations degenerated into looting.
Activists had vowed to hold more demonstrations starting Wednesday unless the president addressed their grievances before Tuesday. Activists have called for a resolution of persistent fuel and foreign exchange shortages, audits of the finances of Mutharika and his Cabinet ministers, and an end to public threats against those with dissenting views.
In an address broadcast live on state media Sunday, Mutharika urged Malawians not to go back to the streets, and said he had had too little time to address a 20-point petition activists presented July 20. "Do they seriously think all those issues would have been resolved within three weeks?" Mutharika said. "Would they, if they were sitting in my position, have brought in foreign exchange, fuel, electricity supply within three weeks?"
Undule Mwakasungula, chairman of the Human Rights Consultative Committee, which also organized protests, said the aim of the demonstrations was never regime change, so it was not necessary to seek outside support. "We're not politicians," he said. "We just want our president to address challenges besetting the country."
Recently, Malawi has taken various hits towards its economic condition. The U.S. government froze a $350 million aid program for Malawi because of the protests. Even before the demonstrations, Britain had suspended aid to Malawi, citing concerns about economic management and a crackdown on human rights. Germany also decreased aid to Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries, following its failure to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality and its enactment of laws seen as restricting media freedom.