Malawi unrest prompts Cabinet shift

By August 24, 2011

Malawi (MNN) — Weeks of unrest over poor management and
infrastructure has led the President of Malawi to dissolve his Cabinet of more
than 40 ministers and deputies.

The move comes after protesters demanded in a July 20 petition
to President Bingu wa Mutharika that he should trim the size of the Cabinet by
half.

Sam Vinton with Grace Ministries International says everything snowballed quickly. "The whole issue started last week when a number of people wanted
to present a petition to the president. But then there were all these talks of
people who were taking advantage of the situation. They began burning
buildings and cars, and fortunately, none of that reached to where our churches are
located."

Security forces used live rounds to quell the rioters,
resulting in 19 deaths. The fighting
also sparked international criticism about the handling of a civil
complaint. Vinton says although their
church buildings were not vandalized, they did come into play at the height of
the unrest. "One of our churches
became a refuge for people who fled, and they could hide there while this was
taking place. Eventually, they lifted the protest ban."

The petition came about as a result of fuel and foreign exchange shortages, as well
as a skyrocketing cost of living. People
were incensed at having to "make do" while government officials drew large
salaries. It's
quite a different reception from how Mutharika's earlier years in office were
received.

The 77-year-old president won a disputed election in 2004
and was re-elected in 2009. In his first term, he campaigned against poverty and corruption, which made him
the darling of the international donor community. After his re-election, that changed.

Vinton explains, "A lot of money was being spent on the
cabinet, and the people were lacking. The electricity was being turned off;
there were just a number of those issues. Gas was very rare. It seems to be
coming back, so that seems to be taken care of. But no one really knows what's
going to take place because of the dismissal of the Cabinet."

The clashes came because the people "were angry because of
the injunction saying that they could not protest, which they felt they had a
right to do." But the injunction was meant to give time for talks with
government. Meanwhile, a United Nations-mediated
dialogue between the Malawi government and civil society is set for August 25. 

The main issues in the petition will be split up into
smaller chunks for discussion over the next four weeks. However, if the government still has not responded to the original petition,
civil group leaders say they are still organizing demonstrations, vigils, and a general
strike on September 21.

It appears that Mutharika's latest move was meant to pacify
the protestors, but little else has been addressed on the list of complaints. Vinton notes, "Things are back to where
they're peaceful. There seems to be actual discussion. The president has
finally admitted that he will listen to the people."

Grace Ministries International began ministering in Malawi
in 2000. Six years ago, the team established a training
center and expanded the evangelistic outreach and church planting ministries.

The training center in Lilongwe is offering module programs
for the leadership of the churches. Two Malawians are presently studying at the
Zambia Grace Bible Institute in Kabwe, Zambia. Several churches have been
planted in Lilongwe and several elsewhere, plus 20 preaching points which will
eventually become church plants.

Keep praying for a peaceful resolution to Malawi's troubles
and for opportunities to share the hope of Christ.

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