18 August 2018
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District Peace Committees: Solution to election-related conflict?

Written by  Vincent Khonje
National Peace Architecture Coordinator Dyton Kang'oma says DPCs are pillars of peace building transformation - Pic by Vincent Khonje National Peace Architecture Coordinator Dyton Kang'oma says DPCs are pillars of peace building transformation - Pic by Vincent Khonje

Kasungu, April 16, 2018: Post multiparty elections in Kasungu saw the district become one of worst in as far as political violence is concerned.

Political party supporters could square up against each other as campaign leading to 2004 general elections intensified.

Tinkhani Gadama, a National Executive Member of Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), then a United Democratic Front (UDF) member, gives testimony of how the situation was.

“What used to happen was that politicians were usually above the law and always perpetrated violence. After the elections, politicians still had no respect for public officers and law enforcers,” Gadama says.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) District Secretary Fyson Makina agrees with Gadama: “After the transition from one party to multiparty rule, people didn’t really understand what it meant and this caused a lot of political tension.”

Chairperson of Kasungu district council Greeny Kachelenga, who turns out for Malawi Congress Party (MCP), feels things have not changed now as there are still conflicts in some political cycles.

“We may say things have changed now but there are still some conflicts and it is the traditional leaders who are perpetrating this,” Kachelenga says.

However, according to Makina and Gadama political conflicts culminated into violence because there were no structures that could help resolve them.

Despite these assertions, law enforcement has always been there to deal with civil conflicts as well as other lawless acts.

Officer in Charge for Kasungu Police Station Effie Sato says the police always strive to resolve most conflicts even before making some arrests.

“We have structures in place that will aim at doing away with conflicts where people have not agreed on issues and the community policing is one of them,

“We have also allowed demonstrations and marches where procedures have been followed,” she says.

During elections there is also another structure that comes in handy in solving conflicts among political parties.

The Multi-Party Liaison Committee (MPLC) chaired by the District Commissioner will try to resolve conflicts among political parties at district level.

The MPLC is, however, limited in its operations.

Kasungu District Elections Clerk Sydney Banda says: “MPLC is an informal setup and it only ends at discussions among parties only to try to understand each other. No action, other than this can be taken.”
Malawi is preparing for 2019 tripartite elections where parties will have to compete for presidential, parliamentary and ward councilor seats.

Some people feel it is important to strategize now so that conflicts are minimized.

Kasungu District Council Acting Director of Administration (DOA) says conflicts are inevitable.

He says: “In a country where people have different ethnic groups and backgrounds there are bound to be conflicts. As we are going towards elections there is need to prepare very well right now and see how we can move forward.”

In 2016, Malawi Government in collaboration with Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Taskforce through the Office of President and Cabinet with Support of UNDP established District Peace Committees (DCPs) in three districts of Kasungu, Mangochi and Karonga.

The DPCs are district peace building, conflict prevention and transformation structures of the National Peace Architecture (NPA).

The three districts are pilot districts and are a first step and a test towards learning lessons for the rollout of the NPA structures nationwide.

Just like Kasungu, Mangochi and Karonga were probably earmarked for the pilot exercise because of their violence record in previous elections.

For instance, Karonga Central Constituency became a lawless society characterized by destruction of property and bloody fights between supporters of the area’s political heavyweights Frank Mwenifumbo and Cornelius Mwalwanda.

The constituency was subsequently nicknamed Benghazi in reference to Libya’s city which turned into a battlefield between government forces and Islamist militias.

CSO Task force member Dr Chrissy Muyeriwa believes the DPCs will be crucial in the coming elections.

“People will always have different views and having different views is not a problem at all; actually, it is good. However, we need to understand each other.

“The aim of DPCs is sitting conflicting parties together, liaise and solve the problems especially this time prior to elections and beyond,” she says.

The committees comprise of traditional leaders, religious leaders, women and youth representatives, Non-Governmental Organizations and other special interest groups.

National Peace Architecture Coordinator Dyton Kang’oma says DPCs are pillars of peace building transformation and is optimistic that they can be crucial in dealing with electoral related disputes.

Kang’oma adds that the DPCs will never work in isolation of other structures.

“They will work with other stakeholders and committees at district level like the MPLC, a thing which will see most of the disputes resolved easily.

“As you are aware, not all disputes can be resolved by MPLC alone. So it will be the DPCs that will be required to deal with such disputes,” Kang’oma says.

Kasungu DPC chairperson Hastings Kalima thinks that his committee will be relevant during the elections process.

“As DPC, we will have awareness meetings so that every stakeholder knows what is expected of them.

We are going to reach out to all so that they know what is expected of them,” Kalima says.

The DPCs are backed by a recently launched National Peace Policy which is a guide in the country’s peace building initiatives and conflict prevention, management, resolution and transformation mechanism by various stakeholders.

How this policy will be implemented will be the solution to the country’s peace building.

Meanwhile, eyes will be on DPCs in the pilot districts to see how effective they will be in the 2019 tripartite election’s electoral process.

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