We arrive to the office this morning, which is in the centre of Lilongwe, to looters running away through the bush opposite. We shortly hear reports from colleagues and friends that violence and trouble continued long into the night in certain districts like Biwi, Kawale and Mchesi. Reports that the Metro and Chipiku were being looted were confirmed true, and moments later we could hear noise from Chipiku (which is behind our office) as well as teargas being fired into the crowd. The gunshots that followed were all we needed to decide to close the office for the day (10am) and head home. Leaving the office was nerve wracking as it was unclear where the mob would move to and our offices are in the middle of town, but once we were on our way things were fine. Lilongwe is very quiet, but some shops like the mighty foodworths continued to stay open and they reported no violence or trouble at all.
Here's what the BBC have to say on the matter:
President Bingu wa Mutharika said the protesters were "working for Satan".
"Each time we have a problem, is it a solution to go to the streets and demonstrate? I don't think so. Those of you who have started this, I know you," he said, in a state of the nation address.
Correspondents say lorry-loads of soldiers and riot police are patrolling Lilongwe's city centre, clearing barricades that protesters had set up.
The city centre is deserted with shops closed while there are reports of looting in neighbouring townships, correspondents say. "
However, their report is somewhat watered down. We have seen the lorry loads of soldiers racing up and down streets with our own eyes, and though the city centre is now a ghost town it was a different story earlier this morning. Though reports can often be under or over exaggerated, I find it's quite hard to deny or exaggerate photographic evidence... here are the latest from friends/twitterati. As you can see, most people wanted to protest peacefully and many were happy to be able to exercise their freedom of speech. However some of the photos below are quite graphic, and show how easy it is for these situations to deteriorate rapidly from peaceful protests into violent, malicious acts of hatred.
We are hoping for a peaceful day tomorrow; there has been a much heavier armed military presence on the ground today and with any luck those who had their scores to settle have done so now. History has been made in this country - nothing like this has taken place for well over 45 years, so enough is enough - stop torching cars and looting in the name of 'protesting for democracy'.
It has to be said, this situation is really only bad in the centre of cities in Malawi. On the outskirts of Lilongwe, and in much of the country, the same peaceful, quiet and slow way of life continues to plod on much like it always has and much like it will do for years to come. I hope no one cancels trips here or rethinks a visit. Just like in Kenya, in the elections a few years back, the violence and problems are internal and domestic - and not aimed at tourists or expats. You just have to be sensible at avoiding the dangerous areas. This just occurs to me, as I realise family and friends read this blog.... my passion to show what is going on comes from loving this country and loving the people that are wanting to fight for better democracy and governance....it is not intended as scare mongering. Most of these photos have been taken in already slightly dodgy areas of town, and though not unaffected, we are all safe and not overly worried (and that's saying something, coming from the world's worst worrywort...)
We'll see what mawa brings...