MALAWI: Students injured in clashes with police

Police used excessive force against scores of students, beating and injuring some of them, while quelling a protest and lecture boycott against lack of equipment at the state-run Mzuzu University in northern Malawi. The students were mainly angry about the unavailability of a photocopier and printing machines.

On Wednesday, student council president Charles Kajoloweka told University World News that besides the injuries sustained as a result of arbitrary beatings, police had also damaged property belonging to students such as laptops.

He added that students were unhappy that the university was failing to replace or repair broken equipment.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Professor Peter Mutharika, younger brother of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, poured cold water on the fire after he donated a photocopier and printers after delivering a public lecture at the university titled "Our Democratic Constitution: Some reflections 15 years later".

In his lecture the justice minister criticised a number of provisions in Malawi's constitution, including one that allows constituents to recall lawmakers, which he said was open to abuse by losing candidates who could hire mobs to unseat a member of parliament.

There is speculation that the younger Mutharika might seek the country's top job after his brother steps down, as a two-term presidential limit means he is no longer eligible to run.

In response to the assault of students by police, the government through its mouthpiece The Daily Times defended the beatings. It said public university authorities should start expelling "trouble makers" as they used to do in the past:

"The first thing that these students should realise is that they are at a public university which is heavily financed by taxpayers, most of whom do not have children or wards there. This applies to all government-subsidised universities and colleges."

People were being taxed heavily to finance universities, the newspaper wrote, "and students should at least show a little bit of gratitude by behaving responsibly. Shouting insults and swearing at passersby by the students is just regrettable since it is these same people who toil to pay taxes that eventually fund this insolence."

Perhaps, The Daily Times continued, students should be made to pay fully for their studies and should not be allowed to get away with unruly behavior. "Once upon a time there were university principals, even at Mzuzu University itself, who could get rid of troublemakers and it is time that solution was revisited by those in charge of university colleges today."