Malawi Defence Force soldiers were Thursday deployed to quell running battles between vendors and police in Lilongwe after the police failed to stop looting which occurred following an attempt by the authorities to move vendors off the streets into the flea market.
Up to 40 people were arrested by the police by the end of the day.
Early in the morning, Lilongwe City Council officials accompanied by police went into the famous Malangalanga Road near the main bus depot to chase the vendors who ply their trade along the road, but the vendors resisted the move and stoned them, looting and vandalizing shops along the road.
The clashes spread around Old Town where people looted shops with police watching helplessly.
The looters went away with electronic goods such as generators and cellphones from Tronics Shop.
“Nearly K20 million worth of goods have been stolen from my shop. People are stealing things and police are right there doing nothing,” Tronics Shop owner Assif Patel said.
Other shops which were looted were Bata Shoe Company and PTC along Malangalanga road.
For three hours of violence, vendors blocked Malangalanga road and pelted missiles at police vehicles, prompting police to fire teargas, but this did not deter the irate vendors.
Although most shops and banks closed, vendors took advantage of the fracas and looted shops going away with mattresses and bicycles, a situation the police failed to control.
After three hours of looting, Tata trucks belonging to MDF soldiers occupied Malangalanga road to quell the situation and they were cheered by the vendors.
The violence spilled over to nearby townships of Biwi and Mchesi with angry people burning tyres and blocking roads with huge stones, but the police assisted by the army quickly quelled the protests with teargas.
Chairperson of the vendors in Central Market Steven Malunga said in an interview the fracas was as a result of a misunderstanding between vendors and the police, whom he said were searching for stolen goods in the market.
“We now regret that the police did not approach us first before getting into the market. The vendors who were intimidated ended up rioting on a simple misunderstanding,” Malunga said.
Central Region Police spokesperson Kingsley Dandaula said in an interview that many vendors were trading outside their designated flea market, causing chaos on the streets.
“Police are patrolling the streets and everything will be under control soon,” Dandaula said.
By the end of the day, up to 40 vendors had been arrested and three people were injured and treated as outpatients, according to Dandaula.
He said some of the vendors have been charged with conduct likely to cause breach of peace and others with illegal vending.
Dandaula also said the police recovered some of the looted property.
Vendors said President Bingu wa Mutharika told them last year that they had the freedom to trade anywhere.
But Deputy Minister of Local Government Chimango Mughogho condemned the violence, saying looting and stoning the police was not the way to deal with grievances, but dialogue.
“We are doing this for the greater good, so that there is order in our city. If they have grievances they should come to us to discuss not fighting the police,” she said.
This is the second clash between vendors and police in Lilongwe since last November when 47 vendors were arrested.