The bad joke that reverberated across Malawi

Public speaking is a prerequisite skill for people whose job calls them to communicate with audiences from time to time. Whether it is in the private or public sector, communicators apply various skills including joking to engage with their audiences so that they capture the content or the nitty-gritty of the message(s) they are trying to put across.Loose cannon

For politicians, public speaking is a must have skill, more so for anyone aspiring to become president of a country. This, however, does not imply that all politicians are blessed with public speaking skills; it also does not mean that all presidents are equipped with this skill. Examples of public speaking deficiencies abound right at our very doorstep.

Of all the presidents to ever occupy State House in this country, Bakili Muluzi comes out tops in as far as public joking is concerned. He was a humourous par excellence and the only president who would persistently light up audiences with his joke-infused speeches, and often leaving them in stitches. He would utterly complete the whole speech with jokes and got away with it. He would joke sometimes, even when he was apologizing. Such was the talent of Atcheya, and no president has ever come close.

Unfortunately President Peter Mutharika cannot be talked in the same thread as Bakili Muluzi, or his brother, late Bingu wa Mutharika. In fact of all the Presidents that have occupied State House in Malawi, he is the worst public speaker. His speeches are always uninspiring, dispirited and often leaving audiences disappointed and asking for clarification. He often comes across as bland, and is clearly a president who has failed to connect with the people he is supposed to preside over.

Others have touted him as top-notch lawyer and accomplished academician, but this has failed to change the fact that Peter Mutharika is just not cut out for public speaking. He has made several attempts to joke in public but all the time it has ended badly. Often sending a different meaning than intended and often sending spin doctors scampering to fire-fight in his ( Mutharika’s) wake. He can even attempt to joke in the midst of national weeping. Remember the ‘ndilibe pulobulemu’ and the ‘nyapapi’ episodes.

The latest public goof (or a joke as Patricia Kaliati would like to make us believe) is particularly flummoxing. At a public rally in Mulanje district recently, Mutharika, perhaps in a bid to assuage anxious Malawians in the face of biting hunger and poverty, advised the people to eat mice and Zicheche and not just rely on maize, which has become scarce.

But according to a statement issued by Minister of Information, Patrica Kaliati, this was meant to be a joke, and Mutharika’s way of having a lighter moment and bantering with ‘his people’.

Just to put it on record, a good population of Malawians has always eaten mice (not rats). Traditionally these (mice) have been a delicacy for some people regardless of whether it is time of plenty or time of hunger. Many Malawians, especially those of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) and Islamic background, also don’t eat mice, and I am sure would not consider eating them under any circumstances.

Was Mutharika’s ‘joke’ meant at inducing traditional eaters of mice to eat more of mice? Or was it meant to recruit people like Muslims or those from Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) background to now start eating mice to the hunger situation?

Mutharika’s ‘joke’ was clearly a bad one, and once again exposed his palpable disconnect with the rest of us Malawians. It also blared his typical and continuous indifference over the country’s social construct and over the suffering of a majority of Malawians under his administration.

Saying ‘ndilibe problem’ (I don’t have a problem) when people were sleeping at ADMARC depots due to lack maize, which is the staple food for a majority of ‘his people’, and now advising people to turn to ‘Mbewa and Zicheche’ to beat hunger is a clear sign that there is something wrong with Mutharika. Can ‘mbewa’ really be a solution to hunger?

Bakili Muluzi once said that “running government is a serious business.” In times like these when hunger is biting relentlessly, the political podiums should have offered an opportunity for Mutharika, as President of the country, to articulate (assuming he can) what his government has put in place or plan to do to deal with the hunger situation.

People in this country are not looking for bad jokes mis-cracked at political podiums. They are looking for food period. That food is not ‘mbewa and Zicheche’; they are looking for a sustainable framework that should genuinely emancipate them from the pangs of poverty and hunger.

Mutharika must be advised that if you can’t manage to do it, don’t do it. Kamuzu knew he was not a joker. He didn’t bother and nobody made a fuss about it.

“The current historic hunger threatens the life of many Malawians. Our hospitals are already reporting higher rates of malnutrition cases and the situation is feared to worsen as we approach what we normally call the lean period. The situation requires immediate and long-term solutions.” – A statement signed by Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) chairperson Archbishop Thomas Msusa of the Archdiocese of Blantyre.

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1 thought on “The bad joke that reverberated across Malawi”

  1. Phyuta says:

    Please , write things that can add value to our life

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