WANTED: a magic wand to clean out the foul toxicity in the political air. Required: a disinfectant to suppress the foul virulence in our political rhetoric. Sought: detergent with which to launder violence out of our way of doing politics. Desired: a metamorphosis of our criminal justice system so that it ceases to be an instrument in the service of partisan political interests. Prayed for: sincerity, steadfastness, constance, honesty and principled moorings among our politicians.
Political Violence Rears its Ugly Head Again
Nyasa Times reports of violence against members of the governing People’s Party (PP) as they went to a rally in Thyolo on November 13th. The report, replete with pictures of makeshift roadblocks and the injured, points an accusing finger at former governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) activists as the authors of the mayhem (see: http://www.nyasatimes.com/
It’s bad enough that the DPP has, as its habit, used violence to do politics. This is a party used to violence. It is its ‘cadets’ that roamed the streets of Blantyre on the eve of mass demonstrations in July last year, brandishing panga knives, threatening anyone who might despise their spiritual leader, then-President Bingu wa Mutharika. It was under the DPP government that gangs beat up Member of Parliament Mrs. Anita Kalinde on suspicion that she supported then Vice President Mrs. Joyce Banda who had fallen out with President Mutharika. It was under a DPP government that police shot dead, in cold blood, at least 21 demonstrators on July 20 and 21 last year. A published report has also recently implicated DPP activists in the brutal murder of Polytechnic student Rober Chasowa. In other words, it is well-established that the DPP considers the use of violence as a method of doing politics and this is disappointing and sad.
It’s even worse more disappointing and sad, however, that the governing PP should, in broad daylight, threaten political violence as retaliation for the Thyolo incidents;.instead of promising that perpetrators of political violence would have the book of law thrown at them. Violence is an old way of doing politics. It should have died with Bingu wa Mutharika when he, himself, went to meet his Maker. Political violence has no place in the new Malawi that is widely desired and is hopefully emerging. Malawi needs a new agenda for change a change into a state where opposing parties and politicians fight using competing ideas, not using fisticuffs. We want change!
Of Political Journeymen and Politics of the Pocket
Does it really make sense that one and the same individual served in the Bakili Muluzi cabinet, then the Bingu wa Mutharika cabinet and now the Joyce Banda cabinet when we all know that these presidents are/were different and were often opposed to one anther? Malawians should be suspicious of career, professional politicians who change political colour on a dime like chameleons in broad daylight. Frankly, some of these characters are more familiar with the furniture in the cabinet room than in their own kitchens at home. Does it ring sincere that one and the same person can, within the space of seventeen years be, at different times, a prominent member of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the United Democratic Front (UDF), the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and now the People’s Party (PP) and only when the respective parties are in power?
When they were in the Bakili Muluzi cabinet, these people castigated Kamuzu Banda and his system. When they weaselled into the Bingu wa Mutharika cabinet, these same folks castigated Bakili Muluzi and his governance. Now that they are in the Joyce Banda cabinet, they will start blasting Bingu wa Mutharika. After Joyce Banda, they will slither their way into whose ever future cabinet it will be and will start bad-mouthing Mrs. Banda. Is this not a a national shame? What sort of moral example does it leave to young Malawian children, the leaders of the future?
Either something is too clever by half about individuals who sell themselves to the highest bidder usually the one in power at the time in this way; or something is perilously dysfunctional about the political system in which these crooked individuals thrive so easily. More beneficial to Malawi is the political person, Member of Parliament or otherwise, who would rather stay modest in means but morally rich and intact with well-moored political principles. Deleterious to the Malawi bodypolitic is the politician, mouthing self-serving platitudes about so-called freedom of association, who chases pecuniary and material riches, as well as power, via unabashed political prostitution and opportunism.
Malawi is blessed with many natural resources, the greatest of which is the diverse pool of talent and ability among its people. The more reason an agenda for change is imperative so that new faces with fresh talents, principled men and women, can have their kick at the can and make an impact to move the country forward. The nation does not get much traction when the same tired, old, recycled talking heads play the political game the same way, over and over and over and over again. With these individuals, it’s as if the nation is at the dentist’s under an interminable drill. May we have new talent for the benefit of Mother Malawi, pretty please?
The Merchants of Malice and the Low Level of Political Debate
During the Bingu wa Mutharika dictatorship we got used to the politics of kutukwana castigations, spite, character assassination and lies. The names of Mrs. Patricia Kaliati, Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba and others of that regime became synonymous with liars, otukwana and character assassins. It came to a point where one could be forgiven for thinking that the faces of these individuals were printed beside words and expressions like ‘liar’ or ‘castigator’ or ‘character assassin’ for illustrative purposes.
But if one thought these practices died with the demise of Bingu Mutharika, one has recently discovered that one was grievously wrong. Haven’t Vice President Khumbo Kachali and Minister of Home Affairs Uladi Mussa recently taken advantage of a presidential function at Mangochi to use kutukwana, lies and character assassination to vent venom upon their then cabinet colleague Austin Atupele Muluzi, prompting Muluzi to resign from cabinet? Reportedly they were joined in the verbal volleys by the MP from the area, Yusuf Matumula. Disturbingly, all this was happening while Muluzi was attending his recently-deceased grandmother’s memorial service. And we thought we were done with the politics of podium kutukwana! The effect of all this nonsense is, of course, to lower the quality and level of public debate to the detriment of the country. Malawi is better served when politicians fight using competing ideas about how to develop the country, and may the best ideas win; not fighting based on who has the best ad hominem zingers on the podium!
Why don’t we try this for a change: let political parties and leaders first decide what it is they stand for and how they thus differ from the next party or political leader(s)? Why don’t they try to explain what they are doing as elected politicians, or what they would do if elected/re-elected that would be different from what the next party or leader(s) would do? Perhaps then we might have real debates with results that truly change Malawi and her people for the better. We need this change.
A Politically Bent Criminal Justice System
Malawi has no use for the Anti-Corruption Bureau as far as its behaviour under President Bingu wa Mutharika and Director Alex Nampota is what defines it. Judging from some of the ways they used it, Mutharika and Nampota did not see the bureau as a fighter of corrupt practices. They saw it, instead, as an instrument to use against the political opponents of the Mutharika regime. In that regime, in some cases, even the Directorate of Public Prosecutions was similarly used. A true crime-fighting Anti-Corruption Bureau and Directorate of Public Prosecutions would not concentrate on past leaders while leaving unmolested those in the contemporary government who are looting the Treasury in broad daylight or committing other criminal atrocities as was happening under President Mutharika. The ABC and the DPP are not supposed to be political enforcement wings of the party in power.
Under President Mutharika, selective prosecution was the order of the day. In Mrs. Joyce Banda’s cabinet Cassim Chilumpha, a former Vice President is the Minister of Energy and Mining. President Mutharika’s regime made the nation believe Chilumpha was plotting to assassinate the president. That Chilumpha had hired assassins from South Africa who were ready to pull the trigger and blow Mutharika’s brains to smithereens. In fact, one minister at the time, political journeyman Henry Dama Phoya who is now in Mrs. Banda’s cabinet, said when all the evidence would be made public people would be shocked. Chilumpha was arrested some days at Maula gaol and many months under house arrest. His alleged assassins in South Africa were on the Malawi Government’s payroll for many months as the nation awaited Chilumpha’s trial which never came. Today, we hear musings that Chilumpha’s case will be formally dropped (http://www.nyasatimes.com/
To help heal the nation, though, all such politically motivated prosecutions, with victims including Ralph Kasambara, Atupele Muluzi and Bakili Muluzi should be similarly dropped. Bakili Muluzi’s legal troubles, in particular, came after President Bingu wa Mutharika had left the UDF and was accusing Muluzi of trying to rule through the backdoor. In President Mutharika’s recorded directive to the then ACB boss Gustav Kaliwo, the president did not say ‘Arrest Muluzi because he committed a crime’, no. Mutharika said ‘Arrest him because he is trying to rule through the back door’. Mutharika’s determination to destroy Muluzi was consolidated when the UDF made Muluzi it’s presidential candidate for the 2009 elections. Today millions (perhaps billions) in government resources have already been spent and will likely continue to be spent to continue prosecuting an obviously politically-motivated case against Muluzi. The sensible thing that is now being done for the Chilumpha case should similarly be done with other politically motivated cases such as that of Kasambara and the two Muluzis.
Malawi’s time, efforts and resources should be spent doing positive things that build and heal the nation, not negative things that divide and destroy it. Political show trials are not in the public interest. Pursuing them to satisfy political whims or to use as tools of political blackmail is an abuse of the criminal justice system. The country is ripe for a complete overhaul in the way we use the criminal justice system to make it truly serve the public interest in meting out criminal justice, not political account settling or blackmail.
Considering all of the above and more, our country is truly ripe for a change agenda an agenda whose focus is on improving the nation, not regressing it.
*Ambuje Che Tom Likambale is a Malawian writer based in Canada.