Haven’t we experienced this before? Let’s see: Coup plot claims? Check. Party zealots upping the ante? Check. Arrests? Check. Sedition charges? Check. Suspects defending themselves against fabricated charges or fleeing into exile? Check.
When will this circus end? Why is it hard to learn from past mistakes? Does it serve Malawi leaders well to reach into the past for bad tactics to instill fear in the opposition when their backs are against the wall?
Malawi has had five presidents. The four that came after the first democratic elections in 1994 share the same alma mater, UDF, and in their style of leadership: they blatantly refuse to learn from history and they tend to point fingers for shortcomings that are largely of their own making rather than offering solutions to the problems of the day.
Let’s start with the first of the four, Bakili Muluzi. Subsequent to defeating president-for-life Dr. Kamuzu Banda in 1994 and after serving the constitutionally mandated two five-year terms, he must have thought he had done such a wonderful job that he deserved a third term. He was dead wrong.
His overtures were soundly rejected but still determined to remain in the game, Muluzi hand-picked a candidate to succeed him much to the displeasure of most in his own party. Despite opposition from the party’s rank and file, Bingu did indeed succeed Muluzi. But was it surprising that the honeymoon didn’t last? Hardly. Bingu would later flee the UDF, but endured a turbulent first term against a united opposition sworn to run him out of town. He had the civil society to thank for it came to his rescue after rallying around him.
For his second term bid, Bingu won big, but his refusal to fully appreciate how he came to the presidency and how he had survived a concerted effort by a formidable opponent, saw him mistake his win as a mandate to govern as he saw fit and eventually started chipping away at people’s basic freedoms. His former ally, the civil society, turned against him and so did donors, who normally picked up the tab for Malawi’s development budget, roughly 40 percent. The economy tumbled.
Yet still looking ahead and never behind, he did as his predecessor had done and chose his younger brother Peter as his successor. But Bingu’s sudden death two years before the expiry of his final term slammed the brakes hard on the move.
Bingu’s party resisted to allow his alienated deputy to ascend to the presidency but the DPP eventually caved. Joyce Banda, who had opposed her boss’s succession plans, was sworn in as president. She courted the disheartened donors and some aid trickled back as a result.
But as she served out the remaining two years of Bingu’s term, power got to the head of Banda and her deputy Khumbo Kachali. Whereas they didn’t pick needless fights with donors as Bingu before them had done, they still had not learnt from the past and ignored public criticism while spending public resources like a pair of drunken sailors on shore leave.
Banda, under whose watch a huge financial scandal broke, revealing that millions of dollars were stolen from government by paying vendors for services not provided, lost the 2014 elections to Bingu’s chosen successor, Peter.
Much as Mutharika could argue that the current crushing economic problems didn’t start with him – it has been suggested the problems didn’t start with Banda — a good case could also be made that his administration hasn’t helped the situation.
The trials of some of those accused of stealing public money are moving at a lumbering pace in the courts –as expected donors are refusing to part with their money — and it appears business is as usual at Capital Hill.
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Bright Msaka admitted collecting $6,000, when he was chief of the Office of President and Cabinet, for apparently doing nothing.
“While I can’t recall why I was paid, there must be an explanation,” Msaka was quoted by Sunday Nation as saying.
There must really be an explanation for not remembering why you were paid $6,000! I am just saying.
Last week there were arrests but not related to stolen millions of kwacha. Lawmaker Jesse Kabwila was among those arrested over conversations on social media about government failure to prevent the economy from going under. Government says Kabwila — before joining politics she successfully led the fight for academic freedom at institutions of higher learning when Peter’s brother was in power — and others committed sedition.
Can we look back as I’ve been suggesting? Free thinkers were enemies of the state in Malawi when Kamuzu was in power from 1964 to 1994. The state would go after anyone who said or wrote what didn’t jive with the despot’s political tenets.
In homes, a husband was better safe than sorry because voicing concern over his wife’s preoccupation with political activities – women would leave home for days on end to dance at political events – was an invitation to physical abuse from the governing party’s thuggish youth leaguers (today’s version are Young Cadets). In Kamuzu’s Malawi the party and government were one and beyond reproach.
Today, what does this type of mentality do to young, imaginative lawmakers (take Juliana Lunguzi, for example) who need the space to speak freely as they try to move necessitous Malawi forward? Without a doubt, not scrapping sedition laws off the books is just plain idiotic. Unfortunately, it’s been the case that only out-of-power politicians oppose the law when they are on the receiving end, a behavior that encourages the circus to go on with little or no regard to looking back to see forward.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :