Jessie Kabwila attacks JB: Stop mediocrity, be issues based Madam President, please!

The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) of April 2013 to March 2014 makes it clear that 21 Districts of Malawi are facing food insecurity. It underlines that:

The total humanitarian food required to support the vulnerable population is estimated at 57, 346 Metric Tonnes maize equivalent with a cash equivalent of MK7.2 billion if sourced locally’ (MVAC Bulletin no. 9/13 Volume 1, 2).

In its recommendations, the MVAC concludes by calling on ‘Government and its collaborating partners to explore a range of interventions varying from cash-based to food-based interventions in addressing the situation,’ going on to emphatically add that, ‘Interventions that build people’s resilience should be given priority’ (3).

As if that is not enough, the Gender Based Violence Baseline Survey Report (2012), the Integrated Household Survey (IHS, 2012), and Malawi 2012 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer – outline in details, the mountains of challenges facing Malawians, especially women. These include the various shades of poverty, gender-based violence, impacts of adverse climate change, just to mention a few.  [You may add the economic hardship Malawians are going through at present]

Kabwila: It is about the issue, not the gender

Kabwila: It is about the issue, not the gender

Against such a background, you would think that when Malawi’s Head of State gets onto a campaign podium, as was the case on Sunday July 2013, she would be addressing national issues and not discussing personalities. One would have expected that some of the national issues mentioned above would be of A1, top priority and the Malawi President would not have time to parade the mediocrity of attacking personalities, which, in itself, is degrading behaviour to say the least.  It also takes the women’s movement backwards.

This is why I was disappointed when the Head of State, when she went to Nkhata Bay on Sunday 21st July 2013, used the presidential podium to lambast gender activists and not discuss national issues. Instead of focusing on the challenges facing the country and employing a systems based approach to leadership, she found it prudent to isolate gender activists of Malawi and attack them on the issue of divorce, even going as far as mentioning the exact number that one of them has been divorced, as if how many times a person gets divorced or married plays a role in the livelihood and development agenda of this country.

What the leadership of this country needs to explain to us Malawians, the ones who vote and put leaders into office, is of what importance personal and personalisation of issues are to the democratic governance and developmental agenda of the country?

Instead of attacking personalities, focusing on the personal issues of 6 women, it would be refreshing if each time Madam President got onto a podium focused on mapping ways to deal with the following issues ailing many Malawians:

  • Food Security, in view of the 21 districts that are facing food insecurity.

  • Gender Based Violence

  • Rising cost of living, life is very hard for many Malawians. The cost of food and fuel is unbearable for most of us, the mere availability of water and electricity is such a challenge, not mention medicine.

  • Corruption – local newspapers have whistle blown consistently on this issue.

  • The Threat of losing Lake Malawi – we are facing a battle of our lifetime because if there is one thing we all call ours and identify with, from Nsanje to Chitipa, it is Lake Malawi. Losing it will mean the loss of a prized national asset. Losing part of it threatens the loss of employment and source of protein for many Malawians, including a representative number of women.

  • Sustainable and Representative Development – When one looks at the anthropometrics section of our IHS, especially the nutritional status of children and poverty and income inequality  statistics, it is clear that many people are ultra poor, they need urgent help in basic commodities

  • Health sector funding since the 2013/14 health sector budget analysis has shown that the health sector is grossly underfunded. It argues that, ‘there was critical shortage of drugs (last year) and currently the available drugs are those supplied by donors under the emergency procurement, an arrangement that will expire in August 2013. (The Health Sector Budget Analysis Report, 2013/14, 21)

  • Sustainability of institutions of higher learning, especially that more are opening up

  • Youth development, given that most of the youth are unemployed, and the government promising them jobs in South Korea, etc. By the way, did Madam President’s government lie on this issue? If it was a lie, then it becomes a serious constitutional issue given that the President took an oath to do good to all of us.

  • Openness on the government’s agreement(s) with Paladin and the whole controversy over the Kayelekera Uranium Mine. Malawian deserve to know the truth, Madam President.

As the MVAC reminds us, the livelihood question is a priority and our president as Head of Government, should preoccupy herself with issues linked to the livelihood of Malawians, not how many times they have been married or divorced. Malawi’s plate of issues is so full, there is no need for its politicians, especially the Head of State, to attack personalities and personalize issues. Malawi needs a systems approach to governance. We urgently need leaders that focus on issues. The last think we need is leaders who take the lead in name calling, labeling of people and mudslinging.

It is also surprising that Madam President, who herself, has told us many times that she experienced an abusive marital relationship, should castigate women who have experienced the same and got out of it. Is Madam President not contradicting herself here?

I have heard some Malawians ask why those of us who were attacked on this Nkhata Bay address are not approaching the Head of State personally to raise this issue. When the late president (Bingu wa Mutharika) violated academic freedom, we did not go to his residence to raise issues with him in his private space. We, Malawians, stood up to him and spoke our minds. Our stand or the manner in which we stood, had nothing to do with his being a man. It was because of how him, as Head of State, had handled an issue, that of academic freedom.

By the same token, the current president has used a podium for personal attacks and some of us are standing up to call her out on that. We are asking her to be issues based. When we speak, especially those of us who are women, it should not be read as women speaking or shouting at each other. It should be read as Malawians raising issues with their Head of State.

Just as some of us spoke during the academic freedom saga, we are speaking now. We are not making this call because she is a woman. Even if she was a man, it the issue was going to be raised. It is about the issue, not the gender of the person or people involved.

 *Jessie Kabwila is a lecture at the University of Malawi, Chancellor College and a human rights activist

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