Malawian President Peter Mutharika has earned a new accolade; he is now Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the poorest country in the world. This is after the latest calculations by the World Bank indicated that Malawian has the lowest GDP and per capita income in the world. This is the first time for Malawi to attain this status 50 years after independence from colonial Britain.
Some people have quickly criticized the Bretton Wood Institution, arguing that the calculations were wrongly done, and that there is no way Malawi can be poorer than the Central African Republic or Somalia and other war-ravaged nations across Africa.
Whichever way we choose to look at this, the fact remains that Malawi as a country has earned a tag that it is the poorest country in the world. Unfortunately, it is a tag that will hang on us as a country at least for the foreseeable future. It would also be the lens through which the rest of the world will look at us, and if we will fail to do the right things, it is sure to be there for the long haul. It is a painful reality and very real.
It is usually a norm for passengers on a sinking ship to place all their trust in their captain. A strong captain demonstrates courage and leadership; he embodies hope and assurance, and offer hope to his charges even when circumstances appear to be dire and hopeless.
Do Malawians see courage in Captain Peter Mutharika? Do they get any assurances that things will get better? Does his track record inspire us that we are in safe hands, and that we will sail from these turbulent waters any time soon?
President Peter Mutharika’s track record is littered with a not-a-so-inspiring narrative in as far as being a manager of people and institutions is concerned. The young brother to former President, late Bingu wa Mutharika left Malawi in the 1960s to pursue academic objectives and only came back after his brother became Head of State in 2004.
He was immediately roped in as Chief Advisor to the President. How he performed in that position is very difficult to ascertain in the absence of key performance indicators for presidential advisors or indeed other top government positions.
During his brother’s reign, the current captain of the sinking Malawi ship held a number of ministerial portfolios, and the picture that immediately emerges is that of insipid performance by an absent minded professor who is far away and removed from the daily experiences of ordinary Malawians.
It was during the time he was Minister of Education that this country experienced the worst duel between the President and the University of Malawi in the infamous academic freedom saga. Conspicuously absent during that period was Minister of Education Peter Mutharika.
He never appeared anywhere in the equation; not even convening a single meeting with university dons to iron out differences that had left students months out of lecture rooms. He could not even issue a ministerial statement. It was as though the country did not have a Minister of Education. The best he did under the circumstances was to disappear to the United States of America (USA) for three months.
During the time he was Minister of Justice, Malawians saw the DPP administration enacting some bizarre laws whose only aim was to entrench the party’s grip on power. Some of the laws empowered the Minister of Information to ban publications that he deemed not in public interest; the law about police invading people’s privacy and searching without a warrant, as well as the law forbidding High Court Judges to issue ex-parte injunctions.
It was also during Peter Mutharika’s time as Minister of Foreign Affairs that this country sent packing British Ambassador, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, in one of Malawi’s lowest diplomatic moments since independence. The ambassador was given 72 hours to leave Malawi for allegedly communicating to London about President BinguwaMutharika’s dictatorial tendencies. It was a feat that even Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe – a man famous for British bashing – has never achieved and could only look with envy.
Now here we are stuck with the same man as the country’s fifth President since independence (how he became President is still a mystery). Are the fruits of that mediocrity and his style of leadership not already manifesting?
Just eight months into his presidency, the country is down on its knees and sitting at the summit of the poorest nations in the world. Global Fund – the major donor to the National Aids Commission (NAC) – has just announced it has ceased funding the organization for “failing to meet some funding criteria”.
This is coming after Mutlhako wa Alhomwe, a foundation affiliated to the President, and Beautify Malawi Trust (Beam), an organization that is run by Peter Mutharika’s wife, Getrude Mutharika (the woman he married immediately after assuming the presidency), and whose core duties is cleaning the environment, refused to refund money that was wrongly obtained from NAC.
Despite calls from Malawians that the money should be refunded, the First Lady is stubborn and adamant. She maintains she did nothing wrong and sees no reason for her organization to pay back the money. Once again her husband – the captain of the sinking ship – remains mum. He sees nothing wrong about this whole affair, at least based on the statements from some of his advisors.
The statement from Global Fund (that NAC failed to meet funding criteria) is a diplomatic statement. What they really wanted to say was “we have stopped funding because beam remained stubborn and refused to refund our money”.
What we are experiencing now is only a pointer of the things to come under the stewardship of Peter Mutharika. The question is: Is he the captain to take the Malawi ship out of these troubled waters?
As Malawi is being declared the poorest country in the world, the only picture you see is of Mutharika kissing Gertrude on Valentine’s Day. That is Peter for you.
*Hastings Kandoje is an economic, social and political commentator. He writes for Nyasa Times in his own rightFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :