While addressing a rally at Masintha Ground in Lilongwe on Sunday, President Mutharika remarked apparently for the second time that his treason case was “stupid.” As someone who is currently travelling, I have only gathered that he first used the word stupid at Njamba Freedom Park in Blantyre, where he held another rally about a week or so ago.
Honestly, I feel uncomfortable that my president used that word, more so that he has used it twice. I understand that he used the word, to refer to the case not to any individual, which is good, but he could have done better not to use the word at all.
I do not wish to pretend to be a political analyst or anything professional and worthy, but the truth is that the word stupid has very unwelcomed sentiments and connotations when understood in the Malawian context, or even in some African context. It belongs to the exact category of words that Mutharika would really not wish to associate himself with, at least not this early.
The word stupid is an English word that the Concise Oxford Dictionary, 10th edition defines as 1. Lacking intelligence or common sense, 2. Dazed and unable to think clearly. Of the two meanings, I know pretty well that the president meant the first meaning;- that the treason case lacked intelligence and common sense. That is fine, and most of us, share the same understanding. But calling it stupid changes everything.
It’s like the Zero Deficit Budget, and the Zero Aid Budget; it’s the same policy, but the choice of words has some psychological effect on the people; when you replace deficit with aid, you perform a miracle. If this was called the Zero Deficit Budget again, people would lament that Mutharika is bringing back his brothers mistakes; they would claim there shall again be no fuel and no forex etc. But only a careful choice of words has averted the harm and unrest. That is the power of words.
Therefore, the president must choose his words carefully. The word stupid does not convey the same simple and straight forward and honest meaning when understood in our cultural setup. The word is very impolite, and only used in moments of verbal attacks which mostly lead to physical attacks due to emotional injury that the word usually inflicts on the recipient.
Even when not directed at an individual, the word speaks a lot about negative emotions and attitude of the person uttering it. The emotions range from anger and frustration. It might also suggest aggressiveness, insensitivity, and rudeness.
President Peter Mutharika does not usually respond to personal attacks, which is one thing I recently praised him for. But sometimes, his silence could be misconstrued for weakness and consent to the accusations, in which case he needs to respond just to send a message back to his critics, and boost the morale of his party supporters that feel down when he is attacked, and would love to hear him respond.
However, this must be done with minimal or no damage at all to his reputation which is of vital importance, especially now when we have the economy to worry about.
The president and his advisory team must consider that his late brother Bingu WA Mutharika, had used much of tough words towards the end of his regime. His careless choice of words, like “go to hell,” or “I will smoke you out” or “ …a country of chickens” were manipulated by the media and gave him extra baggage to deal with at the most difficult period of his leadership. Any tough word president Peter Mutharika uses will give his critics and enemies enough ammunition to wage war against him. They will start by saying; he is as dictatorial as his brother.
Finally, Mr President, the people of Malawi voted you into office totally aware of your treason charges. This means that the people knew that the case “lacked common sense.” So they ignored it and crowned you Head of State.
They do not need an explanation now? Some of your critics probably took an oath to give you headaches, the very day you took an oath to defend our constitution. They have nothing to lose, but you have government to run, jobs to create, borders to defend and about 16 million stomachs to feed.
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Nyasa Times editorial policy.