Ntata: To speak or not to speak?

In order to govern a country with excellence and lead it to economic prosperity, leaders need to be open minded. From my experience working in government, I have come to the conclusion that this is the most difficult attribute to have when one is governing.



In government, perceptions easily become blurred by prejudice and presumption. I once worked in government, so I am speaking from experience. Our governance framework has made it so easy to automatically go into the siege mentality e verytime someone criticises it.

The result is that the leadership closes its ears to relevant and useful advice because praise singers and party loyalists brand any change agent an enemy of the state. Instead of considering the soundness of the message, they attack the character of the messenger.

With our country in retrogression 50 years after independence, I strongly submit that the fear of being considered an enemy of the state and being castigated physically and in the media has stopped many from becoming the change agents that our governance framework, which still operates very much like a one party state, desperately needs.

Of course being a change agent is not for the faint hearted. Free money is given to anyone with a pen or smart phone to attack and assassinate the character of anyone who dares to point out where the government is going wrong. But if we love Malawi and want it to truly develope and get out of this 19th century thinking she is stuck in, we as Malawians must become change agents and accept gladly the risks that come with that choice.

By definition, change agents are ‘the messenger’ – and one thing change agents can be certain of is that as messengers, shots will be fired at them.

‘Shooting the messenger’ is considered a subdivision of an ad hominem attack, which is: insulting or belittling one’s opponent in order to attack his claim or invalidate his argument, but can also involve pointing out true character flaws or actions that are irrelevant to the opponent’s argument. This is logically fallacious because it relates to the opponent’s personal character, which has nothing to do with the logical merit of the opponent’s argument.

When inevitably you have become the target of hostility, remember that it is your message, not you personally, that the person or group is reacting to. When people attack the person delivering the message instead of debating the issue raised by their message, they are reacting to someone placing them in a state of cognitive dissonance.

Refuse to make yourself the issue. Your goal is to help the country move forward, not justify your character or your past; or defend motivations presumptively and prejudicially imputed to you. If you decide to talk about governance and the intolerance of those you criticise, you must be prepared to demonstrate that you are not just speaking but that you, yourself, are tolerant of those that speak spitefully about you.

Truth is truth regardless of who speaks it. And in this country, there are truths that need to be spoken by someone. Anyone. The suspicious MSB sale, the totally empty Public Service Reforms and the presidential puppetry are but just a few examples.

It is a failure of good governance to refuse to take criticism or to quickly brand all that point out issues as enemies of the state.

As a writer and a governance scholar, I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in a character debate or justify myself and my motives to individuals who let their presumption and petty prejudices guide their thinking. The fact that apparently well respected journalists can waste their time writing nothing but character assassination articles instead of debating these important national issues is a clear testimony to our country’s intellectual bankruptcy.

I discuss governance not because I believe my character is angelic, but because having studied governance and worked in government, I have the advantage of understanding that when in government, it is easy for myopia and complacency to set in, accompanied by the feeling that the government can do no wrong. I also know that fear of losing their jobs or being branded as disloyal traitors prevents many from speaking out about obvious wrongs.

My fellow Malawians, criticizing government and speaking on issues that matter is not about having previously teamed up in the trenches with anyone. It is about having the courage and the presence of mind to speak out. Period.

  • The author is a barrister of Middle Temple, governance specialist and author of Trappings of Power: Political Leadership in Africa.
Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :

Please share this Article if you like Email This Post Email This Post

More From the World

newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Uku sikuchenjer mr Ntata Ndale ufunse a Sam Mpasu

The Objective Person
My salute Mr Z. Allan Ntata. You have proved to be a hard nut to crush by these sunday journalists that is why instead of debating issues raised they gang for attacks on personality. Do not lose your sleep they are on their payrol simply for character assasination. You are very sound and clear here that you were in government during Bingu’s time and it was difficult to pull a trigger against oneself for the sake of job. This time he is able to point out what is wrong. People are forgetting that we had good judgement in Mavuto Bamusi… Read more »
point blank

Ntata vindicated on MSB sale. I thought you were talking out of anger.


where were you when we needed pple of that cariba.u wea enjoyin wit bingu.iweyo ndi amene umamupatsa bingu makani.ndiwe zoba kwambiri.

I have now get accustomed to Z. Allan Ntata’s articles and his critics but one thing I strongly agree with him what he writes in his articles is that it is true that in Malawi anyone criticizing the government is labeled an enemy of government. Ntata is not criticizing government as an individual or a group of individual personalities NO. What he is critical of is the failure by government to change the way it runs or governs this country. We are talking of governance issues here and polices. It’s not about Peter Mutharika, George Chaponda, Nankhumwa, Kasaila or Kaliati… Read more »

Those who have ears let them hear and those with eyes let them see what the Prophet Z Ntata says!
Vutodi ndi lakuti ali m’boma , olamula saona choipa ndipo safuna kuwuzidwa zoipa zina zili zonse! Abale APM ndi munthu, si Mulungu akalakwitsa tizimuuza ndithu osaopa!!


those who have got a chance to write something please do so so that others can learn from you ,they can know the truth.forget about poeple whose job is just to clap hands at party functions so that they get something instead of working

Malawi Wake Up

Bingu was worse and arrogant and yet u never criticised him. You were caught unawares eating honey and drinking milk and suddenly you took off. You never waited to send off the hand that was feeding you. Now I guess this is part of your Phd assignment just to see you thru to your graduation. I cannot take your articles seriously. Envy, anger, jealousy,resentiment,greediness that what I see from your writing.

Chilungamo ndi Mtendere
Chilungamo ndi Mtendere

Nkhani yavuta ndiyoti akulu awa anabwezedwa ku state house nothing else Amalawi tisamale tizawombera mfiti mmanja.

The point has been made by Ntata.Lets discuss ideas and whether they are logical or not or whether they do make sense.Because our thinking is so parochial and captured by what we are offered by our parties or where we do belong, we usually fall into the trap of examining persons that have originated any ideas if they go against the status quo rather than determine whether the floated ideas make sense.This is why educated as some people may claim, it is not possible to have an intelligent discussion with most of us because we view issues from a prejudiced… Read more »

More From Nyasatimes