Shooting off the hip and diplomatic service in Malawi

Thoko Banda: 'Mugabe is an idiot'   remarks cost him the Zimbabwe diplomatic posting

Thoko Banda: ‘Mugabe is an idiot’ remarks cost him the Zimbabwe diplomatic posting

Ntaba: Doctor-cum-politician  withdraws from diplomatic posting

Ntaba: Doctor-cum-politician withdraws from diplomatic posting

As we wind up the year I have decided to finish a piece that I had wanted to write a month or two ago. In a game of chess, whatever gambit you chose, the idea is always to plan ahead. You must always be several moves ahead and consider the:what if scenario.

Traditionally, ambassadors were personal representatives of the sovereign. In Malawi the President appoints, then another body, Parliament approves the appointment of ambassadors. The concept of parliamentary approval is a recent addition, fruits of democracy. Two recent appointments in which both appointees turned down (opted out) amidst rumours of rejection by the recipient countriesprompted the writing of this piece. If true, this demonstrates a failure in the system at many levels.

I can say without fear of contradiction that both Dr Heatherwick Ntaba and Mr Thoko Banda are highly intelligent people. Hearing Mr Banda reminds me of the extremely articulate and highly intelligent Aleke Banda. In the days of old we did not call Dr Ntaba talking computer for nothing. The man has a grasp of issues and speaks with conviction. Yes the fact that he speaks the Queen’s language with such finesse adds up to the mystique. Sadly however intelligence is not always equal towisdom.

Mr Banda was appointed envoy to Zimbabwe. It later transpired that he had said some not-so-flattering things about the comrade. It is rumoured Harare made it clear that the he was was persona non-grata. People have asked:is Mr Banda not entitled to air his opinions? What happened to freedom of speech? And therein in lies the problem. He may be so entitled but maybe the question to be asked is whether he was wise to be so blunt, especially if he was planning for political office or diplomatic service.

I read the article that caused all the furore and it reminded me of the phrase shooting off the hip.  At this point I recall the song by Robert Fumulani; ukayenda kumasiya phazi osati mulomo chifukwa mulomo uzakupeza.

Which brings us squarely to the good doctor. During the time of the late Bingu, Dr Ntaba was part of the President’s PR team. And one thing you can bet on Ntaba is that he will never disappoint. So during those politically charged moments when the British High Commissioner was given orders to leave, Dr Ntaba naturally had to be on the side of the big kahuna. Once again we have a situation where Dr Ntaba may not have been wise considering posterity. What was clear was he was shooting off the hip.

In hindsight he was not wise at all. He ought to have censored his words or exercised an element of restraint. But it is easy for us to say this after the fact, but nonetheless it is a lesson which hopefully others have learnt from. Therefore rumours that London indicated that Ntaba would not be received as our emissary by the Queen are not surprising. In fact what is surprising is that these appointments were made in the manner they were in the first place.

This begs the question how are candidates appointed to key positions vetted? If we refer back to the chess analogy, shouldn’t we have some pipo planning ahead? The Catholics gave us a good name for this, devil’s advocate. Shouldn’t someone have dug out any dirt and lay it on the table? As it is said forewarned is forearmed.

Let us start with our intelligence service(s). I am aware that the intelligence service performs important state functions to ensure that our country is safe from its ‘enemies’. However it is no secret that intelligence services do more than this. Intelligence services do a lot of information gathering. So let us assume the President intends to appoint one Mr Thoko Banda as Ambassador to Zimbabwe, shouldn’t the first thing be a request to the Director General of the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) for a full dossier on Mr Banda before the President makes it official?

Now let us be honest, information gathering these days is a different business altogether comparing to the days of old. It is a sophisticated art which depends on use of technology. For one it needs a lot of resources. If there are no high speed and high capacity computers and fast access to data channels (including the internet) at NIB offices then Government needs to invest in this yesterday.

Furthermore, to make sense out of data collected, needs analysis. Qualification for intelligence analysts should not be being a party royalist. We need people who have been trained at least at tertiary level. They should be able to read chatter on the internet; social media and draw a picture based on evidence. Intelligence analysts think in multi-dimensional visions.

All intelligence organs the world over are now using the internet as an information gold mine;usually within the law but at times outside the law. Analysts should be able to dig out information of every intended appointee such that a dossier is presented to the President before the actual appointment is made. Put simply, a dossier should have been presented to the President indicating that there were likely to be problems in having Mr Banda appointed to Zimbabwe and Dr Ntaba to the UK. It is elementary actually when one thinks about it, so basic that it boggles the mind how this was even allowed.

No organisation can succeed without an element of spying and information gathering. No leader can successfully lead his or her people without gathering information about those being led or governed. It is just part of the business. Collecting vital information that can enhance decision making is therefore part of management. Before the President appoints any Ambassador, the President must satisfy himself that they will pass the PAC test as well as have no barriers to be accepted by the recipient country. Does this mean that background check will guarantee that PAC will always approve the President’s appointees? No, but the answer to this lies in the realm of politics which is outside the scope of this piece.

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Majoti Muzanga

Intelligence works in more ways than one. It is not a straight jacket affair. What if Malawi – APM specifically – wanted to get rid of Thoko Banda and chose to appoint him to Zimbabwe knowing fully well that Mugabe will not accept him there? So dont be fixated on one angle of diplomacy, Mutharika may have also used the purported appointment to get rid of Thoko Banda having been told his papers are cooked up.

Mr Ineyo



whatever goes round: come round

mzondi chirambi

To avoid these embarrassing situations, I would strongly recommend to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs two books: Eileen Denza Diplomatic Law and Feltham Diplomatic Handbook. I might add our own Bright Msaka’s The Modern Diplomat.

Kalsiman mwira

Well atticulated facts. Siya phazi.. Chipata.

Mulopwana Wa Mamwene

Ntaba anamubweza / anamukana uyo bcoz anathandizila kuthamangitsa Kazembe nthawi ijayi ya abulazi


a government of total disgrace.

Thitherward Wendo
SHOOTING FROM THE HIP It has been said more than once that a diplomat is an honest man who is paid to go abroad to lie FOR his country. He may be compared to a politician who is a dishonest man who is paid to stay at home to lie TO his country. While the second part of the above statement remains true, the advent of democracy changed the first part. A diplomat is now ‘a mercenary paid to go abroad to lie for his country’s ruling party’. It seems to me that Dr Ntaba is eminently suited to the… Read more »

Am reliably informed that kulibe za ntchito koma chiwerewere mabwana kugona ndi ana in exchange of favours like international trips, promotions and the like


Which intelligence are you talking about ? Departmental Heads are busy chewing money at the expense of the nation. Mr. President sooner you reshuffle the system the better.

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