“Extremis malis, extrema remedia” – Latin version of “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Judiciary staff to maintain strike action. Judges threaten to withhold labour. Parliamentary staff seeks salary adjustment. Teachers unpaid for close to six months. Civil servants arrears not paid. Primary school teachers down tools. Primarily school children demonstrate against non-payment of teacher salaries and lack of lessons due to strike action.
These have been the headlines in the past week as we witness an apparently uncoordinated and unintended conspiracy to undermine the current government by bringing it down to its knees through irresponsible demands against a backdrop of a donor-aid freeze and insufficient local resources to feed the budget. Of course, the DPP administration has itself to blame for the increment merry-go-round mess after succumbing to pressure to raise civil servants’ salaries when the fiscus could not accommodate such an increase; frankly, government missed an opportunity to streamline the civil service at the time by offering one-off payouts to those willing to retire and meaningfully adjusting the salaries of the remaining personnel.
Given the almost unbearable increase in the cost of living, and taking the lead from the reckless requests to government, calls for wage and salary increases, spearheaded by the low-income bracket, are likely to spread to the corporate sector and could result in general industrial action with obvious political connotations. After all, everything in Malawi is driven by and blamed on politics and politicians!
Eerily, in the same week of incessant calls for salary increases, we witnessed a curious “Et tu, Brute?” radio confession of wrong-doing by prominent CashGate suspect Oswald Lutepo, who implicated former ally president Joyce Banda in the MK24 billion scandal and promised to “tell-all” at an opportune time.
Joyce Banda’s media machinery was quick to distance her from these allegations and counter- claimed that it was a DPP manoeuvre to distract people from its failures. In typical Machiavellian style, the former president, who has suspiciously avoided being in Malawi practically after the general elections, trending the international circuit instead – where she is still typically placed on a pedestal by various donor countries and institutions – spuriously and, perhaps ominously, pronounced an egoistic and delusionary message to the effect that the Malawian people were clamouring for her return.
This statement alone, and her inexplicable extended absence from her own country after disgracefully losing the May, 2014 elections, may point to an orchestrated grandmaster plan to return her to power by inciting a revolt against President Peter Mutharika’s DPP administration. It’s a classic case of the strategy that has been employed by countless opportunistic politicians all over the world, aided by countries and institutions with vested interests, to exploit disgruntlement with a regime and force a coalition, government of national unity, early elections or any desired political order. In recent history and a blithe observation of current developments, this is evident in the Middle-East which continues to suffer from high levels of instability.
Malawi has been in a constant state of flux with each successive regime after multi-party democracy over the past 20 years. We have been caught up in a vicious cycle of optimism, pessimism and displeasure with each presidency, with no sustainable socio-economic and political progress. It has been a combined failure of leadership at executive, judicial and legislative levels and the failure of Malawians to enforce their democratic rights and responsibilities to hold their leaders accountable and to insist on transparency and good governance.
Poor politics beget poor economics and consequently Malawi has failed to grow and has consistently remained in the orange “Warning” zone of the internationally-recognised Fragile States Index (FSI). I am afraid that current developments are bringing us dangerously close to the higher levels of red “Alert” status on the FSI spectrum and there is need for concerted efforts to bring us back from the brink of potential upheaval.
The current calls for “self-governance’ under federalism, inability by government to offer basic services and solutions, failure to pay civil servants and meet financial obligations, wide-spread dissatisfaction with the predatory political elite and institutionalized corruption, breakdown in security, external intervention (in this case, the withdrawal of aid by donors) and severe economic and fiscal decline are some of the symptomatic issues of fragility identified by the FSI, which appear to be growing stronger in intensity in Malawi.
The DPP administration needs to seriously address these, and other pertinent issues identified by the FSI, sooner than later before we are faced with an unretractable situation; we are living in desperate times.
On the other hand, perhaps what we may witness – a demonstration of people power in reaction to an economic crisis perpetuated by political inadequacies – is exactly what this country needs. As they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and the envisaged scenario where people demand and reclaim what is rightfully theirs and refuse to be taken for granted by rapacious political elites and their sycophants, may be another painful but necessary milestone in the growth of our nascent democracy. We need a serious collective mindset overhaul and an awakening to the ingredients of a successful democratic state that rests on and works by the principle of “Power to the People.”
Maybe then, only then, shall we witness a Malawian Renaissance.
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(Chikavu Nyirenda is a Senior Lecturer in Banking and Finance at The Catholic University of Malawi and contributes, in his personal capacity, a weekly column, ‘Views from the Sunset,’which is published in ‘The Daily Times’every Monday).Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :