“To oppose corruption in government is the highest obligation of patriotism.” – G. Edward Griffin.
The tales of corruption, looting and plunder at the heart of Malawi government that have rightly dominated the public discourse in the recent weeks are truly disgusting and have done a huge damage to Malawi’s national fabric. This is not just time to bring all the culprits to book and rectifying the rotten system that has helped folks to steal billions of taxpayers’ money; it is a time for reflection, as a nation. What does this scandal say about Malawians? The clue is not in the loot, the clue is in national discourse on the issue.
No honest individual would have all along believed that Malawi government was corrupt free, but very few people could have imagined the extent of the loot, how easy it was to steal and impunity accompanying the plunder. To paraphrase philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, it is one thing for a husband or wife to suspect that his husband or wife is involved in some kind of infidelity; the feeling is completely different when you catch them in the act. Thus, the national mood about public looting has understandably turned into anger, now that people have evidence and the shocking extent of the loot.
Yet, the issue that should have united all Malawians to demand accountability and justice from the country’s leadership and public office holders is increasingly becoming a divisive one. Not that anyone disputes the plunder but because others have personal interests. Others have chosen to protect their political masters whose political aspirations are threated by the scandal, instead of national interest. Even more worrying is the fact that majority of the people making noise on the issue are only angry because it is not them, or their associates stealing.
Given a chance they will do the same if not worse. The theft has been there all along and no one lifted the lid on it, it took the near fatal shooting Budget Director in Finance ministry for the scandal to come out; MCP, UDF and DDP folks have been there, they should not suddenly pretend they are any better.
This is not to justify the looting, is just to demonstrate that the theft and corruption is rooted in the national psyche. It is not surprising that majority of political party defections in Malawi are always towards the ruling party – folks hunting lucrative positions where they can get a share of the loot; they say power attract the corrupted, it rings true.
This is why Malawians have always replaced one thief with another, which former president does not have suspicious wealth attached to their name? It is not always because of lax system or laws that make people steal; it is just because we have people that get into those positions to steal poor people’s money. Plato famously said: “good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”
I have been writing and blogging for few years now, and I am an active user of social media. The clear picture that I have from this is that majority of Malawians in these circles is that it is acceptable that folks get into power merely to look after personal interests. Those that prioritise national interest are seen as fools. Bakili Muluzi, then as a president poked fun at his out of favour deputy, Justin Malewezi for not ‘developing’ his home district, yet Malewezi’ duty, as a Vice State President was to all Malawians. Priorities could have been elsewhere, not in his home district. You may want to compare Muluzi and Malewezi’s respective legacies, but the point is that Muluzi’s idiotic way of doing things is now embedded in the national psyche, it is pathetic.
Malawi has developed a sickening culture that harbours theft and corruption. Instead of holding public office holders to account, we admire their loot – public thieves have become role models. The whole thing is rooted in a materialistic culture the country has developed, losing our Umunthu in the process.
There are Malawians that would work hard not to fight against corruption, but to get into positions where they loot public resources themselves. This is why ruling party zealots in this country are particularly ruthless with anyone standing up to their corrupt political masters. These are promised, or given paltry sums of the loot – from UDF’s young democrats to DPP’s cadets. PP has its own foot soldiers, look around; especially on social media, you wont miss them. They are shamelessly defending this blatant loot, calling it a “breakthrough”, when the truth is someone has been caught with their pants down.
Personalising issues of national importance will not take Malawi anywhere. Indeed, for 49 years we have been here, doing two steps forward and three steps backwards. Politicising governance issues will not take Malawi anywhere. Millions of lives depend on government’s service delivery, at the time of writing there are reports that health workers in Dedza and Kamuzu Central Hospital have down tools, demanding their September salaries.
Meanwhile the money is in junior civil servant’s car boot driving away from Capital Hill. Their bosses remain scot-free; they are allowed to continue serving in their discredited positions?
Malawi can do much better, but we must change our mentality first and the way we do things. We must love our nation; we must owe our allegiance to our country and our fellow Malawians. As the Capital Hill scandal becomes political issue by day, and party royalist continue to defend their own, it is important to realise that if there is anything to defend here it is reputation of Malawi, not individuals and their personal interests. Individuals will move on but our country remains.
The Capital Hill plunder is not just a case of rotten government acting with total impunity; it is also a symptom of a rotten nation.
Sadly, I can foresee that the national discourse will soon shift to CSOs versus government; opposition parties versus the ruling part etc., all because political games is what Malawians do best, not governance.
NOTE: Jimmy Kainja will be writing a weekly column on Nyasa Times, please make sure you check it every Wednesday.