The Malawian political landscape and the road to 2014

 

Presidential candidates: From left to right – Joyce Banda, Peter Mutharika and Atupele Muluzi

Presidential candidates: From left to right – Joyce Banda, Peter Mutharika and Atupele Muluzi

The Republic of Malawi will hold general elections in May 2014. As this all-important day of reckoning approaches, there are only two matters that seem to be dominating Malawian minds. They are the dire economic situation that the country is going through, and an obsession with politics. The obsession with politics stems from the hope that the 2014 elections will usher in an era of economic prosperity that seems to have slipped through Malawian fingers at the dawn of the second half of late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s presidency.

President Joyce Banda, aided by some elements in the international media with suspicious agendas, is determined to apply a sensational gloss to the Malawian situation. No amount of gloss, however, can divert Malawians from the painful economic reality that is unfolding right before their eyes.

As the Malawi Kwacha continues to plummet against the Dollar, and pump prices for fuel continue to rise and with them the inevitable rise in the cost of everything else, it is now indisputably clear that the country’s economy is in free-fall. The Malawian situation is becoming dire by the day, and the much-touted Economic Recovery Plan has now been flushed down the toilet, abandoned by the Minister of Finance as well as two ministers of Economic planning. An even more disturbing betrayal is the fact that the IMF itself came out not long ago to declare to Malawians that there is no certainty whatsoever that the country will recover economically under its guidance.

Malawians look on helplessly as the constitution is trampled upon with impunity in the form of illegal suspension of laws and executive sabotage of the constitution as well as the President’s blatant refusal to declare her assets. There are numerous corruption scandals including the failure of the fertilizer subsidy program and the dubious government tender awards for drug suppliers. The list of evils is practically endless.

Thus Malawians look with hope and longing for salvation and the hills to which they lift up their collective eyes hoping that from whence will come their help is the 2014 general elections. The pertinent question is therefore whether the politics upon which Malawians have pinned the survival hopes of their country measure up to scrutiny and promise to deliver the salvation that they await with so much longing.

There are many political parties that claim to have the answer to the Malawian political and economic quagmire. They include the ruling People’s Party (PP), the United Democratic Front (UDF), the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the People’s Transformation Party (Petra) just to mention a few.

Analyzing each of these political parties in turn, one is left with a frightening sense of emptiness. What exactly is any of these political parties offering as the alternative to the economic disaster that the current ruling People’s Party has created in Malawi, and as a solution to Malawi’s collective aspirations of socio-economic development?

In modern Malawian politics, it is probably an exercise in futility to talk about political ideologies and political ideals. On the evidence of the past 15 years or so, it can be safely concluded that less than half of the prominent political players in Malawi even know what political ideologies are or care in any way about political ideals and morals. Many a political commentator in Malawi are talking about the lack of political ideologies and ideals and looking wistfully to the coming of a new young generation of politicians that will challenge this status quo and usher in that new dawn of modern politics that has ideologies.

Yet these calls seem to be falling on deaf ears as the list of those poised to contest in the coming 2014 elections is beginning to take a very familiar look.

PP

Towards the end of 2012, the ruling People’s Party held its convention. At their convention, 63-year-old Joyce Banda, the current Malawian president won a unanimous vote to run as that party’s presidential candidate in 2014. There seems to have been no specific criteria for voting her into the candidacy other than the fact that she is the incumbent president. The People’s Party did not listen to policy speeches or ask those aspiring to lead to present their visions and ideas for Malawi. Indeed the positions were pretty much decided long before the voting started.

Do Malawians have any basis for trusting President Joyce Banda? All the things that she promised when she took office have come to naught. Corruption is growing better and stronger wings every day and some of the corrupt deals are cut right in her presence. Recently on her first trip to Harare she used a jet chartered by people that are embroidered in the concession saga to run the Presidential Hotel in Lilongwe because President Banda prefers them to the ones that actually won the tender process. All the companies that the President preferred to be supplying drugs to Malawi have been found wanting in terms of their capacity to deliver. The politics of impunity continues. All businesses owned by members of opposition have been crippled because their contracts with government got cancelled, and their applications for other contracts are ignored on the basis of politics not capacity.

Government funds are used to promote partisan interests of the People’s Party. Just last week the State House coffers were used to fund a two day training workshop for those churning out the People’s Party propaganda on the social media.

The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) continues to align itself with the ruling party. Promises by President Banda that the broadcaster would open up to the opposition and government critics were nothing more than rhetoric for political expediency.  At MBC, even recruitment and promotion of staff at the broadcaster favors only sympathizers of the People’s Party. With regard to media scrutiny, President Banda has proven that she is intolerant to criticism. It quite clear that given a chance, Banda would shut down all media houses critical of her. The evidence then proves quite simply that Banda has failed miserably to deliver on her promise for change.

Listening to the President’s speeches following the PP convention, it seems her vision and policy for lifting Malawi out of poverty is to continue giving handouts such as maize flour and cows and to continue religiously to adhere to the edicts of the IMF. Yet even the Guardian newspaper, otherwise President Joyce Banda’s ally in the international media, has observed recently that even IMF’s Christine Lagarde acknowledges that things have not gone according to plan in Malawi.

Lagarde has ordered Banda to persevere with the IMF agenda even although she is blaming President Banda’s government for poor implementation of the IMF social measures. It remains to be seen how Malawians can support and return to power an administration that not only just gets ordered around by the IMF but is even not conversant enough to implement the IMF orders competently.

UDF

Even long before he was briefly romanced by Joyce Banda and the People Party administration, UDF leader Atupele Muluzi had already found his political buzzword and was floating it around Malalawi shamelessly. Atupele Muluzi is the champion of what he calls an “Agenda for Change” and clean politics.

Yet the slogan begins and ends as simply that. A slogan that not even the young Muluzi himself is able to explain its meaning and can only be taken seriously at owner’s risk. What Malawians are looking for is the promise of greatness, not empty slogans. Yet the UDF maintains that it will not reveal its manifesto or the platform upon which their vision for a greater Malawi will apparently be built.

As long as the UDF continues to speak about free secondary school education and continues to promise 100 per cent employment without explaining how these utopian ideas will be achieved, Malawians must continue to view the UDF vision as the voice of Jacob, but the arms of Esau – form without substance.

MCP

Even among the older folks, it is difficult to remember what the Malawi Congress Party stands for anymore; its policies and its vision. At a recent debate among candidates contesting for the leadership of the MCP, it was interesting to note that all three candidates involved in the debate were expounding policies and ideologies that were as removed from each other as the east is from the west. There was no harmony of political ideology or economic policy.

One would have been forgiven for assuming that this was a presidential debate among three candidates from three different parties, and one would have also been justified in dismissing all three as unfit for the presidency. Nothing that was offered had the promise of originality or the potential for innovation.

One can only hope and pray that some kind of tangible and convincing vision will be fashioned before the elections come around.

In the MCP, the “big man politics” that has bedeviled the party continues to find center stage. John Tembo can decide to call off a convention when he sees chances of retaining the presidency dimming in the pressure from the party faithful for leadership that would resonate with the demands and expectations of the modern politics.

As long as John Tembo remains the name of the brand upon which the party will again fashion its campaign, Malawi is assured to move into the future by skidding into the past. Tembo’s software is obsolete and completely incompatible with the modern political machinery.

His intolerance to all that decided to criticize his ideas speaks of the risk of trying him out at State House. If dictatorships breed in the grounds of intolerance, then John Tembo is not the choice for a country that is still desperately searching for true democracy.

Even more astonishing is the fact that John Tembo has now become the loudest drum for the People’s Party administration. Could it be because his children are beneficiaries of the Joyce Banda administration? His son John Tembo junior is Malawi’s Deputy Ambassador in UK, his nephew Morgan Tembo is chairman of the board of Escom and Morgan’s wife, and Nancy is a commissioner at the Electoral Commission.

This is the politics of opportunism that has characterized the politics of Malawi, and which would continue should Tembo become president.

DPP

It is not enough simply to re-affirm the return of an effective and efficient fertilizer subsidy program. At a time when Malawians are getting skeptical about ageing leaders and political veterans, the Democratic Progressive Party and Peter Mutharika their newly elected leader, himself not a spring chicken, need to offer Malawians more than just the assurance of a return to the old DPP glory days.

In order to convince Malawians, many to whom the memories of the dire latter years of the DPP are still fresh, that the DPP is well equipped to re-establish Malawi’s economic growth of the first term on Late Bingu wa Mutharika, the party’s ideas must be explained with clarity in a well thought out manifesto. Malawi needs to see how different the Peter led DPP will be from the Bingu led DPP.

How will the party convince people that the “clean sheep” image that it wants the people to see is not just for courting purposes? Even Joyce Banda also appeared innocent before attaining power only to soon slide into intolerance and arrogance!

The DPP needs to begin to show the promise of change now, and put in place a structure of checks and balances that will ensure that such a slide into intolerance is avoided and constantly addressed. The Party will also need to put on leash any elements that believe that intimidation and nepotistic tendencies must be used as a tool for political mobilization.

It is now time for Peter Mutharika to distinguish himself from his brother and come out convincingly that he is his own man and not the “anointed” young brother. Anything less, the DPP is no different from the PP and its other competitors.

The Others…

There is not much that can be said about the other political parties in Malawi that has not been said already in reference to the ones mentioned above. All parties are yet to produce a convincing manifesto and a vision promising enough for Malawians to have hope. Slogans and empty criticism are the order of the day without any offers of a realistic alternative. The People’s Transformation Party, for example, speaks loudly about what it calls a “Third Revolution” yet what this third revolution will entail, and what it will offer Malawians is not presented.

Malawians are inevitably preoccupied with politics because of their anxious situation and their desperate need for hope, yet that preoccupation seems to be little more than political mudslinging and blind loyalty that seems not to ask the tough questions of those aspiring to lead them. It is hoped that as we approach the 2014 elections, Malawians will not allow the standards of excellence, immaculacy of vision, clarity of policy, integrity of political morals, and especially the need for the promise of greatness to be compromised at the alter of expediency, blind loyalty and self interest.

 

  • *Allan Ntata is a Barrister at Law and a practicing lawyer and worked as Legal Counsel to the President of the Republic of Malawi and Executive Secretary to the Malawi National Advisory Council on Strategic Planning. He also worked as a Lecturer in Law in Australia, and as a Prosecutor with the Malawi Anti-Corruption Bureau. He holds a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from the University of Huddersfield, England, the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Honours degree from the University of Westminster, London, and a post-graduate Diploma in Professional Legal Skills from City University, London. He is currently pursuing two doctorate degrees. A PhD in Politics and Law with Erasmus University at Rotterdam, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics and Political Leadership at the University of Bedfordshire where he also lectures in Law, Leadership and Political Governance. Z Allan Ntata is the Author of “Trappings of Power: Political Leadership in Africa” (Authorhouse), and has written numerous political analysis articles that have been published in Malawian newspapers for the past 7 years.
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