Mulanje West parliamentarian, Patricia Kaliati has come out against constituents visiting homes of aspiring and incumbent members of parliament (MPs) to see for financial and material support. Kaliati has consequently called on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to sensitise people in the country on a role of MPs.
It is not clear when Mrs Kaliati has seen the culture of handouts as deplorable given then this culture is well ingrained into Malawi politics. It is a brave call nonetheless, especially that it is from a parliamentarian seeking re-election in five months time.
Importantly, Kaliati’s observation touches on one of the enduring deficiencies of Malawi democracy. The unacceptable levels of poverty and limited income generating opportunities in Malawi have always played it in the hands of opportunistic and manipulative politicians.
Politicians and their political parties have always exploited this vulnerable position by offering ‘free money’ and material things to electorate to ‘buy votes’ instead of initiating policies that would make people economically independent.
Civic educating the masses on the role of MPs might be necessarily but unlike Kaliati’s thinking, politicians, not CSOs have much bigger role to play in this. In fact, Kaliati and her August house colleagues need to be schooled on their responsibilities and how to execute their duties. MPs themselves must stop giving handout, even if it takes some kind of legislation to achieve this; MPs are the ones who make laws in this country. What is their excuse?
It should be emphasised that people go to MPs houses not because they are ignorant about issues, as Kaliati thinks, people go their because they are knowledgeable about it; they know they are likely to get what they want if they knock on MPs door, especially when elections are around the corner. Who wants to disappoint a potential voter? Giving handouts has been part of Malawi politics since 1994. Bakili Muluzi started it and it has been natured throughout the years. Now a whole generation of Malawians has grown up in this despicable tradition. It will take a lot of effort to undo it but it has to start somewhere.
The biggest problems with buying votes is not that the constituents are a nuisance when they turn up on MPs gate; the problem is that it has given politicians an easy way out. Politicians do not need agonise, spend sleepless nights trying to come up with policies to convince people with when they can offer empty short term pompo-pompo ‘solutions’ and with themselves few votes.
This political culture has dire consequences on on the country as a whole. Long-term national policies on economic growth have suffered because politicians know that this is unlikely to produce results within five years that they are required to seek a new mandate. It has compromised national vision. Where is Malawi’s ‘vision 20 20’? This was supposed to be a national vision tailored to fit specific national needs of the country. Yet, we are only preoccupied with meeting Millennium Development Goals because we want to please donors and ‘international community’.
I have said this before and I will say it again because I truly believe in it, I will emphasise it until things start moving in that direction; Malawi must embrace policy-based politics. Civic education should not be about CSOs stopping people going to MPs houses; they must educate people to vote for people based on their policies. Nothing more. Nothing less. I hope those conducting civic education for the tripartite elections take heed. Policy-based politics is a pillar of strong and progressive democracy – no cashgate money exchanging hands at political rallies and MPs houses.
Malawi need policies that will lift people and the country from poverty; this is the surest way of keeping constituents from knocking on MPs door asking for help. As it is, Bakili Muluzi came and left Malawi statistically poor that it was when he came to power, likewise Bingu wa Mutharika whose term his deputy, Joyce Banda is currently finishing. Has Banda made any inroads? Only the ‘international community’ that see Malawi through the eyes of Western based PR firms employed to look after Joyce Banda’s issue would think so. Malawians are feeling the pinch of high level corruption and theft of state resources with impunity. It is business as usual, a sad tale of 20 years of Malawi democracy.
No man is an island; no man stands alone, as they say. Everyone needs a helping hand at one point or another but it is a different matter altogether when handouts giving is a de facto political rule observed by political establishment hellbent on maintaing the status quo and protect their privileged positions. Yet, the political class should know that the electorate are not beggars; they elect politicians to be served, the survival of the electorate should never be at the mercy of unscrupulous greedy political establishment that is eager to milk even the skinniest cow in this miserable kraal.
*Jimmy Kainja writes for Nyasa Times every Wednesday.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :