Yo-yo candidate in Malawi: Tenthani’s Muckracking

“Don’t necessarily
avoid sharp edges;
occasionally
they are necessary to leadership”
Donald Rumsfeld

Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, him who wants to fill his Big Brother’s big shoes, has one frightening trait: he seems too slow to make the most basic of decisions.

Look, one day he tells the world he wants to marry “a woman by December”. Quite a few eligible women turn up on the social media linked to him. But years go by and no wedding bells ring. And the wedding issue quietly fizzles out never to be mentioned again.

It is not as if one has to be married to be president of a country. Ian Seretse Khama is happily executing executive duties in Gaborone as a happy bachelor.

Mutharika:  Coming back

Mutharika: Coming back

So it was unnecessary for Peter to pressure himself into the marriage talk. But since he started it himself the nation has the right to ask: “Where – and who – is the potential First Lady?”

Of course, Peter’s indecision on many issues may not be his fault. In the first place he was never cut out for leadership where one has to sometimes make prompt decisions even if they turn out to be disastrous.

Look, Peter is an academic, given to research.

A leader, for example, will tell you there and then, “Let’s go to war with Tanzania over our lake! Lake Malawi has been all ours before Jakaya Kikwete’s great great grandfather was even born.”

While as an academic will say, “Well, so Kikwete wants half of the northern part of Lake Malawi? Mmmh! Does this have historical backing? What does the 1890 Holigoland Treaty say? Discuss.”

Peter Mutharika does very little to hide that he is an accidental politician shooed into politics by an accident of fate of having a brother who was himself an accidental leader who wanted to ‘keep it in the family’.

Were you not surprised that when he was Education Minister Peter was clueless about how to solve the simple academic freedom issue? As an academic, Peter privately knew it was a no-brainer that Peter Mukhito, whom the Big Kahuna decorated as the best police chief ever, was wrong to plant spooks in lecture halls.

But because he was not a leader he could not make a decision. He chose to stay on the fence and watch his brother needlessly slugging it out with the Jesse Kabwilas of this world.

Again, Peter – as not only an academic but also an international jurist and constitutional lawyer who, incidentally, helped draft Malawi’s Constitution – spectacularly failed to stand his grounds and dare all those who wanted to make the little issue of his American green card an election issue.

Peter was right to say his US green card did not mean allegiance to another sovereign other than Malawi. He was right to dare his distracters to a court duel.

But the mere fact that the Malawi Electoral Commission had sought legal opinion from the Attorney General’s chambers freaked him out. He also got scared by Justice Minister Fahad Assani’s threat that should Mec not stop him from standing, government will.

I know Justice Maxon Mbendera as an astute judge who cannot cloud his mind with partisan politics. And I know Anthony Kamanga cannot give an opinion he can be ashamed of.

I should know about the latter point for one George Chaponda, himself – like Peter – a Yale-trained lawyer, cartooned himself by suggesting that Malawi would criminalise farting in public the other day.

When the world started laughing at us and Chaponda realised he had ‘satiated the air’ he summoned the Solicitor General to help him clear the air.

Kamanga refused bluntly. “You foil the air, you clear it yourself!” he said something to that effect.

And Chaponda did the mea culpa by himself without the help of the Solicitor General!

I am sure both Mbendera and Kamanga could not have allowed themselves to be party to a charade that could have made us a laughing stock over Peter’s green card.

This was a ‘non-issue’ from the beginning. But the spineless Peter rushes to Lilongwe, tail between his legs, and renounces his green card. Oh, my God! Ambassador Jackson must have choked on her own laughter at the spectacle.

Peter needed not have turned in his green card; it was not necessary. Some argue that if we elected Peter to Kamuzu Palace come May 20 and he still had his green card he could be disappearing for 90 days each year to the States to fulfil his green card obligations.

What balooney! C’mon, good people! Imagine you are a Malawi passport holder but you do not want to travel abroad for the rest of your life. Is it mandatory that you surrender your passport to one Hudson Mankhwala at the Immigration Department? No ways! The passport will expire in ten years and cancel itself. Peter’s green card could have equally cancelled itself – fair and square – without him doing anything.

As someone who helped draft the Malawi Constitution he should have known better. I needed not tell him these things!

Granted, some looney People’s Party apparatchik could have tried to use the green card issue to derail Peter’s candidature. But it could have gone nowhere, trust me. In fact, come to think of it, Peter could have gained some free political mileage from it.

Ask Brown Mpinganjira, the Mulanje political gladiator formed and popularised the rag-tag National Democratic Alliance (NDA) out of Bakili Muluzi miscalculations.

BJ’s arrest and trial over a K45,000 bribe joke drew crowds to the Blantyre Magistrates’ Court. When chief state witness Yusuf Ahmed Bobat turned hostile leading to the collapse of the case the crowds outside welcome Mpinganjira as a hero…

…And NDA was born to haunt Muluzi!

Raphael Tenthani: Muckracking columnist

Raphael Tenthani: Muckracking columnist

*The article is published in The Sunday Times newspaper on ‘Muckracking’ Column

 

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