5 years enough to change Malawi or throw the bums out

There are two major events marked on the calendar for this year. One is the presidential, parliamentary and local elections in May and the other is the 50th independence anniversary in July.

In both cases the question that cannot be avoided is about where the country has been and where it is headed.

Malawi remains one of the poorest countries on the planet 50 years – 30 in a dictatorship — after independence in 1964. It is now 20 years since the people reclaimed the right to choose their own leaders. Malawians now exercise that right every five years and 2014 will be the fifth time to do so since the advent of political pluralism.

Opinions abound on Malawi’s stagnation. Many agree that lack of sound leadership has been the bane of our underdevelopment. Each time an election is around the corner, those seeking public office make promises which they quickly break once voted into power and there appears to be no end in sight to the problem.

One can argue that because the leaders know there is no price to pay for bad behavior, they continue to screw the very people they are supposed to serve.

Veep stakes:  (Left) Richard Msowoya (2nd Left) Dr Godfrey Chapola (3rd Left) Sosten Gwengwe and (Right) Saulos Klaus Chilima
Veep stakes:
(Left) Richard Msowoya (2nd Left) Dr Godfrey Chapola (3rd Left) Sosten Gwengwe and (Right) Saulos Klaus Chilima

Malawi is currently dealing with a scandal where government departments paid millions of dollars to entities that never delivered the goods or services.

Officials in the Joyce Banda administration – it has been in office for about two years since the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika who had three years left in office – say the theft of public resources started way before President Banda, who was Mutharika’s deputy, came into office.

Trials of those accused of stealing the money have since started but Malawi does not have a good record investigating anything. Investigations simply go nowhere and there are indications that people won’t be satisfied if suspects do not get serious punishment. Donors, who keep Malawi afloat, apparently feel the same way and froze aid to the country.

As seekers of public office promise voters the moon, one would want to believe that they mean what they say. Winners of the May contest will make it into office just a month and some change before the country’s 50th big celebrations of largely underdevelopment.

And five years from now, most of the characters, even after failing to deliver on their promises, will sing the song they have been singing to voters in the last 20 years.

Granted, I can tolerate being called a hopeless optimist. And this is why: I do believe that you can change a country within a generation. Some people who were born before or around 1994 when Malawi became a multi-party state are today parents. They have their own children. A mother and her child represent two generations. Twenty years – 1994 to 2014 – is long enough for something positive to happen.

If you disagree, why then do we vote every five years if we thought the time was too short for anything meaningful to be done? A new government should be able to deliver most of its promises during its five-year term. There is no good reason why politicians should come back five years later begging for another term after failing to do half of what they promised.

I still hear somebody say what I am agitating for could only happen in my dreams. I get it! Still, I would say to the person to shake off the lazy fatalism that there is nothing that could be done to change the status quo.

It is unfortunate that politicians, especially powerful ones, are not held accountable by the people who elected them. We seem to forget that when politicians abuse power, they are in fact abusing people.

When dissatisfied voters have the chance to throw the bums out every five years for failing to keep their promises, they need help.

It is incumbent upon the media, which has the power to shape public opinion, to help people make informed decisions by vigorously vetting public office aspirants for we know that in a democracy the uninformed can unwittingly vote against their own interests. Frauds must be stopped from winning.

Malawians should not forget George Nnesa, MP, as the lone voice of dissent after the Mutharika administration fraudulently claimed in parliament that the zero deficit budget was working. It is better for people to have one true Nnesa than fake 193 MPs. Remember, we owe this to ourselves.

The author is the former founding editor of Maravi Post

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