A call for renewal of political leadership landscape and moral values in Malawi

Malawi’s 2014 election will be the firth elections since the dawn of multiparty democracy in 1993. Indeed, it will be exactly 20 years in May 2014 since I first cast my ballot to elect leaders of my choice for the Presidency and Member of Parliament, back then in Zomba while at Chancellor College.

During this past period, a lot can be said on how Malawi has evolved in its democratic principles and also the challenges faced under different leaderships. It gives me great pleasure that my God has spared me to this day, on which I can reflect on some of the issues that require addressing. As a country and its people try to move forward, there is always a time to look back, as I say “the footprints you leave behind will be the best judge of which direction you took”.

Indeed some of us have had the privilege to witness changes on the political landscape in Malawi since 1992. An honest assessment of the situation on the ground, in my opinion, would reveal some snapshot challenges faced ie:

Chifipa Du Mhango
Chifipa Du Mhango
  • The fragile coalition Government of UDF and AFORD which was based on personal gains rather than national interest (1994-1999)
  • The fight against an open term or third term bid and the behavior demonstrated by our politicians in pursuit of this goal (1999-2004)
  • The impeachment talks (2004-2009)
  • The loss of direction and bad political governance; and the hard realization that even a President can die (2010-2012)

Political turbulences were the order of the day just after the death of President Bingu Mutharika on 5th April 2012, with people moving across to parties that they castigated; and demonstrating what Malawi politics is at best characterized. The Malawi nation has indeed witnessed true opportunistic politics at its best.

Although, this can be viewed as a disappointment, it should be seen as an opportunity for the electorate and those involved in politics to start taking the right decisions on what constitute a leader in a democratic dispensation. It is clear from the events of 2012 and even before that what Malawi needs is a renewal of its political moral values and leadership landscape.

The biggest culprit to this moral value decay at political level can also be attributed to lack of ideologies, principles or ideals that defines political parties, as well as unprofessional functioning. I continue to ask questions in my mind “why is that Malawian politicians are able to move from one party to another, and on top of that accepted back and forth without having to follow procedures? Do these parties even have these procedures at all? It continue to raise questions when for instance: I see a sitting MP (former Cabinet Minister) announcing through media that he has resigned from DPP today and moving to PP, only to announce another defection from PP back to DPP, and continue to assume his previous post, with the DPP not even raising issues. This is just an example that can be applied to any other political party or political situation in Malawi. It remains to be seen as to what guides, motivates and encourages such individual political behavior?

I look forward to the day when Malawi politics and the multiparty democracy that we fought for and ushered in 1993 referendum can have some real meaning to it. I look forward to that day in which political parties in Malawi are formed and aligned to principles and ideologies that guides it members, both new and old, on the conduct and procedures that safeguard democratic principles, with a strong moral attachment.

It is high time that the real elements of the democracy that we all wished to be practiced is built on a visionary leadership that share common philosophies, professionalism in the running of a political organization and have the interest and passion for the country’s development as their guide. A strong political organization is the one that creates an environment that says “leadership change does not mean the end of the organization”. During my period of permanently residing in South Africa, I have learned a lot from how political organizations such as the ANC have evolved, from the handing over of political leadership, the processes of engagement and Party policy formulation.

I have a strong view that Malawi’s political landscape needs a renewal of moral values, to transform and rebrand the political culture. There are enough lessons that can be drawn since the dawn of multiparty democracy in 1993. It is high time that we guard against the behaviour that has let down those with real ability to contribute to participate effectively. Indeed, Malawi politics can be defined in several ways; both at party and national landscape, and continue to remain stagnant due to among others, the following reasons:

  1. Politics at party level being practiced by both civilized and uncivilized individuals, but where the uncivilized are in majority.
  2. Lack of party ideologies and principle adoptions to define what the party stands for
  3. The politics of greed and scramble for power and positions, with no constructive and value added contribution.
  4. Politics of division and creation of cronies or political circles within a political organization or Party for the fear of the unknown.
  5. Jealousy and advancement of personal aspirations, to the point where personal destruction of others morally and even physically becomes an accepted norm and principle
  6. Recycling of individuals who do not have the interest of the party or country at heart but rather personal interest, practicing uncivilized politics, thereby confirming Malawi party politics not advancing inprinciples and professionalism.
  7. Denying those with new ideas opportunity to express themselves while creating an environment to which all must believe that Malawi party politics is defined by “them” ie recycled and opportunistic who follow where the mangoes are always ripe, and always getting accepted to play an opportunistic frontline politics in any political party they defect to.
  8. A culture of branding a political organization towards an individual, creating a perception that there are individuals that are bigger than the party or political organization.
  9. Appointment of so called Presidential Advisors at Government level that a politically affiliated and not there to offer an honest and real professional advice. It continues to puzzle me to see such advisors conducting political rallies and being active political players on the ground.

I stand to be corrected, but my conscious tells me that Malawi needs to embark on a process of real political renewal, starting at political party level. This renewal process needs to focus on the political dynamics and leadership landscape in Malawi. It needs to provide for an effective leadership that is able to safeguard against the bad political practices mentioned earlier. It is high time that something be done to move away from common phrase that says “this is how politics is run or practiced in Malawi” where politics is only measured by quantity and not quality.

Political parties in Malawi cannot be separated. They are a grouping of individuals rather than an identity of common philosophies or ideologies. For the process of political renewal to take effect a lot needs to be done, which among others include:

  1. A consideration and revisit of party positions responsibilities, with clear stated responsibilities that are adhered to, to avoid free for all approach which in the end affects Party image
  2. A creation of a professional non-elected think-thank within the structures of the Party that is completely professional and only there to assist in policy formulation, to try to define what a party stands for
  3. A sharing and engaging on ideas be encouraged within political parties; creating an environment of brainstorming to allow views to be heard and also create an atmosphere that demonstrate ability to reach out beyond Party lines
  4. Above all this, there is need to start a real political education within parties among the youth wing of the party and eradicate the thinking of “win at all cost, even if it means violence”, and rebranding of the youth wings into a formidable forces of engagement on policy and party philosophy, in which a youth wing of the party should be regarded as the talent pool for the future leadership of the party and branded with names that is reflective of change in party ideologies and principles
  5. Political parties in Malawi need to create a strong culture of “Ubuthu” in which all regardless of region of origin, tribe, culture, religion, gender among others, must feel a sense of not only belonging but part of the value contribution and building process.
  6. Due to global economic and political challenges, there should also be room to allow for a mini-national Party Policy convention, or to call for an emergency convention to address certain challenges that the country or the party is facing, to be build an appropriate consensus within the Party.
  7. The role of the Party publicity or spokesperson for most parties in Malawi remains challenging at this stage. This needs to be strengthened, as that is the image and face of the party, with clearly defined responsibilities that reflect the views of the Party and not an individual, hence an approach of consultation before engaging with the media.
  8. Creation of procedures for rejecting or accepting individuals or defectors back into the party, to safeguard against opportunistic politicians.
  9. The need for Presidential Advisors that are very independent and only there to offer professional and honest advice, without fear of repercussions.

I strongly believe in the principle that says “no one should claim to own people in Malawi” as some recycled and opportunistic personalities who tend to be accepted into any political party have presented themselves, as vote providers. The people of Malawi should not be taken for granted and cannot, for they have matured politically. However, it is our leadership, especially the recycled opportunistic ones that have not matured with time. Malawi can have good leadership if we can put a stop to this longtime behavior and bring in those that deserve their opportunity to be tested. Malawi has demonstrated that voters show support and good will where they see hope and progress. A good example is how the people fought strongly against the opposition’s advances to try to impeach late President Bingu wa Mutharika in the 2004-09 period.

Most people that can add real value in changing the leadership landscape have taken or took a back seat not because they want that, but simply due to their principles and values crashing with the identities of those that have dominated our political parties’ frontline politics through a recycling process. It is a disappointment that it is these recycled ones are always in majority in most dominant political Parties in Malawi.

I strongly believe that the Malawi can change for the better if its electorate allow themselves not to be used and vote wisely, for a new dynamic leadership that is principled, inspiring, and professional, into parliament. It is high time that we change this in Malawi. The above suggestions, while remain a challenge, but it is only through taking an effort that there can be sanity to our political leadership landscape and moral values. It is through some of these changes, though at time be seen as compromising, that there can be real meaningful change of leadership landscape in Malawi.

Let there be openness and room for more engagement.  Malawi deserve better leadership at parliamentary level, that has no desire to trade their Member of Parliament role for Government Ministerial position, even to point of becoming a nuisance in character. This communication is served in good faith for my country, which to my disappointment now resembles as if its political players have turned it into a Political Stock Exchange, where good principles and ideals have failed to match what we aspired for in our quest for multiparty democracy.

Malawi deserves better. It is only its people that can set the right direction by marking the right footprints to renew and bring sanity into its political landscape. The year 2014 offers that opportunity to set the direction of the next 20 years thereafter. We must set an electorate agenda for renewal of political leadership landscape and moral values.

*Chifipa Du Mhango

*Writer is Chief Economist of a multinational organization in South Africa

*Views expressed are those of the author

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