By CSI Lilongwe , CSI Lilongwe is a retired civil servant
The party has been and gone. We are left with the stale stench of stale beer, broken chairs and, worse, death and destruction.
We have done the analysis; asked the questions; searched our souls – what is left of them. And by the way, there was very little of the ‘God fearing nation’ in evidence last week.
After every cyclone there are always the whys (Why us? Why this village?); wherefores (zigawenga zija, enemies of the state, afiti, satana); whens (When will the next one come?) and hows (What will cause the next one? Will the next one be worse than this one?). And we have already heard these aplenty.
The chief has had his fair share of blame; many – local and foreign – would say not enough. In turn the chief blames his people (‘bwanji simukuyamika aMalawi, mulibe galimoto ndiye mufuna petulo, aMwenye abisa forex?) and his people in turn blame him (wosamva, wankhanza, and now, wakupha).
It should be categorically stated here for posterity that Malawians went on to the streets to show their dissatisfaction with Bingu wa Mutharika’s social, economic and political dispensation. Mutharika’s government has closed off most avenues of communication with dissenters, uncluding the MBC and uses MACRA to censor independent stations. The printed media is heavily leant on and, as Nyasa Times shows, there are attempts to silence even the electronic media.
What are the answers?
After every cyclone there is always the cleaning, tidying, repairing and strengthening of structures against future cyclones.
The cleaning can be counterproductive, vindictive and negative: remove the ‘witches and Satanists who caused the cyclone’ (‘they want to over throw the government’), blame the weak and tempted poor (‘looters’), the trouble makers, all those who did not warn about the cyclone (replace the general). Given the ‘God fearing’ mind set Malawi may suffer from this scenario. The army general is replaced, the NGO leaders arrested, the press is stamped upon, ruling party thugs are empowered and police beat up any one waving a finger at them. And trot out Vow and Nab to say Malawi is peaceful and we all love our president whose door is always open to criticism. As if! These negative solutions only produce more resentment, making the next kavuluvulu more serious.
The cleaning can be positive: remove the debris, remove the neglected stench of uncared for pit latrines; repair those pot-holed roads and so on.
Now, compare the aftermath of the events in Norway and Malawi. Malawians, famous for their mourning even enemies have not been granted the opportunity to respect the dead. In death, how do you discriminate between the saint and looter?
And then, there is the planning for the future, strategising to build and have in place better structures, structures the better to withstand future cyclones.
Of course to do this each village has to come together as a community; a disaster or major event is a leveller. It gives the chief the opportunity to frankly and openly say: ‘my task is hard, my people help me’. Just look at Obama in crises; he pleads, talks and does not threaten or bang tables. He may get angry or irritated but does not send in ‘young Democrats’!
It also gives the people the chance to say: sorry mfumu, mulibe mtima, nchito za manja anu zikuchepera kaba! (Sorry sir, you are cruel and what you have delivered in development so far is inadequate).
Now it behoves us, elders in the general sense of the word (real elders like chiefs, civic leaders, religious leaders, academics, judges, professionals, military leaders, police chiefs and all active and all agile active youth) to meet together pabwalo. The chief cannot refuse, his absolute writ has already been challenged, and any more challenges only dilute his power and makes a mockery of his claim to legitimacy. Perhaps, only in Africa is it true that once elected you can piss on your subjects for four years, or you can get away with it, for life!!
Now is not the time to let things go cold. The country belongs to us all. Leaders will always take people for granted; it’s the nature of mpando wonona. Look at Kenya: it led to blood shed. Our fellow Bantus did not settle for Kibaki’s ‘I am the president’. Their kavuluvulu led to a new constitution.
It s NOT for the president to take the initiative. It is not time for ‘national prayers’. That time has passed. These church leaders should go and speak to Mutharika if they want to help. Prayers can be the valium of the oppressed.
We need to follow a model where we can all talk.
Perhaps we should invite Bishop Tutu or Kofi Annan to come and facilitate.
All those with a claim to leadership should act NOW as the NGO leaders have done in the last few months and show leadership; they should not accept ‘milk scones’ from the government, even if these are obama or bini sized.
Our aim should be to create a stronger and much more robust constitutional framework with better checks and balances. We need the police, army, judicial, university, civil service seniors to be able to be free from executive interference; and be able to say to the executive ‘Sir or Madam, this is my impartial advice’. We do not need a dispensation where the IG and army commander are the president’s errand boys and girls. We do not need a dispensation where the university councils are dictated to. We do not need a dispensation where the ministry of finance votes as much to the president’s office as to social welfare for the entire country! We do not need lectures from the president about the sins of the colonialists when our children are starving, there is no forex, no money for hospitals, no prospect of getting our energy sources sorted out any time soon…
We need strong checks and balances so that our leaders can lead and work for us instead of being parasites who plunder our tax money and live rich lives in five state houses and big convoys of police escorts.
We certainly do not need a country where the law is not obeyed by the government itself and judges ‘identifiable as government pliable!’
Bingu’s first regime was successful because he had a strong opposition. And one thing we desperately need is a strong opposition. It is time for new blood to energise the political parties.
We need to de-autocratise our minds. I was shocked to see a statement from MCTU on 21st July praising the president for letting them do what is their human right: allowing them to simply march!! What kind of mentality have we got?
After the 1959 State of Emergency, people were arrested. But then came the Lancaster House Conference and self-government.
After the 1992 kavuluvulu (in which people were rioting against Dr Banda and John Tembo, lest we forget) we had the referendum and National Consultative Process.
Now, after the July 20th storm we need one such.
It is said that ‘all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. So it is best to remember that it is NOT just the person who is leader BUT the system in which he operates. Some of my friends have said, in the confines of the club to which I belong, that Mutharika would have been a worse dictator had he been operating in the 1960 1980 period because the systems then would have let him do anything he wanted, given his autocratic tendencies now shown.
Malawians should therefore NOT be fooled into JUST changing the leader; the systems MUST be tightened. We need a senate too, as was originally envisaged, to strengthen civil society. We need strong vibrant local government. We need strong, energetic local civic leaders. We need a free media. We need an independent MACRA. We need independent police and army leaders.
And we need fewer zikwanje wielding thugs.
The events of last week have given us a chance to sort out our SYSTEM of government. Let us grab it.
But a word of warning. Let us not just look to the opposition parties as saviours. These parties are political and politicians ALWAYS want strong powers for themselves next time they are in power (remember BJ could have sorted out the MBC and he did not; JZU, well enough said; and all those old faces in JB’s party…). And politicians are already playing politics claiming Bingu’s offer of dialogue is not genuine or whatever. We need them to engage him NOW and produce a national conference.
Let US, the people, demand change and see that this is done.
And the next time the new president comes in and the MBC is the same, the presidential convoy is the same and we start calling him ‘His Excellency everything else on earth’ just know that we have made another mistake.
Leaders are our servants NOT masters! Malawians are usually peaceful people and they deserve good leadership.
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