Bingu’s mysterious trip to Nigeria: What missed opportunity!

Did my minister Patricia Kaliati just accuse the State House in Abuja, Nigeria of doctoring a picture to give the false impression that President Bingu wa Mutharika was in the West African country? Is that the respect you give to a country from which you are seeking help of some sort? You just got to love diplomacy Malawi style!

I said the other day that Akweeni rarely thinks through her public responses and statements. This was one example where one careless statement can undo whatever great work his boss might have been doing with his counterpart in Abuja. Was it the expectation of government that the Nigerians should also treat this trip clandestinely? Reason?

President Goodluck Jonathan welcomes visiting President Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi to the Presidential Villa, on Tuesday. Photo: NIGERIA STATE HOUSE

I would have thought that as minister of Information, Kaliati would have learnt a lesson from the fact that the State House in Nigeria is open and interacts with the public through its website. I was telling friends one day that I find it odd that I get briefings from the State House in Lusaka, Zambia almost daily when I do not know what is happening with my own president.

That said, I must say I am happy that the President is working hard to solve our problems. Of all the theories about the mysterious trip to Abuja, it is the one regarding negotiations on fuel transactions that makes sense to me and it is a pity that someone thought such commendable efforts should go unnoticed. It is amazing how this government misses opportunities to score easy points.

Or should we believe speculation that the secret trip was about averting a possible change of venue for the AU Summit later this year? The truth will eventually come out.

What pleased me about the trip to Nigeria, though, was the confirmation of what I have always believed in. The President does not need all the fanfare that characterises his trips. Like all mortals in this land he can move about without our police officers deserting their offices or other duty points to line up the whole M1 Road from Blantyre to Lilongwe.

Indeed, the President managed to move about without any sirens both on Tuesday and Wednesday and there is no report of any mishap. I am told women were left to engage in more productive endeavours than having to gyrate their waists for someone else’s husband who is doing his work and actually earning his living.

Cabinet ministers and their senior civil servants spent both days doing other things, hopefully of more beneficial nature to this country, instead of spending hours at the airport waiting for a meaningless handshake and the chance to outdo the next fellow in playing the hand-clapping and cheerleading clown. It is not easy to force a laugh after a humourless joke, you know!

There are, of course, those that would feel aggrieved if this trend of using cargo sections for presidential trips instead of the VVIP Lounge continues. Such functions are income-generating ventures for many people and these include civil servants who somehow believe seeing off or welcoming the head of state is part of their job description.

And then there are the curiously named DPP Youth Cadets and other party loyalists who could have otherwise been doing nothing of note who look at such occasions as a chance to meet some big politician and pressure him or her to help them withyasopo which in reality becomes yachamba or yakachasu.

Whatever the case, Tuesday and Wednesday taught us that all this drama is an unnecessary drain on scarce resources, whether we are talking about money, time and, most importantly, human resources. There is nothing unpresidential about a quiet trip and all the pomp is only aimed taking advantage of our leaders’ penchant for an ego-massage to address personal issues.

Of course, I am not under any illusions that quiet trips will become the order of the day. I know leaders enjoy the aura of majesty and invincibility that comes with a large crowd witnessing you do your normal work. That is why leaders, especially those from Africa, will do anything bask in this vain glory, even if it means forcing it on people.

While on that, I must say I get worried whenever I hear someone pumping oneself up. It is usually a futile attempt to hide one’s insecurities and fears, which was why I was concerned to hear my President proclaim that he does not lose sleep over CSO leaders or opposition and then liken himself to a rock. Enough said.

*The author is a journalist and the article was posted on his blog

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