EU fed up? Malawi needs a benevolent dictator to breakthrough

Malawi’s development partners have poured staggering amounts of aid into the country which unfortunately remains stagnant, that is the view of the chief of European Union Delegation to Malawi Alexander Baum, according to the Daily Times of February 19.

“Everyone focuses on elections as if they solve all the problems. Elections are overestimated. Of course, Malawians will get the leaders they deserve, but the fact remains that the multiparty democracy has not delivered,” Baum told the planning and training workshop of the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) in Blantyre. “The parties are a reflection of the values, sentiments and behaviour of the people. Politicians behave according to the expectations. It is paramount to change the behaviour from the grassroots level, otherwise the multiparty democracy will not deliver for the people.”

EU Ambassador Baum
EU Ambassador Baum

Baum, the publication went on, pushed Nice to speak out on the effects of cashgate – the massive corruption scandal in which the Malawi government paid millions of dollars for goods and services that were never delivered.

Baum’s observation, which came after my ‘5 years enough to change Malawi or throw the bums out’ article that was published by Nyasa Times, was music to my ears, sort of. While we both recognize the problem, our prescriptions are different. He talks of citizens’ engagement in a participatory democracy; I talk about strong leadership at the top.

I assume that most of us are aware of the Malawi that existed between 1964 and 1994. I will explain briefly to those who do not have a clue. For 30 years, grown Malawians were treated like children. The state decided what they could read or see. Free expression of political views was denied. Sedition laws were used to silence government critics. The government, under Dr. Kamuzu Banda and his Malawi Congress Party (MCP), was oppressive. President-for-life Kamuzu Banda was autocratic. He was a dictator.

Finally the gods smiled on oppressed Malawians and the dictator fell. In the country’s first democratic elections, charismatic Bakili Muluzi won. Under a new democratic dispensation, Malawians freely expressed themselves and they loved it. But upon retirement from politics in 2009, Muluzi, who had served two five-year terms, regretted not reducing poverty.

Bingu wa Mutharika assumed power in 2004. He delivered on his effort to end hunger but the success was temporary. He died unexpectedly three years into his second term and was succeeded by then Vice President Joyce Banda (JB) to finish the remainder of the term. She is now seeking her own mandate in elections to be held in May.

So it has been 50 years and four presidents. A friend of mine had this to say about Malawi’s former and current presidents:

Kamuzu: A dictator but built key institutions and encouraged food sufficiency.

Bakili: Democratic, promoted small businesses and generous but abused government institutions to benefit people close to him.

Bingu: Developed infrastructure but high levels of nepotism and theft.

JB: Associates with and assists rural populations. Too much theft [under her] and demonstrates…lack of management skills.

Besides Joyce Banda (not related to Kamuzu) there are many candidates busy licking their chops as they look at the highest office in the land. The major ones include MCPs Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, Peter Mutharika (Bingu’s younger brother) representing the Democratic Progressive Party and Atupele Muluzi (Bakili’s son) for UDF.

All the contenders say they could transform Malawi which has no business being among the poorest countries globally. Five decades after independence and 20 years after democratic rule, Alexander Baum’s people and friends still underwrite more than one third of Malawi’s development budget.

With high levels of poverty, unemployment and corruption, just how does Malawi, which has been in the rut for a long time, square the circle?

To do that, Malawi needs a super leader, that is, a leader with only the best qualities of the country’s past and current presidents.

Malawi needs a leader who would not be afraid to make tough decisions; one with conviction and ready to square off with his or her detractors. S/he ought to be one who after stumbling would regain balance quickly and because of a strong sense of direction, keep moving.

Malawi has no use for a leader who would try so hard to be loved by people. Malawi needs someone whose decisions people would respect and one who would treat them as adults. The acts of the leader advocated for here would be for the benefit of the whole country rather than for the leader’s self-interest or friends.

I know that some people thinking that Malawi would cease to be a democracy as we know it disagree with what I am saying. The exercise of absolute power by this leader with the rare ability to inspire would be through representatives elected at stipulated times. There would be public referendums here and there on hot button issues to answer certain concerns of Baum and company. Take for example the issue of gays.

People, we won our political liberty 20 years ago but now is the time to break the chains of economic bondage. The tough and thoughtful leader discussed thus far would act for benevolent purposes. Tell you what, after the leader has successfully ignored the unnecessary noise — democracy can be messy — and helped improve things, s/he would easily win reelection as rational people want results. Needy Malawi needs a benevolent dictator!

  • The author is former founding editor of online publication Maravi Post  

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