By Zione Valanguwo
When one pieces together utterances of President Bingu wa Mutharika, Information Minister, Vuwa Kaunda, and Presidential Spokesperson, Heatherwick Ntaba, on issues surrounding the 20/7 “peaceful” demos, it requires no genius to note that Malawi’s leadership was entrusted in a huge lot of incompetent and confused fellows.
President Mutharika may have emerged high above his folks in Africa and beyond in the area of food security; and he may have arguably surpassed his predecessor in the area of infrastructural development.
But the his failure to nip the Chancellor College issue and July 20 riots right in the bud has revealed that the Malawi President has all this long been walking in a borrowed skin.
The true Mutharika, Bingu Thom Webster Mutharika, whom “2.9 million” Malawians are said to have voted into power in 2004, is the one Malawians are facing today: the Mutharika who has fallen far short of impressing Malawians let alone his peers in the continent – and can no longer walk with his nose raised high – in as far as conflict resolution is concerned.
When the civil society blew the trumpet of July 20 peaceful marches, the President chose to cork his ears and scheduled a public lecture to run side by side with the planned demos: a fatal miscalculation.
The Presidents’ character on July 20 may be interpreted in various ways but one would surmise that: either the president, in his stubbornness which is honed by his bootlickers of advisors, underrated the Malawians and thought the call to hold the demos was a total fallacy and that nobody would join the organizers;
Or it could be that Mutharika pretty well knew Malawians would take to the streets and that the lecture was a frantic effort of a deeply troubled soul seeking comfort and reassurance from a company of sympathizers: the theory of there being safety in numbers.
And what does this second interpretation translate to?
It was very ironic on July 20 to hear from the radio reports of Vuwa Kaunda’s and Mulli Brothers’ respective property being looted while at the same time one would watch the two on TV smiling ear to ear, clapping and cheering at the wooly talk the Ngwazi thought was a lecture: something was seriously wrong here.
What one can hardly ignore is the glaring fact that it is President Mutharika’s lackadaisical approach to the July 20 demo alerts that cost the 19 lives and led to record loss of property.
May people be reminded also that a day before the July 20 ‘peaceful’ demonstrations the DPP youth cadet, took to Blantyre streets in DPP pickups wielding machetes warning for a showdown should the opposition and civil society organizations held the demos on July 20.
This is no fiction unless all the people who witnessed all this including the journalist who took the award-winning pictures circulating on the internet were all in a dream.
Yet the “peace loving” Mutharika chose to remain mum, making no condemnation let alone a mention of the incident when his party’s and his own reputation gets dented with a few irresponsible savages.
It should also be recalled here that these irresponsible youth are the ones the president “promoted” to the rank of “Youth Cadets” a few months after the President had appealed to them to deal with any of the president’s critics as a way of protecting him.
The world should also be reminded that the Malawi President earlier in the year ordered the police to “shoot to kill” anyone who confronts or intimidates the men in uniform in any way.
Looking at these two elements it is clear that the President’s commands to his “boys” and the police had long prepared them and what was remaining was an opportunity to execute the commands – and July 20 happened to present that opportunity.
Overwhelmed by the outcome of the July 20 demos President Mutharika deceived the nation by sounding sobered up in his July 21State of the Nation Address where he called for dialogue with the civil society.
Yet come July 22, this chameleon of a leader, shattered all the Malawians’ hopes as he branded the organizers of the marches criminals and vowed to flush them out from wherever they were hiding even if it meant smoking them out.
Mind you these are the same people he had invited to a dialogue the day before, or so people thought until the Presidential Spokesperson, Hetherwick Ntaba, emerged into the scene with an even more confusing babble.
The Presidential chatterbox told the local media that the people the president branded criminals and vowed to smoke out are not the same he had invited to a dialogue.
“Those who had conducted the marching and presented the petition are the ones the president invited to dialogue,” said Ntaba, “and those that organized the looting are the ones the president termed criminals and intends to smoke out.”
Now, here is where it gets interesting: among those who marched and presented the petitions on July 20 are the same individuals President Mutharika mentioned by name in Zomba, saying they should be brought to book for the loss of lives and property.
But perhaps one may not blame Ntaba for doing what he is paid to do lest there be no food on his table.
Another interesting thing is that Mutharika called the July 20 demos “senseless” and that those who died had done so “in vain”.
This was also reflected in his July 23 statement to the UN titled Preliminary Communication to the UN on the Violent Demonstrations in Malawi where he the Malawi president wrote that those who had died during the July 20 demos “were identified as looters, rioters, street vendors and common thieves” and that (here is where it becomes more interesting) “it was also established that these (the deceased) were not part of the legitimate demonstrators”.
Were not part of the legitimate demonstrators. Yet “their blood is on the heads of the opposition and civil society leaders whom he mentioned by names (and among who were those who had marched “peacefully” and submitted their petition thus making themselves eligible for talks with Mutharika – according to Ntaba).
Something is not adding up here, and that’s being diplomatic.
Further more, in his effort to denounce the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President John Tembo’s attack on Mutharika that government is not showing any concern over the lost lives, Information Minister, Vuwa Kaunda, told the local radio MIJ FM on August 12 that the president had sent “a highly powered delegation of government officials” to condole the bereaved families of the July 20 demos.
In other words Mutharika sent the delegation, to condole the families of the “common thieves” who had died in vain in a “senseless march”.
Again, if this is adding up then none is wiser.
Funny enough, as Mutharika went on a national tour in the cities “taking stock” of the damages left behind by the July 20 riots he held meetings with the street vendors in all the cities and got them drunk to the hairline.
One wonders what was the rationale of all this when he had listed the same vendors in his letter to the UN as part of the looters during the July 20 riots.
Perhaps he was congratulating them for the job well done?
Again someone should add that up.
As Mutharika continues to pay a blind eye to the 20-point petition submitted to him by the civil society on July 20, he seems to have learnt one lesson, though: that it was wrong for him to have kicked back and relaxed; a glass of whisky in hand at his State House on July 20.
He is however ill-advised to “meet the marchers right in the streets” on August 17.
This is another myopic and inept reasoning on the part of our president that is likely going to cost even more lives or perhaps, one never knows, his seat.
Some one should mark these words.
Instead of plucking up his courage, if there is any in him, and meet the civil society in the much touted dialogue, Mutharika is shielding his face further by forming a Presidential Dialogue Committee to look into the concerns of Malawians as presented by the civil society.
Given the urgency the issues raised in the petition require, and given the bureaucracy that surrounds matters of importance at the Capitol Hill, the president might be complicating the matter further by appointing the committee.
Still in his lack of sound approach to diffusing the August 17 demos, the president thinks by conducting whistle stops in the locations where looting and rioting carried the day on July 20 will put the matter to rest – another miscalculated move.
When the whole of the president, surrounded by a cluster of learned advisors, make such glaring mistakes, it’s either that his advisors are jealous of his position and would be happy to see him fall headlong; or it is the president himself who is too rigid to take council.
President Bingu Mutharika ought to realize that it is his false heroism and pride that translated into the loss of 19 lives and damage of property worth millions – and he has the audacity to call it “a storm in a cup of tea”!
He should also realize that his I-don’t-care attitude has completely killed the academic enthusiasm in the country’s university students over an issue that would not even require an expert to end it in a day!
The long and short of it is that President Mutharika has demonstrated total incompetency in containing core issues affecting Malawians as evidenced by his lack of plausible strategies to put the Chancellor College issue and the demonstrations to a complete rest.
If President Mutharika does not wake up from his stately slumber and act real and in time to get the sinking ship that is Malawi afloat, he may wake up one day, sooner than later, to find himself outside the New State House gates.
The power of the electorate can no longer be ignored and if one may quote United Democratic Front, UDF’s Hophmalle Makande, “The people are more powerful than the presidency” – in fact they are the creators of the presidency
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