President Joyce Banda was called to duty on Friday to deliver the State of the Nation address in Parliament where, traditionally, she is supposed to update her countrymen – yes, her countrywomen too – what the state of the nation currently is.
Indeed, how are we fairing as a people? Is our situation bad, good, hopeful, hopeless, promising? The President had to articulate these things.
If our situation is ‘bad’ or ‘hopeless’ she has to do the thankless job of telling us what she and her administration are doing to improve the situation, if at all.
If it is ‘good’ she has to give us evidence. The fact that the kwacha was K422 to the green buck yesterday but it is now K347 to the same is not enough. She has to tell us what this means for me and my folks at the village.
If she thinks the state of the nation is hopeful she has to drill me why she thinks that. So too if she thinks the state of the nation is promising.
So, you see, it is never easy to be a president, especially a president of a country where hope was an endangered species barely a year ago.
The President read a hundred-page State of the Nation address for over two hours covering some 13, 500 words. I would like to present my own mini state of the nation address in slightly over a thousand words.
Here we go…
I must say from the outset that we – as a nation – are far much better now than we were slightly over a year ago. We were cruising towards an economic, political and social precipice. The abyss we were set to descend into was bottomless before those three mad days in April.
Granted, the kwacha is buying far fewer things now than it used to do a year ago today. But, hey, there was nothing much to buy back then anyway. Even bonya or bwan’noni were nowhere to be found, if truth be told!
A year ago today the kwacha was trading at roughly over K150 to the dollar but the green buck was hardly available. So what was the point in having a strong kwacha that could buy almost nothing?
Pump price of petrol, for instance, was half what it is today but the all-important liquid was nowhere to be found. What is better buying fuel at K300 per litre where you will have to spend five sleepless nights at a dry service station and paying K1, 000 for the same litre where you just have to drive to a service station and drive off a few minutes later?
The late Bingu wa Mutharika played politics with the strength of the kwacha. He gained political mileage by famously saying his economic advisers needed to rinse their brain in a detergent like OMO for advising him to devalue the kwacha.
His popular refrain was that he could not bend to what he famously dubbed “the Washington Consensus” and devalue the kwacha because the rural poor would suffer as commodity prices would shoot right through the roof.
But can you not see the irony that his own funeral had to be serviced by oil from Maputo, Lusaka and Pretoria (or is it Tswane?) because his own ‘strong’ kwacha could not land even a drop of oil here?
When she burst on the scene during those three mad days of April, Joyce Banda was some breath of fresh air. She exuded the hope we thought as a nation had eluded us for good. She was the “be-all, end-all” of our problems.
So, therefore, she had to hit the ground running, as it were…
…And hit the ground running Abiti Ntila did. Her charm offensive to Western capitals, that her predecessor had rubbed the wrong way, translated into immediate results.
But Malawians had been on this route before. Experience shows that our leaders come on the scene like Angel Gabriel only to morph into Angel Lucifer once power goes to their heads.
Bakili Muluzi promised Malawians the moon after ending the three-decade one-party rule. But we needed a crane to winch him off the scene for he did not want to leave when his time to go was nigh.
Bingu too came as a harbinger of hope. But he soon begun to think he was too good for us that having him in State House was some privilege.
So Malawians want more than a breath of fresh air. By checking every single step she takes nobody is raising the bar too high for Malawi’s first female president. By checking her every move nobody is exploiting her femininity. I therefore find the People’s Party slogan “kukhala mzimayi sichifukwa” (being a woman is a non-issue) quite insulting to the President and the rest of us.
Malawians, maybe save for that Masangwi guy, do not take Joyce Banda’s gender as an issue. They just want their leader to meet their expectations, full-stop!
Malawians have been sold a dummy before. Abiti should take all the criticism she is getting as a reality check. She must not fret over the bad press she is getting. That comes with the territory.
By the way, I am glad she has lifted her moratorium on newspapers. She has now started reading them. Which is good for if she had stuck to her “I don’t read newspapers” position, she could have, without a doubt, missed the good tidings that the kwacha was on the rebound!
So, to quote Her Excellency President Joyce Banda’s official State of the Nation address, if Malawi has to prosper we have “to sketch a landscape in which we can act on our collective dream and to draft a plan to deliver us from the consequences of our past mistakes”.
That should be the state of our nation, ladies and gentlemen.
- The original version of this article appears in the Sunday Times