A certain sections of Malawians has what I would call “nauseating culture” whereby people do not want to accept that there are Malawians out there who act purely in the interest of the country and not to please anyone or advance personal political interests. I have observed this through comments on this column and articles I have published elsewhere. This is article addresses the issue.
I started writing this column because I felt I could make some contribution to my country, Malawi. Contribution does necessarily have to be material or financial, the language most Malawians understand better; it can also be intellectual. This is what I try to do, provoking reactions and encourage debate on issues that I consider important.
Yet I hardly write something without someone concluding that I have written on a particular issue, in a particular way because I am from Dedza or because I am a Malawi Congress Party (MCP) member or sympathiser. The assumption here is that because I am a Kainja therefore I must be related to the late Kate Kainja, who died a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) member anyway but was MCP executive member for a long time.
I do not know why this matters to people but I will explain, nonetheless. I am not from Dedza and I am not related to the late Kate Kainja. I am from Lilongwe and, yes I come from a constituency (Lilongwe Central) that, like the rest of Lilongwe rural, always vote for MCP. In fact, others have joked that a dog wrapped in MCP colours would win an election there. I do not belong to any political party, as much as I have freedom of association under the laws of the land.
No political party in Malawi has fully convinced me that it stands for the kind of politics that I value: selfless, people-centred, patriotic and transparent politics. A party with a clear goal and vision on politically and economically independent Malawi, a meritocratic Malawi with fairer distribution of whatever resources the country has.
In the run up to the 20th May tripartite elections I repeatedly wrote on this column on the lack of choice of leaders for Malawians. This happened to be the case even though there were 12 candidates to choose from. It is not too to conclude that the lack of choice is the part of a reason that people vote on tribal lines.
How else would people tell one candidate from another when there are no political ideologies to differentiate candidates? I do not want everyone to agree with my views, that would not be democracy but I want us to have a frank and evidence-based discussion on issues that really matter. I do not think where I come from and my genealogy is that important.
One of the key issues that most folks fail to understand or deliberately choose to ignore in my writing is that I recognise the fact that Malawi has had two political dispensations in the last 50 years of independence. 30 years of Kamuzu Banda’s vicious dictatorship and, so far, the last 20 years of multiparty democracy.
Kamuzu was a vicious dictator. You can look-up on any list of African dictators, past and present, and I am sure Kamuzu would match any of them, one way or another. If Malawians today look back at Kamuzu’s era with nostalgia, it is because the subsequent leaders have failed Malawians miserably. If we acknowledge Kamuzu as a dictator and grade him as such, he would sure get a decent grade. Could any of our ‘democratic’ leaders also get a decent grade for being democrats in a democratic state?
Yet, on 14th June 21 years ago Malawians decided, via a referendum, that we have had enough of Kamuzu’s tyranny. Thus, we voted for multiparty democracy. And, let’s face it, Kamuzu acted like a democrat by admitting defeat, twice, in the referendum and in the 1994 general elections. After 20 years, it is pointless, even unfair to sit hear criticising Kmuzu for not acting as a democrat because he was not and he never pretended to be.
We have democracy now and the task is to ensure that our leaders act as democrats. We cannot compare Kamuzu the dictator with ‘democratic’ leaders; that is missing the point. You do not compare dogs and cats even though both are domestic animals.
A 2011 – 2013 Afrobarometer survey conducted in 34 of the 54 African countries showed that people in 32 countries on the continent are in favour of democracy over other forms of government. Only Madagascar and Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, are against it. 76% of Malawians are said to be in favour of democracy. This is huge. No winning presidential candidate has ever got anywhere near it.
This shows that there is no way back to dictatorships, not any time soon anyway. Yet, this does not mean everything is taken care of and folks can relax. Democracy is a process; it does not begin and end at the ballot box. Democracy demands that we ensure accountability and transparency from the people we put in power.
This can only be achieved if enough of us speak or acting against injustice, corruption, abuse of power etc. You will be neglecting your duty as a citizen if you decide to look the other way when something wrong is happening. Those with political affiliation do a disservice not only to the country but their political parties as well when they ignore injustice and abuse of power. The yes bwana advisers are the ones who betray leaders and that is how political parties fall.
Malawi democracy has been resilient so far and this is one of the success stories of the last 50 years of Malawi independence. Among other things, it has survived Bakili Muluzi’s failed third term bid, survived the “midnight six’s” attempted to stop Joyce Banda succeeding the late Bingu wa Mutharika and it has always had successful and peaceful change of power. Elsewhere on the continent these events would have translated into bloodshed. We saw it in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Ivory Coast between 2007 and 2011.
However, the blight spot is that service delivery in Malawi remains very poor. Less than 10% of the population have access to electricity. Education standards remain poor and getting worse, the health sector is in perennial crisis, we are yet to achieve food security despite the ever-expensive farm subsidies programme, the list is endless. These are issues that concern me, and must concern you, too. I know Malawi can do better and Malawians deserve better. This is why I write about it, it is for the love of my country, not hatred for anyone, let alone those in power.
- Jimmy Kainja is communications scholar, a blogger and a social commentator. As a Nyasa Times columnist, his articles are posted every Wednesday. Currently he is working as a part-time lecturer at the University of Malawi, teaching cultural studies and communications.