In memory of Bingu: Let the works of his hands speak for him

Bingu workofmyhandsToday April 5, 2013 Malawians will commemorate the first anniversary of the death of President Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika. I am not certain how Malawians intend to memorialize this day, but I have no doubt that in one way or another, all Malawians will, remember him, because he lived, reigned and died in a very remarkable and memorable way.

Just like Mark Anthony on the funeral of the assassinated Julius Ceasar, I do not wish through this article, to praise the late Mutharika, neither do I wish to invoke fresh tears and mourning amongst his friends and supporters, nor seek to invite his foes and critics to another celebration, or debate.

My intentions are noble and nationalistic, for I only seek to appeal to the privileged generation, which lived to witness Malawi’s great economic and political success, followed by struggle and panic under President Mutharika to grant the departed leader audience and allow the works of his hands to whisper into our minds, especially today while we commemorate his death. I remember Mutharika by his statement, “Let the works of my hands speak for me.”

Why did Bingu wish that only his works speak for him? Bingu’s predecessor was a highly gifted orator and probably his successor too, who had mastered the art of speech and used it to manipulate Malawians who only loved to hear him speak, mostly lies. Bingu was not a fluent speaker, especially with Chichewa, but highly loaded with development agenda. Most Malawians expressed disapproval of his nomination to lead UDF in the 2004 presidential race, simply because he could not speak with eloquence. Bingu realized that Malawians needed not to judge him as oratory skills but by his performance and faithfulness to duty.

Through his first term, from 2004 to 2009, the works of his hands spoke of great political and economic success. Even his national and international critics do not dispute this fact. The world could not resist but listen to the new messiah whose works spoke of great tidings of high agricultural productivity and food security, for the once hunger stricken Malawi.  His works spoke of a redeemed Malawi, which was not only feeding herself, but had over a million metric tons of surplus. His works spoke so appealingly to donors who had abandoned Malawi and deserted her as if she were a leper colony. Donors regained trust and flocked back to Malawi with huge bags of dollars and pounds.  The IMF too felt compelled to take a rare decision- in 2006 the IMF wrote-off a huge debt Malawi had incurred, when Bingu was not in office.

In 2006, he through the works of his hands and thorough consultative processes drafted the highly applauded Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) to run for five years until 2011. The MGDS prioritized enhancement of agriculture and food security, education, transport, energy generation, rural development, irrigation and water development, youth development and anti-corruption initiatives.

In 2008, Malawi registered 9.7% economic growth and was rated a fastest growing economy in the world after Qatar.  By the following year, 2009, which was the General Elections years, the works of Mutharikas hands had also spoken of countless infrastructure development that spread across all regions of Malawi. Malawians decided to let their votes speak only of their appreciation to Mutharika and heaped on him 66.7% of votes which ushered him into a second term.

The first year of his second term, from 2009 to 2010 equally spoke highly of works of his hands, which now extended cross the African continent. In January 2010, he rose to the Chairmanship of the African Union, replacing the late Muammar al-Gaddafi who attempted to retain the Chairmanship for an additional term. While Chairing the African Union, he called for Africans to develop fellow Africans and trade intensively among themselves. He implemented the African Food Basket Initiative which prioritized African’s food security, a concept which he had successfully implemented in Malawi. He argued that Africa had the potential to feed itself and the rest of the world.

All of a sudden, things changed in 2011 during the second year of his second term. The works of his hands spoke more of struggle than success. Personally I feel his struggle crept in when surprisingly a gay couple engaged publicly.  The government arrested and sentenced the couple to 14 years of imprisonment in May 2010. The UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon visited Malawi and influenced Mutharika to pardon the couple, which he did.

However, since then Mutharika began to lose the favor of Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and Non Governmental Organizations (NGO), while debates on homosexuality continued to dwell among us, and gay rights were made a condition for aid. The CSOs and NGOs reported government to the international community on concerns of governance and human rights.  In return, donors administered aggressive coercive measures like withholding aid, to force Mutharika to comply. Attacks by the CSOs, NGOs and International community, revived the opposition which Bingu had paralyzed and hold at bay by his first term of success and fame.

The freezing of aid, contribute to forex and fuel scarcity. By early 2011, forex and fuel became an issue of great concern, as the continued scarcity began to affect trade, and the once fast growing economy slowly got crippled. The ordinary Malawians felt the pinch, and some joined the cause of CSOs, NGOs, Opposition and the International community to squeeze solutions out of Mutharika.

Unlike the first Ngwazi, Dr Hasting Kamuzu Banda, who faced similar coercive action in 1992, when Britain and other donors froze aid to Malawi to force him to comply with the call for a referendum for Multiparty Democracy, the second Ngwazi allowed the works of his hands to speak of a Zero Deficit Budget (ZDB). This policy only added insult to injury, as it did not resolve the fuel and forex scarcity which needed quick redress.

In the mean time, the IMF had called upon devaluation of Malawi Kwacha to stimulate flow of forex. Bingu responded with a 10% devaluation in August. But the IMF demanded that the Kwacha be devalued further by more than 40% which Bingu defied. The works of his hands spoke of a big NO to devaluation unless there was a bailout package to cushion the poor. His refusal to devalue stiffened the donors grip on withheld aid.

Concerns over bad laws including Section 46 of the Penal Code, which empowered minister of Information to ban publication of materials deemed not in the public interest, the Injunctions Bill that would prevent people from suing government or a government official, and the Police Act that empowered the police to, under certain circumstances search without search warrants, worsened reproach against Mutharika.

By July 2011, the noise of bad laws, fuel shortages, forex scarcity, ZDB and similar woes deafened the ears of Malawians who no longer heeded the voice of works of mutharika’s hands, which still reverberated amid the struggles with some ongoing infrastructure development, and call to patience. The people resolved to settle this in the streets, where about 20 civilians lost their lives and hundreds of millions of private property was looted.

In March 2012 the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) issued ultimatums against Mutharika during the March 14-15 indaba. PAC demanded his resignation within 60 days or a referendum within 90 days. Mutharika denied that he was not the type that abandons duty when it gets tough. Three weeks after refusing to step down, he died.

Having gone through the presidency of Mutharika, with a pure motive to grant the works of his hands a fair hearing, I conclude that the works of his hands, speak of great prosperity, but also of struggle and failure. His presidency lasted close to eight years of which six years were successful and two were poor. Mathematically the presidency scored 75%.

If Malawians expected Mutharika’s presidency to score 100% then we were expecting a little too much from a human being. Perhaps it is us Malawians who are evil, and have allowed cheap politics to take control of our sanity so much that we can hate and insult Bingu for mistakes he made, but cannot praise him for the great things he did for our nation.

He might not have closed the chapter of his life with a great story, but I believe that he died a happy man, because he died holding to his belief that Africans are smart people too. He believed that Africans cannot always be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. He chose his path; that he shall not always beg from a Whiteman and that where necessary a Whiteman deserve NO for an answer.

Bingu  believed that Africans and of course Malawians could develop domestic policies which could tackle domestic challenges better than imposed policies. He wished above all, that Africans, and Malawians must become masters of their fate.

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