Joyce Banda’s Song of Deborah

It is said that some tribes celebrate the birth of a baby with mourning and wailing. They cry for the child for being born into a world of tribulation. They mourn for the child for the persecution it will face in this world of ours. Somehow, that is how I felt as I watched President Joyce Banda take her oath of office, that Saturday Morning. My eyes did well up a bit with joy but the overriding emotion in my heart was that of anxiety, more like feeling sorry for her. I am no pessimist, but for all intents and purposes, she was being handed a country in such dire straits a World Bank President would refuse to be its head of state.

That was some three weeks ago but since then, my mood seems to have improved, somewhat. I still believe she was dealt a bad hand but in life you play the hand you are dealt and she seems to be doing fine so far. Her style of leadership is yet to emerge but in more ways than one she has managed to establish herself as a leader who is decisive and has her priorities right.

I was amazed, for instance, by how swift and decisive she was in dealing with the matter of former Information Minister, Patricia Kaliati and former Inspector General of Police, Peter Mukhito. I am not privy to what goes on in the corridors of the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) but, judging from what little information is available in the public domain, Kaliati dared the President and the President did not blink.

President Banda. On Photo credit: Govati Nyirenda /AFP/Getty Images)

Kaliati may claim that she was merely conveying what her cabinet colleagues had asked her to do in her capacity as government spokesperson, but the simple fact remains that in so doing, she became the voice and face of the most unspeakable act of defiance to the highest authority on the land. That is what the public will remember. Keeping her around was going establish her as the face of the ones who dared the President and got away with it, thereby eroding the authority of the office of the President both in cabinet and countrywide. She had to go.

As for Mukhito, there is a litany of issues on his file. But from where I am standing, just his apparent failure to protect the Office of the President when it mattered most, is more than enough to have him fired.

The President has also topped my scorecard as regards the way she has dealt with Malawi’s diplomatic quagmire. While it is true that she did not, in any way, cause the diplomats to throng her house following the death of Mutharika, one cannot ignore the fact that she did succeed in converting that goodwill into tangible and desirable results. Among other benefits, we have seen the thawing of diplomatic relations across the board, we have received positive signals from Washington in relation to a crucial energy aid package and, most of all, Malawi’s biggest financial supporter, Britain, is back in town. Closer to home, we are now able to chat with our neighbours over the fence, just like in the good, old days of good neighbourliness.

Then there is the matter of public appointments. I can only imagine how many CVs the President is receiving everyday from people with access trying to secure juicy positions for themselves or their colleagues. Although there has been only a handful of appointments made this far, I find comfort in the fact that I am not able to fault any of them.

Take, for instance, the appointment of Charles Chuka, the Newly appointed governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM). I do not know this person from anywhere but looking at his CV online, one will have no argument with this appointment. The short version of his CV is that he cut his teeth at RBM where he rose to the become Head of Economic Services or something like that. He then moved on to the World Bank where he was advising the Bank’s Executive Office on monetary issues relating to Southern African countries – including Malawi. Now, if RBM is the institution responsible for dealing with the World Bank and the IMF on Malawi’s monetary matters, who else would you appoint as governor other than a person who was advising the very World Bank on Malawi’s monetary issues, in the first place?

Similarly, if I wanted to pick a Secretary to the Treasury I would look for someone who knows something about being Secretary to the Treasury who has actually done well as a Secretary to the Treasury. That is a short description of a man called Radson Mwadiwa. Now, this does not mean, in any way, that others who have served there did not do well. They probably did but Mwadiwa happened to have done well when the economy was doing well. May be he just happened to be there at that time and the economy was going to do well, regardless. Well, that still works for me. If things tend to go well when a particular person is in charge, the probability is that things will go well if he is put in charge. Does it make sense? I figured as much.

And then we have the appointment of Loti Dzonzi as Inspector General of Police whom I happen to know, just a little bit. Our paths crossed, briefly, during my newsroom days in the mid 90s. I cannot recall the actual events that led to our getting acquainted, but what I remember vividly, is how my colleague, the late Hardy Nyirenda described him to me before we met: ‘Damn, eloquent cop’. Always having a way with words, Hardy made it sound as if it was illegal for a policeman to be eloquent and it really made me laugh my lungs out. Well, it turned out I had laughed too early. The short version is that when I, finally, got to meet and hear Dzonzi speak the queen’s language, I was astounded.

Anyway, add a Master’s Degree, an impeccable service history, a rank of full Police Commissioner and what do you have? Inspector General of Police. But, wait a minute, there is more. Add, also, a preacher with an impeccable reputation for integrity and you have… Loti Dzonzi, Inspector General of Police. Simply put, a gem of a policeman. Who can argue with that?

Then there is this week’s appointment of High Commissioner to the UK, Bernard Sande. I do not know much about him other than what I have seen online to the effect that he has done some high level diplomatic tour and has served as Principal Secretary in a couple of ministries including foreign affairs. Bottom line is that he has been there, done that.

Where am I going with all this? There is a pattern forming with these appointments. It is called merit – a different type of merit compared to what we used to have. Until three weeks ago, merit included a particular tribe or district of origin or, yet, strong connections to persons from the said category as a necessary condition. For the past couple of weeks, that condition seems to have fallen by the way side.

Dzonzi, for instance, comes from Ntchisi District. Like Mchinji, where I come from, I do not remember the last time we had a minister from that part of the country, let alone an IG. I do not know where Sande, Chuka or Mwadiwa come from but one out four is good enough for me. In any case, if the new merit system does not preclude on the basis of tribe or district of origin, I, for one, will care less if all appointees came from the same village.

It is in view of all this that I believe President Banda has done more than enough to allay my fears considering the short period she has been in power. These were not easy decisions to make given the obvious pressure on her to manage the tricky balance between party and country. More difficult decisions are yet to come and it is my hope that she will prevail for the sake of the country.

Whatever happens, I will always cherish the moments and images that marked her ascension to power. On the wall of my mind is a picture of her first act of presidency when she held that press conference under some trees somewhere outside her Area 12 residence. I remember her asserting herself and stepping up to the plate as the fate of the country hung in a balance. That picture of the President under some trees, reminds me of a story of a female judge, the only one, I believe, that ever ruled over Israel during the era of judges. Her name was Deborah.

The story does not say how she ascended to power as she is introduced to us when she is already a Judge and prophetess, holding court under the palm tree known as the Palm of Deborah. Her story takes place during the one of the many periods of Israel’s delinquencies of idolatry and paganism. At this particular époque, God handed Deborah an Israel in disarray, a nation brought to its knees by the military might of the Canaanites.

Once established as Judge, Deborah moved swiftly to appoint a general called Barak, who led Israel into victory against their foe. After the victory, Deborah and Barak sang a duet celebrating the outcome of a most unexpected deliverance from an apparently unconquerable and desperately cruel foe. The Song is known as the Song of Deborah.

It is early days, too early for an ode of triumph for President Joyce Banda. But for a President who started her presidency under a tree, a President who was handed a country on its knees, a President who has been swift and decisive in her decisions, Joyce Banda’s version of Song of Deborah is, certainly, being drafted.

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