Juggling priorities: Of Malawi State Wedding, running govt

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important” –Stephen R. Covey

So we have a new First Lady in the offing. Great news! Congratulations are in order for Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika and his new belle Gertrude Hendrina Maseko.

Balaka must indeed be the ‘Eden of Malawi’; producing two first ladies in a life time is not a mean feat!

Trivia facts aside, we have all along known that ‘love has been in the air’ for these love-birds. It was no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’…which is what we should be interrogating now.

Too close to call; Mutharika and Maseko
Too close to call; Mutharika and Maseko

Peter has been a widower for over three decades after losing his Caribbean wife, Christophine. Thirty years is a long time, so long that one would have concluded that Peter was no longer interested in replacing his late wife. In fact, his big brother, the Big Kahuna, hardly waited for three years before replacing his dear Ethel with Callista.

So the timing of Peter’s second betrothal is quite interesting, if not suspicious. Is it to do with his new status as His Excellency the President of the Republic of Malawi?

There is no law in Malawi that I know of that forces people to re-marry after losing their original spouses. In fact there is no law that forces anyone to marry at all no matter what station in life they are in.

I was having a conversation with a friend over Peter’s not-so-surprising announcement. She opined tongue-in-cheek: “Maybe the marriage gesture will escalate the production of the cabinet!”

I joked back, saying maybe Peter wanted this ‘important’ issue of marriage out of the way, cabinet could wait! For which she shot back: “If truth be told, it is the other way round; the country is bigger than an individual!”

That, I guess, is the moot point. How could the President see it wise to tackle personal matters first before dealing with state matters? For all we know, Peter is not a hot-blooded young bachelor eager to marry at the smell of the whiff of his first salary. Gertrude, too, is not a ‘Sweet 16’ naively eager to elope with her first beau.

For all we care, these two love-birds were already an item before State House happened. Was it necessary, therefore, that the first big announcement from a Peter State House should be the impending nuptials? Really?

Malawi is back to the precipice his late brother banished it to. What with donors holding on to their US $150 million purse. Alexander Baum, the outgoing European Union top diplomat, actually did not mince words by saying the unlocking of the aid kitty is dependent on the kind of people Peter chooses to work with.

Now, instead of prioritising telling the world who will be manning his ‘Situation Room’, Peter chooses to first tell us who will be caressing his chest when things gets tough at Capital Hill or in Parliament!

C’mon! If Peter was so in love with Gertrude that he could not wait for anything then he should not have waited for the conclusion of the elections to say ‘I do’. He should have done what Atupele Muluzi did to formalise his union with Angela and show us a potential First Lady in-waiting way before the elections.

By quickly consummating his long time affair with Gertrude, Peter risks inviting unflattering innuendoes that this may be a marriage of convenience.

Apart from that, he also risks suggestions that Peter is so parsimonious he did not want to pick the tab for his own wedding; he wanted our taxes to foot the bill.

Of course aNgoni Chilima, who is co-chairing the wedding committee with State Residences Chief of Staff Peter Mukhito, emphasised last Friday that the K38 million bill for the wedding will be funded by ‘well-wishers’. But we have heard that term ‘well-wishers’ before; that term has become so hackneyed we have come to know what it really means.

By the way, having the whole State Vice President and the State Residences Chief of State co-chair what is billed as a ‘private’ wedding defeats the whole idea of a ‘private’ wedding. This is nothing less that a state wedding however hard anyone tries to push the ‘private’ tag.

Some would argue that what is wrong with Peter having a ‘state wedding’? After all Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika had state weddings.

On paper, of course, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Peter having a state wedding, so nobody should worry their brains off in trying to invent a new meaning for the word ‘private’.

But then Peter campaigned on the platform of doing things differently. This ‘business as usual’ way of running affairs of government is what has led Malawi to stagnate half a century after the British weaned us from their bosom.

So Saulos Chilima and Mukhito should not waste time – and public money – running around over a ‘private’ affair. Charles Matabwa and Charles Namondwe should have been running the show being akuchimuna. The two Charlies should have roped in somebody from Che Mbera in Balaka to complete the wedding committee and leave aNgoni free to busy himself reforming the civil service. That would have made Peter and Gertrude’s ‘private’ wedding truly private.

We, in the muckraking community, are happy Peter has finally found a soul mate. Thirty years of tying one’s own neck-ties or buttoning up one’s own shirts is hell. Every man needs someone to lie to them that they are the best even when the whole world knows they are the scum of earth!

But Peter has the whole nation’s aspirations on his shoulders. He must learn to juggle his priorities well; he has to strike a balance between private and national interests.

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