Good folks; welcome to the new column, ‘Lateral Thinking’ a place where I will be giving you my dear esteemed readers an alternative viewpoint on matters arising as regards important issues that are unfolding in our beautiful country, Malawi, the warm heart of Africa.
This is a two-fold analysis encompassing a review of the speech delivered by the Vice President, Rt. Honourable Dr Saulosi Klaus Chilima, on the 6th of May and the powerful analysis of it by a super intelligent comrade Lyson Sibande (whose wits bear due reverence and my admiration).
I must indicate here that I had to inform him that I intend to counter analyze his analysis, just to make sure it is not seen as an attack on him. He, accordingly, granted the waïver.
To begin with, the power and persuasion in his analysis was engrossed in his two illuminating case studies of how one Mark Anthony and Hugo Chavez, who both seized the public attention to deliver a speech, ended making themselves popular.
He used these prominent case studies to strengthen his opinion that Chilima fell short of impressing or meeting the levels of the two. It is, therefore, important that I begin by highlighting the referred case studies.
Case study of Mark Anthony
This happened in Rome way back in 44 BC. The Roman Consul, Julius Ceaser, had been assassinated after a conspiracy by members of the Roman Senate including Marcus Brutus, a senior authority in the said Senate. In this period, a Consul held the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic and ancient Romans considered the consulship the highest level of the public offices to which politicians aspired.
Mark Antony, was elected together with Ceaser as co-Consul. Each year, the citizens of Rome elected two Consuls to serve jointly for a one-year term. For some reasons that tend to repeat themselves in the modern democracies in Africa, some people started asking Ceaser to rule beyond one year. Others persuaded him to be King – so he could rule until his death.
All these calls were openly rejected by Ceaser, but not decisively. His rejection left a room of doubt in the minds of the Senators such that they, eventually, accused him of turning into a dictator. They developed some fear that Ceaser, perhaps, bore an intention to abolish the Senate. To cage their power and interests, they schemed to eliminate the threat by murdering it – and they assassinated Ceaser.
Since the Consul was assassinated with intent to seize his power, the government was now under the control of the conspirators who happened to be the Senators. For Mark Anthony, who was a co-Consul, to speak at the funeral of Ceaser, he had to do so at the mercy of the Senate which was now in control.
Eventually, Antony was allowed, by Brutus and his fellow Senators, to make a funeral oration for Caesar on condition that he does not blame them for Caesar’s death.
Anthony thus carefully began his speech in a manner that gave hope to the Senators that they were in not to be blamed. In one of his opening remarks, he said: “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”. I can assume that this statement delivered a sigh of relief in the minds of the Senators who were not so sure that Mark Antony would comply with the condition.
However, they were in for a rude awakening as Mark Anthony carefully loaded his speech with sarcasm. Throughout his speech, Antony called the conspirators “honourable men”. But his sarcasm became increasingly obvious as he began rebutting the notion asserted by the Senators that his friend Caesar deserved to die because he was ambitious.
Brutus and his colleagues, in their collaborated speech, claimed that Ceaser was killed because he was becoming ambitious. Rebutting this claim, Mark Anthony asserted that Ceaser’s actions were for the good of the Roman people, whom he cared for deeply. He denied that Caesar wanted to make himself king. Indeed, for three occasions, Ceaser had denied the crown of a king.
Before Anthony could even finish his emotional speech, the gathering started turning against the conspirators. Antony then teased the crowd with Caesar’s Will, which they beg him to read, but he refused. Antony tells the crowd to “have patience” and expressed his feeling that he will “wrong the honourable men whose daggers have stabbed Caesar” if he was to read the Will.
The crowd, increasingly enraged, started calling the conspirators “traitors” and demanded that Antony should read out the Will. Instead of reading the Will immediately, Antony focused the crowd’s attention on Caesar’s body, pointing out his wounds and stressing the conspirators’ betrayal of a man who trusted them. In particular the betrayal of Brutus. He completely manipulated the crowd through rhetoric.
The duty relationship between Ceaser and Mark Anthony falls on all fours with the arrangement of President and Vice President of modern democracies. No wonder the incident presents itself as the perfect case study in dissecting the speech that was made by the Vice President, and comrade Sibande discovered exactly that.
However, what Comrade Sibande failed to catch in his analysis is that Mark Anthony calculated not to read the Will that Ceaser had left. You and I can agree that this Will was, probably, the most anticipated to be made known to the public. But Anthony, despite revealing it later, chose to begin by withholding it.
The answer lies in the fact that no matter the circumstances, it is an endeavour of carelessness to pre-empt everything at a go. I can guarantee that Chilima is aware of this strategy and he employed it accordingly. Just like Brutus who called the murderers “honourable men”, Chilima equally gave respect to President Mutharika and described the DPP as an organized institution. But did Anthony really mean it that Brutus and his cohorts were honourable men?
Then would Chilima mean what he said when he described DPP as an organized institution? Isn’t Chilima’s sarcasm becoming clear and obvious when he, later on, asserts of the corruption, nepotism and theft? Chilima’s approach falls on all fours with that employed by Mark Antony to that extent. Comrade Sibande skipped to read this.
I am not sure whether it was deliberate skipping or it escaped his notice. Whatever the case may be, Chilima was not any distance apart from the strategy employed by Mark Antony whom he has praised.
Case study of Hugo Chavez
This happened in Venezuela in 1992. The country was in an economic crisis under the governance of President Carlos Andrés Pérez, who was deemed very corrupt and of poor leadership.
The IMF imposed austerity policies on Venezuela and such policies played a major role in deepening the crisis. This led to an outbreak of massive popular protest and street disturbances in the country.
These disturbances were repressed by the government with fury and bullets. The people hated Pérez more and more.
It was in this context of social and political decay that the then military official, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez, led an attempted coup d’etat that failed anyway. The coup failed mainly because the troop that was led by Chavez himself, which headed for the State House to capture it, got defeated by the pro-Perez soldiers who manned the State residencies following a tip on the impending attack.
It is true that Chávez was given a chance to speak on the national media platform upon his negotiation as a condition for his surrender or to command his soldiers to abort the mission and cease fire. It must be pointed out that the other troops who had gone at other strategic areas were still fighting hard and winning the battle. They still had both the arsenal and zeal at their disposal.
Their dedication to fighting on was going stronger because they knew the dangers of surrendering a coup mission which has already gone to the action stage. Most importantly, the coup excited the general public who were upbeat about the coming in of a new government to replace that of Chávez. In his speech, Chávez never regretted his coup plot. Instead, he commended the soldiers who participated in the process.
He justified his actions by claiming that it was for the good of the nation which was under great suffering. He stated that all the blame should be placed upon him and not his fellow soldiers. With that speech, he bought himself into the popularity and enlarged his public sympathy.
Thus when Chávez was sent to prison, his wide public sympathy reigned. We all know that the public is the main centre of political power and capital. Indeed, the release of Chávez from prison was one of the campaign manifestos of Presidential bidders the in the subsequent run-up to elections. Once released, Chávez entered the political arena—and was elected President of Venezuela.
It is important to understand the circumstances that made his speech popular. It was his unapologetic commitment to his cause and his readiness to take all the responsibility upon his shoulders. With that, he demonstrated what can be described as a rare spirit of dedication to cause as well a as commitment to personally suffer or die while attempting to leave others in comfort.
Every society could be grateful to such a man so much so that be it popularity or praise, the public would not hesitate to grant him.
On Chilima speech
In the case of Veep Chilima, he has highlighted, without blinking, the nasty state of affairs in this country. He pointed it out that corruption is worsening. He indicated that our public education system is crumbling. He damned the ugly practice where the connected and the powerful continue to plunder our nation’s wealth. He decried the rampant nepotism, cronyism and regionalism as opportunities are a reserve for those with tribal connections.
These are real issues that are affecting and holding Malawi down to her current crisis. If we cannot agree with him on this, then we have ourselves to blame for we would be demonstrating that we really don’t know what it would take to better our country. If we cannot commend his bold step to condemn the status quo, we might need to check ourselves.
To rate Chilima’s speech as a failure or success, the benchmark is the expectations we might have had before his speech. If the expectations were that Chilima should hit back, with fury and insults, at the likes of Goodall Gondwe, Glessieder wa Geoffrey; Mchacha and even to President Mutharika, the speech can be deemed a failure because Chilima did not attack or insult them.
If the expectation was that Chilima would declare that he will challenge President Mutharika at the DPP Convention, then his speech is a failure because he refused to participate in the forthcoming DPP Convention. Indeed, after demonstrating, between his lines, how corrupt and hell-bent the DPP is, I would be the first person to be surprised, if not shocked, to hear him nursing any intentions to continue being part of it.
Some analysts have graded his speech with some reservations stating that he fell short of declaring his onward political route. Some have claimed that he has disowned those that started a movement attributed to his name. These analysts have, in my view, not done their job very well. When I heard Chilima say; “let me also thank the special people who have created a movement dubbed CHILIMA MOVEMENT for the courage and determination shown to date,” I interpreted it as an uncontested endorsement.
When I heard him say: “there comes a time in everyone’s life when one has to bid farewell to personal comfort for the benefit of his compatriots” and that “it is a decision that I have made,” just as our forefathers who fought for the freedom of Malawi made, I heard the voice of a committed Statesman who is not ready to fold hands while a battle is needed. When I heard him say; “we must fight for a just Malawi,” I heard a Statesman drawing a battle line to fight for change in his country.
Unlike Mark Anthony and Chávez, Chilima has demonstrated that he is the calm and composed brand. He employs less of emotions and more of strategic actions. While at this, let me tell you one thing: Radical rhetoric – based populism is not a universal political requirement. Sometimes it is needed sometimes it is not. Radical tendencies tend to share a theoretical confusion, a primitive Manicheism and a pre-political morality, dressed with a sauce for change according to tastes and latitudes, only to manifest as a tall order or a premeditated skilled manoeuvre that only assisted in a selfish victory.
Malawi has never been short of radical rhetoric-fashioned politicians yet nothing to show for a change as a country. Perhaps for a real change, we need new design of leadership and political actions as demonstrated to be given by Chilima. Maybe that’s how we can attain real change.
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