Lipengagate: People can forgive the crime but not the cover-up

Few men will be lucky to have the adjective ‘handsome’’ used to describe them in their biographies or obituaries. That was not Sam Cooke’s problem. In almost every biography or obituary of Sam Cooke, one of the first sentences often contains the phrase, “he was a very handsome man”. Sam Cooke died at a young age of 33.

Sam Cooke’s acclaim to fame though was not his looks. He was an African American brilliant singer; a true genius. His famous song is titled, “Change is gonna come”. The song depicts a person who was born in trouble and desperation but who has strong faith that these circumstance will soon, one day, change for the better. Produced during the segregation era in America, the song captured aspirations and mood of many black people. This powerful song, which was featured in the Malcolm X movie, is still one of the most popular music videos on You Tube.

Lipenga: Awaits probe results

Change is so important because it provides an opportunity to start over again and, hopefully, do everything right this time. As individuals and nations, we often pass through those moments when we yearn for change. We hope for better leaders and economic outlook. The question though is not whether change will come; history has shown that change almost always comes. It may delay, but it surely comes.

The crucial question is whether we take seriously opportunities to start again after change has come. Change did come to America – segregation ended. Whether the current African American community, with some of the highest high school dropout and out-of-wedlock kids rates in the world, managed that change to their advantage is a question historians will struggle with for many years to come.

In our own history, there have been many cases when we have been afforded an opportunity to start all over again. After many years of suffering under the British colonial rule, we became independent in 1964. Change provided us with a very big opportunity to develop a robust, democratic and progressive state. Unfortunately we lost control and formed a dictatorship.

For the next 30 years we yearned for change from this dictatorship. 1994 provided yet another opportunity to start again. While quite a few things changed, the sad reality is that we carelessly allowed our freedoms to continue being abused. We allowed the national broadcaster to remain a mouthpiece of the government even in the so-called multiparty democracy. We failed to stop corruption. Government ministers and officials started getting rich overnight. Those who could not even afford a minibus fare before started driving the most expensive personal cars in the world.

After the failed third term attempt, we had another opportunity to start again. Yet within only 5 years our streets saw demonstrations and police caused deaths. We saw a student critical of government die in mysterious circumstances. A couple of months ago a big tragedy hit Malawi. The president died. A very sad event, in deed, but nevertheless another opportunity to start all over again.

Why have we, as a nation, often failed to take full advantage of change in our history? How are we as a nation taking advantage of the latest opportunity to start over again? I ask these questions because Malawians have a tendency to miss small but crucial problems or indicators at the beginning of every administration. We often remain silent until the problems become irreversible. We allow these small issues to grow into monsters that have time and again derailed our nation.

As I write today, it has been more than a month since the president promised parliament and the whole nation that a special committee investigating issues surrounding MRA and the minister of finance would be released to the nation ‘within seven days’. The report is still not here. What happened? A president not coming clean with her nation is a problem that may quickly grow into a huge monster. Unfortunately Malawians, including NGOs that have always been vocal on these issues, are silent.

Joyce Banda has done quite a few very commendable things. But the real test of leadership is not whether you can investigate or arrest members of a former government; it is not even reversing controversial policy of a previous government – everybody, including dictators, does that. The real test of a good strong leader is the ability to investigate your own government, correct malfunctions and come clean with the nation. Presidents must always tell the truth.

I encourage the government to come clean on the Lipengagate. Let them tell the nation what the results of this investigation are. If Dr Lipenga is implicated but the president still wants to keep him, that is not a problem. She has every right to do that. People will understand and forgive. But people will surely not forgive her if they suspect a cover-up. In politics every sin can be forgiven, except cover-up. They always say it is not the crime but the cover-up that eventually destroys politicians.

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