Malawi 2014 elections: A choice between lesser evils

“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent them.”

By now President Joyce Banda (JB) and her cohorts must be thinking the cashgate saga is some kind of a witch-hunt. Yet, what is haunting JB is her initial attempt to distance herself and her political party from cashgate and her attempt to portray her administration as fighting corruption that the previous regimes tolerated.

JB should have accepted that cashgate has erupted on her watch and take on it head on instead of playing politics with it. Now the toothpaste is out, how do put it back in the tube?

JB’s attempts sent two wrong signals: the first one is that her inconsistency at the beginning gave impression that she something to hide, especially now that senior members of her cabinet and key financer of her political party have been implicated. The second impression is that she has decided to put her interests above national interest; the hiring of London-based PR firm Bell Pottinger for damage limitation affirms that she cares more about people’s perception of her and not necessarily stopping future cashgates.

Malawi 2014 presidential candidates: Joyce Banda, Peter Mutharika, Atupele Muluzi and Lazarus Chakwela

These outweigh JB’s justifiable argument that looting of public resources stretches back to Bakili Muluzi era. Even though this argument on its own comes across as justifying the loot and denying responsibility. It is crucial to note that cashgate is a symptom of a rotten society whose morals have been in gradual decline. Cashgate is a tipping point for a society whose people have been indoctrinated to believe that it is important to put interests of their political parties ahead of national interests. This is why there are Malawians that are happy to defend cashgate for the sake of their political parties.

The last 15 years or so Malawi has natured a mentality that the public purse is at the mercy of those in power. This is among the prime causes of cashgate; it could have been any party in power and cashgate would be there. It is a public knowledge that recommendations were made in 2009 (under the late Bingu wa Mutharika) and again in 2012 (under Joyce Banda) to seal the holes in the government money paying system, which is at the heart of this looting of state resources. Yet, nothing was done. We know that a lot key members in Joyce Banda’s administration also formed a nucleus of Bingu administration so they were aware of these shortfalls all along.

It is apparently clear that there is no difference between political parties in Malawi. Forget about opposing benches in parliament, it is the same political class, one and the same. They share interests and their ambition is to protect those interests. If anything, those in opposition are only annoyed about cashgate because, first it is not them stealing and second, they know cashgate will make it harder for them to steal should they get in power. This is why no political party and political leader have come forward to denounce the cashgate in strong terms. There is nothing that the opposition leaders have said beyond what Malawians are discussing in social media and other public fora.

For the political class, cashgate is politics as usual. Those in opposition are happy to tell people about everything possibly wrong with the current administration without necessarily holding it to account. Could MCP, UDF, DPP, Petra, Aford, PPM etc. show us what they will do to change this rotten political order? Forget sorting out the government payment system alone, that is equivalent of wrapping a boil with a bandage; you only succeed in hiding the boil but it will not heal because the wound is intact inside the boil.

The lack of choice in 2014 is there for all to see. 2014 elections are a choice between lesser evils, especially for poor Malawians in the frontline of poverty and injustice, forced on them by the political establishment that stands for nothing by self-enrichment. 2014 elections will change bums on some seats but not how this country is run. The power to change this country rest not in the hands of the political establishment but us, the ordinary citizens.

The recent Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter that reads like a collection of extracts from social media and various historical edicts, for lack of originality and nuanced ideas has mentioned of a “growing spirit of fatalism” engulfing Malawi. This is true, even though the Pastoral Letter does not offer solutions or enlighten Malawians that they have power to change things and control the destiny of this country, beyond the ballot. Calling for people to hold their leaders to account is a call to national duty, one of the key democratic principles, not a call for revolution, as some understands it.

We must at all cost resist the ideology implanted in us by the political class that we should think in political party lines. We must owe our allegiance not to political parties, not its leaders and not its colours; instead, we must owe our allegiance to our country, to fellow Malawians, uphold our national flag and take pride in it.  We must not worship our leaders; we must hold our leaders to account. We must ensure that leaders act by the oath – to serve and protect Malawi. Malawians can no longer afford to have kleptocrats shoving everyone left, right and centre. If ordinary Malawians take full control of the direction of the country, the political establishment has no choice but to oblige; they need our mandate to govern.

*Jimmy Kainja writes for Nyasa Times every Wednesday. His articles are copied and pasted by other websites to prove how popular his views are liked.

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