Malawi: And civility goes out the window

No spectacle could be sadder.

November 10, 2012. A former head of state arrives from medical treatment in South Africa and goes straight from the airport to his ancestral Kapoloma village to mourn his mother who had passed away in his abscence. His son, a cabinet minister in the new government, is with him.

Some members of cabinet and the governing party choose precisely that day to gather in nearby Mangochi to launch vicious, vitriolic attacks on the son who has recently been chosen leader of his own party and is also a member of cabinet; even questioning his legitimacy to be voted for in the area because, ostensibly, he does not come from there and, allegedly, does not speak the local ChiYao.

When cabinet ministers and prominent members of the ruling party openly choose the politics of personal attack and destruction on live radio and television, and show no sense of propriety during a solemn and sad day for the victim, we can start mourning the death of civility and constructive debate in this presidential term.

UDF presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi (L) getting a warm handshake form opposition leader John Tembo who sympathasied with the abuse he faced from People’s Party

And when the victim of such virulent attacks is actually their own cabinet colleague, it amounts to an expulsion of the victim from cabinet. It is no wonder there are now reports that Atulepe Muluzi has resigned from cabinet.

With President Joyce Banda’s assembling of a goverment of national unity earlier in the year, some of us had hoped for a holiday from the politics of viciousness and personal attack that characterised the now-defunct Bingu wa Mutharika dictatorship. We had hoped for a period when the nation’s issues would take centre stage, bringing together the efforts of people from various parties such as Aford, Peoples and the United Democratic Front; parties that are in this government. Apparently we were wrong.

Many democracies in the world, from time to time, assemble governments of national unity or coalition governments, notably when one party fails to garner a sufficient majority to govern effectively alone. Israel is a typical and frequent example of this. But governments of national unity are also required when there are pressing issues needing the urgent attention of a cross section of people from the political spectrum to deal with them in casbinet and elsewhere.  President Mrs. Joyce Banda recognized, upon becoming president, that our country was in such a dire situation and it needed talent wherever it could get it on the political landscape. Some of us hoped that this heralded a new era in Malawi politics or at least a temporary break from the usual politics of public castigation and denunciation. Well, so much for that.

The 2014 Campaign

The 2014 campaign must trigger a debate of new ideas, hopefully involving fresh faces from a new generation of men and women. Young men and  women in general have traditionally been abscent from the political playfied at the presidential level. We are lucky to have a woman, President Joyce Banda, who will contest for re-election in 2014.

We are also lucky to have a young person, Atupele Muluzi, who will also contest. But the 2014 election should represent a political watershed for Malawi.

The 2014 should present the country with a clear choice between maintaining an old style of doing politics and a new one that personifies the aspirations of a new generation of Malawians who are ready to join the rest of the world in a fresh and earnest engagement with national and global challenges.

It must offer a new opportunity for change in how we do politics in Malawi. The old politics of personal castigation and personal destruction must end, and shame on those who wish to perpetuate it. When political leaders choose the occasion when a rival is mourning the death of his grandmother to tear such rival to pieces, something needs to change urgently.

Women are slightly bigger in number in Malawi than men. Some even suggest Malawi’s population is 53% female and 47% male. Statisticians also estimate two thirds of the population of Malawians to be under the age of 20. They say only 5% of Malawi’s population is older than 65. And yet the politics of Malawi has been dominated, certainly at presidential level, by older men until a few months ago when Malawi had its first woman president, Mrs. Joyce Banda. These older men inculcated a politics of personal destruction and public denunciation which has so far not helped the country.

Malawi’s youth and women want to be challenged into positive action by a new style of leadership that best understands and represents their hopes and aspirations for the future. This majority yearns to be challenged by a youthful, vigorous and temperate leadership, full of new ideas for change towards a better country not full of talent for castigation and vitriol.

Malawi craves an injection of freshness in policies and approach to national politics. Gone are the days when Malawi should continue on the path represented by the likes of the presumed Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Arthur Peter Mutharika who will be 74 years old in 2014 and is clearly out of step, at least in demographic terms, with the vast majority of Malawians. So also John Tembo, leader of the oppoiton, who will be in his early eighties

For 2014, let Malawi emulate good examples. Liberians, for example, have a woman President who is earning good reviews internationally for her civil approach to the political game. Americans have just re-elected the youthful Barak Obama and, in the United Kingdom, young David Cameron is Prime Minister whereas the Labour Party’s Ed Miliband, only about 43, is leader of the opposition. Malawi is ripe for this kind of renewal and freshness.

Apart from youth and gender renewal, Malawians are also looking for a fresh approach to politics, one that is not characterized by the kind of personal attacks we saw last Saturday from the mouths of senior People’s Party polticians.

Enough is enough.

 *Ambuje Che Tom Likambale is a Malawian writer based in Canada.

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