Malawi enslaved by a patronage political culture? People, politics and progress

I have been silent since HE Joyce Banda came to power. My friends (and the editor) can attest to this. It has not been an easy task for a political junkie like my good self.

When Banda came to power, I ululated, I sent my congratulations, I danced and I hoped that Malawi had left the bad road of political tyranny. As I should and am entitled: I employ 5 people (read families) permanently and regularly have 10 – 20 casuals working for me on my various projects. I want JB to succeed. I want power always. I want petrol always. I want good hospitals and good schools. I do not want an endless recycled litany of recycled parties and politicians.

JB started well. She can still finish well. But, as of now, she has been captured by the male dominated patriarchy and parasitical political machine that is typical of our post-Banda Malawi. I bet all she hears is: ‘Mumtenge uyu from DPP!’ ‘Tikapatsa macontract awa kwa awa, 2014 basi tawina!’ It is all about political chameleoning for advantage. Mai asakunamizeni, it won’t work in 2014.

President Banda: Gets

As a transitional president to 2014, JB did not need to attract many of the opportunists, chancers, self-seekers, parasites, and second raters she has attracted to the PP. She needed to deliver and then ‘nchito za manja amai Abiti JB’ would have convinced Malawians to vote for her in 2014. After all she starts with an advantage – a majority of women would want her there. A transitional president does not need party politics. She came to power NOT because of a party but because the constitution said so and the Army, if not the police, backed constitutionality.

Alas, now it appears that party politics is already more important to her than delivering. Look at the PP party culture that is emerging: lady civil servants invited to state house to be given K1,000 notes and no substantive gender issues discussed; ministers running around opening KFCs (I like KFC, but let us have perspective); ‘government of national appeasement’; co-opting critical voices into government to ‘silence’ them; no cogent economic recovery plan formulated or published; back-tracking on Air Malawi jet and Mercedes Benzes; failure to reduce the presidential convoy and insulting Malawians with ‘explanations’; failure to tap into Malawian expertise locally and internationally, preferring obscure and uninformed foreigners; the politics of retribution – instead of accountability – with some of the sackings which will cost Malawians dear; failure to declare assets (already causing talk of getting money from business for patronage); failure to prioritise energy needs – petrol queues returning; our donors already getting worried (no, I do not have a starry eyed view of donors – see next article) about accountability of funds; failure to remove some key civil servants, ministers and others who wasted money during Bingu’s era but only removing ‘DPP’ ones; failure to declare assets; beginning to permit the politics of kuthetsana in business as new power brokers (the new ‘mullis’) grab what was there from the Bingu boys like Mulli (we need to create NEW spaces) not fight for the same old ones; too much talk and little action on a variety of issues… And recycled politicians are not even ashamed to be heard to say ‘I made a mistake joinng PP, so far palibe ndachiona!’ Abale!

Yes, JB’s government and political culture is beginning to worry me. I have seen it before: during the Muluzi era. I bet civil servants, like PSs, spend more time and allowances (your taxes) attending political meetings; I bet ministers spend more time clapping at meetings than thinking; I bet women dancers get K500 notes (and women have forgotten that it is more important to have things legislated than spoken – for all her power, what did Mama Kadzamira leave women? Will the same be said of JB?); I bet the President is being kept busy addressing meetings in the hope that people will be entertained into forgetting their problems. If this is the case, JB is being misled. The strikes tell a different story.

When Hilary Clinton comes to Malawi she may bring enough security to take over KIA, but that does not happen when she is at home. She has a limited convoy. In Africa she is a genuine and legitimate target for Al Qaida; JB is loved by Malawians and her convoy is obscene and excessive. Those familiar with history know that convoys started when post-independence leaders wanted to impress people that they were now boma and then these convoys worsened after events like the Cabinet Crisis, when presidents like Banda got frightened of their own people.

In 2012 big convoys are seen for what they are: a waste of money. By the way where was the convoy ambulance when the late Bingu collapsed? As often in Africa, these things are just for show. Remember Muluzi’s ‘maize convoy’ which was driven from rally to rally for ‘promises’ until it was found out?

JB does not need to ape Muluzi’s politics of makwacha and empty rhetoric and co-option. As a serious mother she needs to bring a new politics into being: cut the meetings and travel; remove the hangers on; identify serous Malawians as advisers; listen to advice from good wishers and not recycled politicians; keep a democratic eye on what your ministers are doing; your job is to save Malawi not build a party; escape the Muluzi ‘man/woman of the people’ superficial politics and get to work. Spend two clear weeks in the office with trusted critical thinkers and advisers and see the wood for the leaves…

Only eighteen months left your Excellency.

*Masauko Namiasi is a retired teacher and small businessman.


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