Malawi newspaper columnist hits at JB foreign trips: ‘It’s Bingu all over again’

Newspaper columnist George Kasakula writing in ‘My Diary’ column published in Weekend Nation on Saturday June 15   critiques President Joyce Banda over her lengthy foreign trips  .  The column is re-posted  below, full text:

 I have said it once and, at the risk of sounding repetitive like a scratched record, I say it again.

President Joyce Banda has let down even the most loyal of her supporters who thought her ascension to power last year would herald a new era of doing politics in Malawi.

But the deal Malawians have got for themselves is the same old tune that the late Bingu wa Mutharika sang and danced to, alone.

It was not a secret that Mutharika liked worldly things and wanted to enjoy to the fullest the trappings of power that came with the presidency.

To facilitate his frequent luxurious international travels he bought himself, but at the expense of poor Malawians, a state of the art jet that only CEOs of multinationals or List A film stars could afford.

JB waving when she left the country
JB waving when she left the country

Well, except that to top up taxpayers money to buy the plane, Mutharika used £3 million of British taxpayers money which they had pumped in as budgetary support and their government was understandably not amused and they cut aid.

For the record, until today the British have not reinstated the budgetary support and are unlikely to do so as Chancellor George Osborne is having to sniff around to see where he could land his chopping blade next to bring under control the soaring costs of running Britain.

Joyce Banda has since sold the jet at a loss but that has not stopped her from lengthy sojourns abroad such that as I am writing this, she was into her third week of travel razzmatazz that took her to Ethiopia, Dubai, Japan, China, United Kingdom and Switzerland.

In all fairness, which president, whether from Africa or anywhere else spends a whole three weeks abroad giving the so-called keynote speeches—whatever that means—to conferences whose net benefit to their people is dubious and not of immediate nature?

The British or the Americans would never tolerate David Cameron or Barack Obama to spend three weeks outside Washington or London. Even their secretaries of state whose job description is to travel in the name of conducting international diplomacy and facilitate their countries’ influence over international affairs do not spend a whole month in a jet, travelling from capital to capital.

The same story is true of Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, who must travel to ensure world peace but he finds time to be in New York to run the UN from behind a desk.

I ask again, what is the justification for our President to be abroad a good three to four weeks? When does she run the country as our CEO? When does she check the programmes she is keen to highlight that her government has instituted to make sure that they are on course?

Then there is the issue of her being asked to be patron of a Yao cultural group.

Our Constitution guarantees freedom of association. Sub-cultures within our Malawi culture are free to come together to promote their oneness within the cultural diversity of Malawi.

But presidents must rise above this to avoid being seen to align themselves too much with their sub-culture so that other Malawians do not feel alienated or as second class citizens in their own country.

This is what essentially Mutharika made some of us feel when he became too much involved with the Mulhakho wa Alhomwe grouping.

Worse-still, this newspaper demonstrated that Bingu’s appointments of people into strategic lucrative positions were skewed towards this grouping.

I thought Joyce Banda would not fall into the same trap but here we are as her name is being associated with a group that has a similar DNA to Mulhakho.

Kamuzu Banda was a murderer but throughout his reign, he denounced tribalism. Despite obvious pressure from his tribesmen, Bakili Muluzi resisted the urge to favour his own tribe and tried to balance national appointments and that is why he went all the way to appoint Chakufwa Chihana as second vice-president.

Mutharika was the odd one out who openly favoured his home boys and girls. I thought Joyce Banda would be different.

And when I reach this stage, I always question myself why we, Malawians, seem to have found ourselves the knack of recycling mediocre leadership.  Are we cursed? I hope not. It is Bingu all over again.

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