Malawi opposition: Punching above their weight?

I was listening to an analysis on SKynews regarding David Cameron’s visit to the Middle East the other day. David Cameron was set to meet Tony Blair, the Middle East Peace Special envoy for the Quartet i.e. the United Nations, United States of America, European Union and Russia; he was also to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian strong man. At the time, he seemed to already have met the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, one of the analysts, Dr. James Strong of London School of Economics, while acknowledging that Britain may have some influence in the Middle East peace process, described Cameron’s attempts as “Britain punching above its weight” – and he went on to say, “Britain, sometimes, should aim to punch at its weight”.

From a language point of view, one might easily be led to think the phrase “punching above one’s weight” refers to some impossibility, but it does not mean quite so. Interest and curiosity to discover the meaning of this phrase led me to several sites, in search of its meaning.

Opposition candidates: from left to right- Atupele Muluzi (UDF), Peter Mutharika (DPP) and Lazarous Chakwera (MCP)
Opposition candidates: from left to right- Atupele Muluzi (UDF), Peter Mutharika (DPP) and Lazarous Chakwera (MCP)

Two interpretations attracted my attention, one at and the other at;  and respectively, the two sides said “competing against someone who you are no match for” and “to be in a situation that requires powers and/or abilities that one does not possess”. In literal terms, I do find differences in the two meanings as espoused by the two sites. The interpretation by would literally mean a choice to compete with an opponent too great to possess any realistic chance of winning because you are “no match for that opponent”.

The meaning as provided by, however, seems to mean that while the situation may be colossal for the one choosing to confront it, the possibility of coming out with a desirable result remains highly probable; it’s just that the situation demands “powers and/or abilities that you may not have,” so one might need to be a little bit more creative to salvage a desirable result.

In the case of the Middle East, I have no claim to competence and knowledge of what needs to be done that side. My view is that there is quite a mixed bag of competing interests in the Middle East – Israel/Palestine; Iran/Israel; Syria; Egypt and Lybia; Iraq and whatever else you can think of. A peace deal may not come easily looking at the mixture. The process, however, can speed up if the countries concerned were receptive to listening to each other much more and were accommodative to a give and take kind of approach, the Barack Obama approach – in my view.

In my considered general view, the role that America, Britain and other world “big brothers” should play comes second fiddle. And if you add Tony Blair to this; and now David Cameron trying to “flex some muscles”, you discover that they bring their own strengths, yes, but, I think, they bring more complication. But hey, let sleeping dogs lie! (Ngachi agho).

 Back to the Malawi scenario! Is the opposition “punching above its weight?” Answers to this question may be as varied as those that may wish to opine on the matter. In the view of this writer, the answer is a “YES in as far as and a “NO in as far as.”

Yes, they are punching above their weight, for ACTUALLY choosing to compete against someone who may not be their match – at all; and in the process, also for choosing to compete against each other. The opposition, as individual entities – and that is the way they have chosen to go into the battle ground for control of State and Government power, has probably missed the gravy train, instantly, especially for choosing to compete against each other amidst someone with the advantage of incumbency in the mix. And when I talk of the opposition, in this context, I talk of the three major parties – MCP, DPP and UDF.

Dr. Joyce Banda comes from the grassroots “actioneering” (my own invention) background; she may well be significantly knowledgeable of what impacts the grassroots much more positively. I remember, when she was an embattled Vice President how she turned, and cleverly so, the “mandasi seller jibe” into significant political capital.

She was featuring on Brian Banda’s Capital Straight Talk”; and when reminded that her political detractors say she is not fit to govern because she is a “mandasi seller” – she quickly quipped and said “yes, I am a mandasi woman and seller; and I sympathize with all my fellow mandasi selling women out there because of the way this country is being run”. Brian Banda posed a little before the next question. He probably, like many of us, did not expect such a shrewd and politically insightful answer.

Listening out there, I quickly suggested to those around me at the time that “she is a clever lady and those who thought “mandasi” was a jibe enough, will regret having said it in the first place”. I am so certain that if she was in a conference setting she would have received a standing ovation.

Added to this, and as I alluded to in an earlier entry into this column, it is the way she approaches issues, it is much more “down to earth”. While all of us are grouching about her distribution of maize, cows, goats, blankets etc, the people directly benefitting from those items are getting a huge positive impact – and the next person may well be thinking, “next is my turn, so JB has got to continue”. Never mind where the resources of the same distributions are coming from; while it may matter to know, but as Malawians we have chosen to keep “dumb” anyway.

When looked at from this prism, JB is far ahead of the rest of the pack of presidential aspirants – and I bet, if the opposition cannot “punch AT their weight” – they remain with two options either “punch below their weight” or indeed “punch above their weight” – both with potential disastrous consequences on May 20/21. In that sense, I would agree with my brother Steve Nhlane that “JB is going nowhere” on May 21 and I take it to mean “she will remain at State House” with her own fresh mandate from the people of Malawi.

But the opposition has a bigger, and more difficult choice to make – “punch AT their weight.”

First and foremost, it has been under two years that JB has been in power and I can say it here, without fear of a later contradiction that the momentum she had when she walked the aisles of the gigantic Parliamentary Building in Lilongwe on the early evening of 7th April 2012 has dwindled and waned significantly. This has been due to two main factors, in my view.

She went into power without a plan (and this is very much understood as she may not have expected to become Capital Hill CEO in a flash of a heart attack at State House) – never mind the conspiracy theories flying around! The second factor is that she did not, again in my view, quickly assemble a winning team, in fact, she demolished quite a significant aspect of those that could have helped her to have a winning team instantly if only she positively engaged. Some people have said it before, “keep your friends (real or perceived) close; but your enemies (real or perceived) closer!”

These two factors above have led to, probably, running Government on a serious trial and error basis hence the significant flip-flopping on many issues, missed opportunities and sometimes blatantly reversed priorities and, more importantly, presiding over a system that appears to thrive on lies and deception to cover up the mess.

Now herein, ladies and gentlemen, lies the possibility of the opposition to be able to “punch at their weight.” With good, well researched facts, the opposition can tear JB’s Government apart in a twinkle of a light. The jet scandal alone for example, seems to provide enough ammunition to wage a significant, winnable war against JB’s Government. If you add to that the cash-gate flip-flopping, the battle front weighs heavily in the opposition favour.

Add to that the scandals of our hospitals, education system, social protection approaches, the dwindling financing of Government Ministries and Departments etc – and you realize that, fought properly, the opposition will have crossed the redline to the other side way before May 20; but…the opposition is punching above their weight and thinking, each one of them individually, is already at State House and “they are measuring the drapes”. You do not have to go far, just listen to what they say in their adverts, rallies and whenever they have an opportunity to be heard in our media.

The battle for the top job in the land, Chief Executive Officer of Capital Hill and occupant of NUMBER 1 Estates in our cities and districts, is not over until it’s over. Smell and taste the coffee!

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