Pesident Peter Mutharika says he is young. At 77, many would dispute it. APM, as he is fondly called, he is ready to govern way into his 80s. His fortunes in power so far makes it sound scary and pray he is just pulling our legs.
So far Mutharika’s governing style has been less inspiring. He is neither cocky nor aloof. But nonetheless, Mutharika as fine a gentleman as he is, is out of touch with reality, detached, distant and cold to their plight. The prospect of gifting Mutharika, then an octogenarian, a second term in 2019 looks as if inhuman. It will torture the president, it will torment us the governed.
Malawi today has become an unbearable place to live in. Our problems are so gross and basic, embarrassing but also an affront to our collective psyche. Mutharika has demonstrated neither the skill nor the zeal to tackle them. Mutharika and his band of cronies have been uninspiring, bland, clueless, incompetent and unreliable during their tenure in office.
At such moments of flux and challenging hours, every nation needs its president to bring hope. Mutharika has hardly done his fair share.
As a Kenyan writer Caroline Mutuko once described the presidency, “the President is a leader, an inspirer, re-assurer, admonisher, seducer of our emotions.” We know, instead, Mutharika is bland, detached, out of sync, slow, too soft, too cold, too old instead.
Mutharika says he is young but we feel he knows is old and additionally fears bored or tired with his job too. He has been a “low-energy” president. And while that might have nothing to do with his age, it inevitably reminds all about it anyway.
Apart from raggedness and slowness in reacting to pressing national issues, he appears genuinely ignorant of how this country functions; what is broken and how to fix it. On that score, we are reminded often by detractors, that the man spent decades in diaspora and may have lost a touch or two of how things work here. As his former spokesperson Gerald Viola told us the other day, he hardly also know people to work for him.
Watching Mutharika as Malawi’s fifth president has done little to dispel a school of thought that emerged while he was cabinet minister that he was always going to be a distant and detached leader. And as Mutuko wrote, that’s not stuff for the high office.
To think, that such perceptions might change when Mutharika is 82, is to stretch imagination a bit too far. And you know how perceptions are the blood and fuel of politics. And without an inspiring figurehead, this country looks doomed. Hope, the last thing Malawians have in abundance, will ebb away.
What Mutharika ought to do then is to make a hard and honest analysis of the reality of his presidency and its future. He should also revisit stories of two African liberation leaders turned presidents: South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela and Zimbabwe’s liberation hero, Robert Mugabe.
We all the preciously illuminating Mandela story, history’s greatest statesman. Mandela, prompted by mortals as less as newspapers columnists, heeded the call to retire just after a term to hand over power to his more energetic deputy. The world celebrates that story to date. Mugabe, egged on by parasitic handlers and a deeply unpopular ambitious wife, decided to cling to power till the day he will meet his maker. Well, we are all watching the consequences of his folly. Zimbabweans have played a greater price.
Mutharika ought to be proud for wrestling power back from PP from against the odds in 2014. He has not let the party not his illustrious brother done. But, he doesn’t embolden aspirations of majority Malawians who are mostly youthful, poor and impatient for change. They are neither on the same wavelength as their president, nor a demographic suitable to his message to rule well into his 80s.
If Mutharika could curve out a dignified exit plan and forget the talk of extending his rule beyond 2019 and allow a democratic, non-nepotistic succession in the DPP, history registers such rare feat and rare people. His image at home and abroad will be transformed overnight from a troubled president to statesman. History is marked by moments, great men are remembered for their roles.
- The article first appeared in Nation newspaper
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