Malawi turns 50 with leaders ‘more or less copycats’ – Chinsinga

A political professor at Chancellor College, University of Malawi,  Blessings Chinsinga  has that leaders “we have had so far are more or less copy cats.”

Chinsinga made the critique in an article which appears in the May-June issue of the Catholic magazine, The Lamp  titled ‘A half century of progress or stagnation’.

The academician who was at the centre of University of Malawi lecturers demanding academic freedom when late president Bingu wa Mutharika was in power,  traces Malawi’s one party system to the current democratic dispensation, and how the country has lost the opportunity to develop because of having leaders without vision.

Commenting on founding president Kamuzu Banda, who ruled from 1964 to 1994, Chinsinga writes: “While he was frankly speaking a visionary, his administration provided no space to the citizenry for meaningful engagement in the political and development processes.

Chinsinga:Malawi needs
Chinsinga: Crtitical of Malawi leaders

“Citizens participated as subjects to implement initiatives that were essentially almost exclusively decided on by Dr Kamuzu Banda himself in his capacity as President for Life.”

Chinsinga argues in the article that  Kamuzu’s Banda’s rule laid a “solid foundation for the country’s retrogressive political culture which is characterised by, inter alia, clientelism, opportunism, patronage and corruption.”

“Consequently, leaders are not treated as the first among equals but as semi-gods often glorified for doing what they are supposed to do or sometimes for simply being a leader,” he pointed out.

According to Chinsinga,  the “minimalist standards” set by Kamuzu, who died in 1997, three years after losing power to Bakili Muluzi in the country’s first multi-party poll, “did not help either…it inhibited ambition in people.”

Chinsinga used Banda’s famous political cliché about three basic things Malawians needed, saying during his time,  “poverty did not exist as long as Malawians had enough food to eat, did not sleep in houses which leaked when it was raining and had a piece of cloth on their back.”

He wrote: “When Malawi embraced democracy in 1994, there were great expectations that Malawi would be rewarded with leaders that would somehow fast track Malawi’s ascendancy to prosperity, if not they would at least put in place the frame conditions for getting started. Neither has happened nor are there promising signs that they would happen.”

He said “all this shows that leadership matters. The choices or decisions that leaders make could make or break a country.”

He said the main problem was that “the leaders we have had in the post one party period do not see politics as a vocation to serve people or as a way of building up the Malawi society for the common good.”

The leaders  Malawi  have had so far are “more or less copy cats,”  wrote  Chinsinga, adding that the country’s leaders “refuse to learn from each other’s experiences.

“They are intent to point fingers at everyone else for their mistakes, often unwilling to take responsibility for their mistakes, unable to admit their failures and acknowledge their own contributions to the country’s challenges.”

He said this was worsened by the one party political culture which remained “squarely intact.”

“As the bulk of Malawians are still reeling from the yoke of the one party political culture, they are unable to demand accountable, responsive and visionary leadership that is an indispensable ingredient in a country’s fundamental and sustainable democratic and structural transformation,” he added.

He feels that “as a people, we have greatly failed ourselves,” pointing that a “society cannot get quality leadership unless its people contribute in one way or another to its construction.”

In the article, Chinsinga said since Malawians had not taken an active role to engage with the process of selecting leaders and demanding stringent accountability, “they as a matter of routine behave with unprecedented impunity.”

His says: “A country cannot develop when its leaders know they can loot the coffers of the state, insult the people and transgress laws left, right and centre without facing any consequences.”

He says all what a leadership thriving on a culture of impunity knows is to take care of its selfish interests.


Chinsinga believes: “Malawi can be redeemed from the pangs of uninspiring and largely predatory leadership. As long as a nation, we can from today decide to actively participate in constructing the leadership we need.”

The political scientists looks at the 2014 May elections marking Malawi’s 50th birthday  could prove “ tremendously useful” for change.

“What we need is a leadership that has patience and perseverance in pursuing society’s goals, maturity and wisdom for taking sound and timely decisions and exhibit strength of character by setting and mental toughness to face criticism when found wrong.”

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