Malawi: what lies ahead?

When poet Jack Mapanje asked:

‘Stop lingering then: Who will start another fire?’(Before Chilembwe tree) about Dr Banda’s dictatorship, it took eleven years before the fire was started in 1992. The brief, if fragile, democratic honeymoon came to an end in 2009. Now it looks as if Malawians are once again well used to living under a dictatorship.

If ‘quiet optimism’ (see Orwell’s 1984) is the acceptable face of dictatorship, then Malawians are well suited to being ruled by dictators. See how well we used to the fuel shortages, lack of Fanta, fertiliser and how we already whisper ‘tiona 2014’ as we text each other to follow a fuel tanker. But why 2014, our friends elsewhere resist petty dictators easily. And by 2014 the dictatorship will have built strong roots.

Malawians have cultures, temperaments and socio-economic contexts that allow feudalism to thrive. Look at our class structure: few big bwanas and many dependent peasants. This mentality enables the big wigs to buy even the most intelligent and independent minded among us. We have a small town, pardon, small nation mentality. We have religions that want us to suffer here and rejoice ‘in heaven’! We have educated youth who are ignorant of their recent contemporary history but who think they can defeat politicians. We have CSO leaders who are equivocal about their roles. We have chiefs who do not know their duty but are happy to be paraded like fools by politicians. We have politicians, like Nicholas Dausi and Hetherwick Ntaba who were in the thick of Banda’s dictatorship leading us! We have former UDF businessmen busy, not constructively opposing, but scheming at night like hyenas and waiting their turn to get back into power, under any party…

In short, we are lacking democratic leadership up there. Our leaders reflect the truth of present day Malawi: many of us in leadership roles are mini Bandas or mini ngwazis. As confirmed by eDGE Kanyongolo this week, the problem with our politics is not necessarily the constitution: It is each of us and our leaders. Until we change our bent of worshipping leaders mentality we will forever end up with more and more Ngwazis.

Well, the same ngwazi’s we worship misuse our funds, steal our tax money, deny us donor aid, deny us medicines in hospitals, reduce our children’s education to nonsense… and still want us to clap hands for them, pay their wives 2 million a month, respect them … and then they control us by controlling our media, using our public broadcaster MBC as a propaganda tool… and they do not stop there. They politicise our police so that the police become political enforcers and behave like Dr Banda’s MYPs.


And yet we still clap hands for our new ngwazi’s. And when we try to protest peacefully we are told we will be ‘smoked out’ like ‘chickens’. Just what is wrong with us Malawians?


Then we put our faith in the opposition, the same opposition that is sitting pwii waiting their turn in power!


The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) which has seized the initiative did a splendid job in 1992-1993. It enabled all stake holders to negotiate a peaceful end to the one party dictatorship. PAC is a committee of the good in Malawi interacting with those in politics for the good of the nation. Those that fear anarchy in Malawi have no alternative but to support PACs initiative. There is simply no alternative because no dictator ever gave up power willingly.


Mutharika, who we now clearly know is a Ngwazi and who the donors know is ‘autocratic’, will attempt to bluster, threaten, arrest and ‘smoke out’ people. He will order police to do unconstitutional things. He will claim that he is president and that he is working to save us from misery. He will not change voluntarily. We have to stand up to his dictatorship: by telling him about his failures – forex, fertilizer, corruption, power cuts, shrinking economy, lack of academic freedom, …


And now that PAC has lit the torch we have to ask those that claim leadership to lead and follow and cooperate with PAC.

·       CSOs, those CSOs led by people who cherish working in a democracy, should join hands with PAC and work to strategise on peaceful and positive ways of standing up to dictatorship. It is not good enough to say ‘if we demonstrate we will have violence’. Civil Society organisations should be about the welfare of the people they act for; dictatorship that retards development is no friend of civil society.

·       Having taken on the baton, PAC must not tire. And, if we value our freedoms, we should support their initiatives. PAC delegates and leaders will be intimidated, threatened, castigated and abused. Our open support will help them to stand against tyranny.

·       The Malawi Police and its leadership should be reminded of two things: first, that in 2012 there is such a thing as accountability. Unlawful state violence will be investigated in two years time.

·       Those in ruling circles who think they are immune to criticism or accountability should be reminded that 2014 is only a year away. Even presidents can be investigated by international courts.

·       Second, the police should be reminded that they do not have enough numbers to act like Banda’s MYP and youth leaguers. Police can only police by consent in any democratic country.

·       The opposition should cooperate fully with the PAC initiative. The chameleon politics of self-serving opposition leaders should be laid bare, challenged and stopped.

·       We, the people, should stop putting our hopes in CSO or opposition baskets that are not defined or clear. We should ask: what does PPP, PETRA, MDP, MCP and all the other parties stand for. We should demand disclosure of their leaders CVs now – not in 2016! We should demand to see the manifestos of these parties now.

·       Mutharika must be told by his senior advisers, donors, diplomats, military and, yes, police chiefs that the days when he can claim to be chosen by God to lead are gone. He has failed to deliver development so far in his second term and people – Malawians after all live an average of only 37 – 40 years – are suffering because of his dogma. Suffering Malawians cannot wait for two years of their short lives. He should either leave or accept reform. Accepting reform means an immediate answer to the questions put by CSOs last year, inquiries into Chasowa’s death, accepting measures to develop Malawi like connecting to Cabora Bassa electricity generators, accepting the rule of law, accepting advice from his economic advisers, and stop treating senior police, military and civil service like his youth leaguers.

·       In turn, we the people should refuse to be intimidated by people we put into power. We should stand up for our rights at road blocks, buy the papers we like, demand the MBC stops putting out propaganda, demand power all day, demand good schools for your children, demand good hospitals, stop the ruling elite and their cronies robbing state resources and natural resources likeChikangawa and giving away our natural resources to foreigners like Paladin for a few tambala.

·       Once we change our mindset, remember that we were born free, change will come to Malawi. As Kwame Nrumah put it: seek ye political freedom first and all else shall follow.

  • CSI Visanza is a Malawian social activist


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