Mr. Afterthought: Muckraker on Malawi state of disaster

“It is good , it is good, it is bad, it is bad” -Saulos Klaus Chilima

If you make a not-so-clever move once, it is an honest mistake; if you make it twice, it becomes poor judgment; but if you make it three times it manifests itself into a dangerous habit.

Leading from the Frontline: Malawi VP Chilima discussing with an official on Nsanje floodwater.-Photo by Jeromy Kadewere, Nyasa Times
Leading from the Frontline: Malawi VP Chilima discussing with an official on Nsanje floodwater.-Photo by Jeromy Kadewere, Nyasa Times

In fact too dangerous a habit if you happen to be a leader, any leader – be that you are a school, church or local leader; but more-so if you are a leader of a whole country.

Look, President Peter Mutharika is notorious at making decisions and changing them almost immediately. At first we thought it was a ruse to make himself look considerate.

Remember when he famously reversed the purported insane decision by the Cabinet he himself chairs to request for an obscene salary hike? Most of us thought it was a trick to forestall similar requests from the civil service.

And there was his own 80 percent salary hike which he allegedly postponed.

He has made several reverses in seven months one wonders how many he will make by the end of the 60 months we have given him mandate to lord over us.

We somehow thought he was on a learning curve; he would learn to make firm decisions and stick by them in the New Year. But, hell, no!

Look, this other day he declared more than half  his country a ‘disaster area’ following devastating floods that have left nearly 200 people dead and more than 200,000 others homeless.

These are just official figures, by the way, for more people are still unaccounted for; others are still marooned in places even military choppers cannot rescue them for the soils are too soft for the equipment to land.

Already, the Nsanje District Commissioner says he cannot account for more than 150 people; his Chikwawa counterpart also has his population books not balancing up for he is not aware whether some of his people are dead or simply missing.

The case is not dissimilar across the width and breadth of the country for even in Blantyre a family has decided to have a funeral wake for a son who has gone missing since nocturnal flash-floods swept him to the abyss of nothingness on one dreary night.

These are just statistics from places the media and government have been to. There are others – plenty others – where Vice President Saulos Chilima’s chopper cannot even begin to think of landing.

This, clearly, denotes a country in crisis; a country that needs to upgrade its emergency alert level to Red, if you see what I mean.

Peter Mutharika, therefore, did the right things to rise up to the occasion and make the necessary declarations. He used all the right words and emotions.

This makes it possible, if not easy, for the administration to mobilise the necessary relief items. Indeed the relief items have already started flooding in from far and wide; we need some 3,777 tents, already two charities have pitched up some in the Lower Shire Valley, a company there is also doing its corporate responsibility by supplying water in bowsers to the displaced people.

The Vice President, whose office is coordinating the relief, recovery and rescue effort – quite commendably, I must add – says government needs at least K5 billion to successfully do the job.

So far, so good; systems are in place, the government machinery has been activated to do the needful, military and police boats and helicopters are deployed to rescue marooned people, some perched high up trees.

And then President Mutharika, in his usual paradoxical ways, decides to muddy up the waters and announces he is flying to Mozambique to click glasses of Chivas Regal with Filipe Nyusi as the latter takes over the staff of power in Maputo.

What? How insensitive! Here is a guy who, just some eight hours before, announced that half the country he is supposed to be lording over is submerged under water, scores of his people are dead, many more are missing, and he is telling us he is flying across the border to make merry?

Look, I know inter-state camaraderie is useful, especially for a country the late Big Kahuna poked the middle finger at by inaugurating a port without the blessings of Maputo. But you cannot declare a mournful situation now and eight hours later you announce you are going to make merry with a new colleague who has just joined the ‘fat cats’ club.

How do you begin to justify the two polar positions?

Ok, ok, barely six hours later Peter reverses the trip using the emergency situation as the reason. Hey, good people, when did the President learn about the disaster situation? Peter himself acknowledged that Malawi is a ‘disaster area’ yesterday. How does he – or his office – today begin to announce a ‘merry-making’ trip and cancel the trip using the same ‘sorrowful’ reasons he personally announced to his people yesterday?

Does this make sense to anyone? It does not to me!

But who is fooling who? Or are we confirming that there is no coordination in the presidency? I know some jerk will challenge me that a presidential trip is planned months ahead but if the President changes the plan the machinery must immediately fall in place to reflect the present situation…if the systems are working!

Let me repeat, Peter cannot declare half the country ‘a disaster area’ and a few hours later announce he is heading for Maputo to make merry with Filipe Nyusi. Once the declaration of disaster was made all systems should have reflected that position.

Look, once the declaration of disaster was made the army, for example, should have been on high alert ready to be called to duty any time. And it was! Look at how soldiers and police officers commendably worked overnight to rescue marooned people in Chikwawa and Nsanje.

So how can one argue that because the Maputo junket was pre-arranged it was supposed to be announced as scheduled anyway even if it was clear it would not happen because of the present situation?

Or, perhaps, the President indeed wanted to fly to Maputo but someone whispered to his ear, “Bwana, that’s a no-no, a tactical – if not political – blunder”?

God save us!

Reforming the reforms

Listening to Angoni Saulos last Friday waltzing lyrical about his current favourite pastime you can begin to believe that the Mutharika administration is really serious about public service reforms.

Of course, the devil – as they say – is in the detail but the Vice President admits politics is the ‘elephant in the room’ as far as the success of public service reforms is concerned.

According to Saulos, there have been at least 19 attempts to reform the public service but all have been mired by politics.

The one thing, therefore, that the Saulos Commission has to do is to damn the politics if government really wants the reforms to work.

For example, on the contentious issue of tying the tenure of some public offices to the tenure of the appointing authority, the Vice President admits politics will inevitably make the President fail to work with some public officers.

This is sadly true because we tend to appoint people based on how yellow, blue or orange they are. If we appoint people purely on merit or professional track record I fail to understand how President A can fail to work with an officer appointed by President X.

So if we want the public service reforms to work let us reform our politics. Let us remove the thin line that separates the party in power and the government of the day.

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7 years ago

No matter how a bird may fly it find its next. You can be called what you called but the truth will come out and God will reveal it softly.

7 years ago

well written. strategic planning and management does not mean making foolish, obvious abrupt changes as Peter does

Katawa Msowoya
Katawa Msowoya
7 years ago

Leading a nation requires strategic thinking and management. This implies frequent reviews of decisions, plans & implementation processes. Evaluative thinking leadership is critical in a dynamic environment especially in immature democracies. Leading a nation to a life of greatness, in the current fluid democracies, does not necessarily need travelling through the already discovered wide road. The future is always different from the past. Therefore, I do not see a problem for the President to make frequent changes in decisions, plans and implementation processes. This is in line with modern management and scientific approaches in acquiring knowledge. Honest leaders are loyal… Read more »

7 years ago

Mr Chilima,you have my vote if ever you stand as a presidential candidate,it seems you can change the politics of Malawi.Keep it up,i always salute you.

7 years ago

Akamunawa apwetekana pamwambapa ndi zipewa zawo.

Charlie Hebdo
Charlie Hebdo
7 years ago

You can easily tell comments from Blue Fanatics. To them APM is always right and therefore need not be reproached. They are a shallow minded lot. If you disagree with contents of this article, put forward your reasoning for people to appreciate. You may just win over APM critics to your side. You can’t achieve this by name calling.

Simeon Nyapala
7 years ago

Tenthani, its because pple like you would like APM to work in the manner you like that is making the president to work properly. You should not always look for problems in the president but try your best to offer constructive criticism. Not always criticising destructively. My appeal to the president is be yourself do what you think is right and stand by it come sunshine or rainfall. Dont be shaken by these pple who are not even leaders but would like to behave like ones.

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