“Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for things in one’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.” Amilcar Cabral
The past few months have been buzzing with the stories of how the north Malawi would like to go it alone. This story, albeit a rehash of the old by former Aford leader Chakufwa Chihana seems to have now taken on a resonant code in the central region as well. At the moment, it is an idea which has very serious undertones. Ideas in themselves are not harmful however forceful they may be articulated.
As Amilcar Cabral said, ideas are simply in people’s heads which need not cause any fight. But people will fight to win material benefits and to live better. No one can, and indeed should be caught upinthe 1994 euphoria when Aford was the party of note in the north; and having seen the regional polarization which the polls had brought forth, while Tom Chakufwa Chihana postured and capitalised. In those days, Chakufwa spoke without fear that he walked about with a box of matches in his pocket and would set the whole nation ablaze if he so chose. It was an ominous threat coming on the heels of perceived political marginalization of the north by MCP. This of course was euphemistically said to imply that he could have garnered the necessary political following to render the Bakili Muluzi government impotent. I do not think Chihana, a democrat at heart would have championed lawlessness. Lawlessness was the preserve of UDF and its thugs.
Politics feeds on egos. Rewind a little to early 1994, and one saw the egos of two guys in the name of Gwanda Chakuamba and Chakufwa playing out against them. In February 1994, the two parties, MCP and Aford had been on the verge of forging an electoral pact. A pact which would have seen Dr. Kamuzu Banda as the presidential candidate and Chakufwa Chihana as his running mate. It was an almost done deal had it not been for the ego of Mbuya, who also saw himself as a viable candidate for the first ever Vice President position. The Shire Valley heavyweight of the day dug his heels in and the rest is history.
Then came the circus in MCP after death of Dr. H K Banda in 1997. For those who may not know, it was actually J Z U Tembo who enthusiastically raised and waved his hand at Kwacha Conference Centre to nominate Chakuamba as Kamuzu’s deputy. But political history had it etched in in stone that there was no love lost between the two since the incarceration of the Shire Valley son. But politics being what it is, we all marvelled at the disguises each adorned in full view of an otherwise perplexed membership.
Let’s pause there for a little. Malawi Congress Party had brought itself where it was. It had been suffering from Lesch–Nyhan syndrome also known as choreoathetosis self-mutilation syndrome .Lesch-Nyahan syndrom is characterized by neurological and behavioural abnormalities with its most potent characteristic of self-mutilation. Malawi Congress Party simply had itself to blame for its own disembowelment. Malawi Congress Party, the liberation party had lost touch with the people! It had become the monster of its own creation!
One vividly remembers the mysterious fliers people found at bus stages in the mornings leading up to the referendum which had been left by pro-democracy advocates at night fearful of the Youth Leaguers or MYP. These pamphlets were photocopied in offices and widely circulated nationwide. Most of them full of bile and hatred for the leadership of the day who had become obsessed with power. MCP was criticized for nepotism and political patronage. It had forgotten, so it would seem, that it had one party throughout the country, meaning that we all belonged to one big family. And yet, people argued, that the benefits only went to the Ngonis of Ntcheu – Dedza axis and Chewas.
Although the political discourse was spirited and sometimes ugly, the fight was not for ideas, as Amilcar Cabral had warned. People felt sufficiently marginalized and sought to find some redress. And Kamuzu in the end died a lonely man and a shell of his former self.
Now fast-forward to Bingu wa Mutharika (the mini Ngwazi according to some, and the real Ngwazi to the DPP zealots). He very quickly cut himself a cult image and brought in the hand-clappers and the cheerleaders in various guises. Most notable and perhaps most hated being the tribal Lomwe grouping that basically usurped all political authority of any political pretenders. There was only one leader, Bingu and one beneficiary tribe – his Lomwe diehards as his chosen financial conduits of economic and political power.
Aside from his brother, the current president who had the audacity of flying around in the presidential helicopter and resided in one of the State Houses, virtually all political authority rested at State House. Period! It had simply eluded both the president and his “handlers” (if there could have been any such), that Kamuzu had unceremoniously been removed from power by a guy who had otherwise retreated into political obscurity due to the petty jealousies that bedeviled the MCP in the name of Eleson Muluzi. Bingu and his Lomwe cohorts conducted themselves with so much impunity that Kamuzu’s legacy begun to look altogether rosy! The excesses of Kamuzu paled compared to the overt tribalism that ate at the soul of DPP and the country.
If truth be told, it was not for the lack of contending ideas that Bingu Mutharika proceeded with impunity. Not at all, he was simply hell bent on self-mutilation. In the end, he too died a shell of his former self, ribs crushed as his diehards tried to bring him back to life as they saw their largesse slipping away!
This now brings me to the idea of Federalism that the north has resuscitated. It is important to recognize that it is not just a debate on ideas! Nobody eats a good idea after all. It is the benefits of political authority that come into perspective here.
The north, just like the centre who now seem to be late converts, are simply saying that they would rather have power equitably devolved into the regions as well so that the overt favoritism can be stemmed in time to avert a physical confrontation that often comes with such disregard for fairness.
Let us look at it. People get pissed off with the looting of public resources otherwise meant for hospitals and roads for personal reasons. One’s daughter dies at a local hospital because there was no medicine! A child does not get proper education because some idiot has diverted money for text books to his farm. A farmer does not get his crop to the market because the road has not been bladed in years and is therefore inaccessible to vehicular traffic because a party has diverted resources to ensure it continues to lap it in!. In the end, one feels personally aggrieved for being short changed by political patronage and maladministration.
Then we get to a scenario where we have a presidency with 32% national appeal. The other 68% rests elsewhere! If one would argue that the brainy ones, or politically astute are those in the 32%, I would offer myself as target of vilification and say, no thank you. I do therefore understand the reasons for a call of self-determination or devolution of powers to regions so that they can champion their own causes, although I would disagree with its form.
I agree that there is a great need for our political system to be revisited in the face of the open abuse by those who think “winner take all” even if the win is such a misery 32%! There are lessons all over the world which can be drawn from. Lessons of the results of arrogance, and lessons from peaceful coexistence, which the federalism proponents might be wishing to bring to the table!
Let us look at South Africa for instance. Xenophobia notwithstanding, they attempted to devolve power to provinces (regions) on the basis of proportional representation. Had we adopted this system, Aford would have led the regional administration of the north after the 1994 elections when late Chakufwa Chihana’s party swept the entire north save for one constituency in Mzimba which was held by MCP. They would have had their own regional parliament and their own regional budget.
Yes, certain functions like national security and international relations would be held by national government. These are all issues which would be discussed were we able to consider how important it is to share the national cake. The MCP on its part would have led each and every regional administration since the dawn of multiparty. This would have led the electorate to compare the administrative strengths of each party by how it delivered on its promises at regional levels. A way of testing whether they could cut it at national level. But political arrogance seems to be the lesch-nyhan syndrome of all politicians; the propensity to self-mutilate! As a people, we also seem to have been forced into this self-mutilation syndrome because there seems to be no hope in sight.
Besides, anything else but what we have now would seem to be the chorus of the song! But we can find a way out of this quagmire without suffering the effects of self-destruction which Malawi would have to endure if we got to the stage where we thought that we would rather we all suffered! People do not eat ideas, they need real material benefits- at the very personal level or we shall one day suffer very serious consequences!
I hope that Peter is a listening rather than a talking president!
- Brian Mungomo Sr. writes for Nyasa Times from South Africa
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