Mutharika legacy in tatters

By Ananiya Alick Ponje

If there is a day president Bingu wa Mutharika rues most in his political career, it surely should be July 20. This is the day that shook the foundations of the State House with emotions, tears, anger, frustrations and death from Malawians. It must have sent a peculiar sting down his spine, forcing him perhaps to lose touch with reality.

How he understood it seems to go beyond what we think: his 21 July national address spoke volumes of a frustrated president who in attempting to consolidate his firm hold of power only incurred the anger of Malawians more. His insight was instantly put to a ridiculous test when instead of finding ways of rebuilding the falling image of his empire, he invited more barrages of criticism from the Civil Society and others.

Mutharika isn’t God; that much the world knows, and that means he cannot manipulate minds of Malawians in any way so that they should instantly side with him irrespective of all the burdens his administration is pinning down on them. In essence, he must now know that his legacy now is no entity man can desire. If he does not deprive himself of truth and honesty, he must pretty well know that his reputation as a human being is at stake; his legacy as a president is in tatters; and his Democratic Progressive Party’s image has been terribly tainted.

Two of a kind: Malawi's Mutharika and Zimbabwe despot Robert Mugabe

In old age, man must strive to be happy, for these are moments of reflection where one needs to take stock of his life. As old age catches up with us, we are supposed to change for the better, not for the worse; we must pull people’s admiration towards us, not rebuke. Yet, these tenets are not automatic. Some men must contradict the conventional principles of life in old age, perhaps to draw our attention from the ordinary. But, it does not provide pleasure for us when the deviants of old age ideological predictions are public figures whom we tended to adore.

Mutharika played a good political game in his first term of office where when he was confronted with untold opposition from the beleaguered opposition in Parliament, he pretended to be the slaughter lamb that must be carefully handled. The Civil Society gave him all the support, university students sided with him, and numerous stakeholders sympathized with him.

Now, these quarters are on his neck because of political and socio-economic tragedies Malawi is rolling in. He achieved a lot in his first term, and he was adored; now he is on a mission of errors and he is being rebuked. The unfairness in this may only be spotted by they that despise honesty. He has been asking why all of a sudden the same quarters that supported him in his terrific first term have turned against him. Whether it is a rhetoric question or not, the point is that he knows the answer: it is simply because his current style of leadership keenly opposes that which he started with.

This administration has passed many unpopular bills. Bingu has engineered the endorsement of his brother Peter for the DPP candidacy – even though he and his admirers will claim he will not force anyone to vote for Peter at the convention. Many other ‘atrocities’ have been committed by his administration, and these are the things the Civil Society is interested to realign.

Closing a university college over academic freedom would always seem something out of the question. But, in this administration, it has been proved that such an act is practical. Well, after Chancellor College and The Malawi Polytechnic got reopened on 4 July, people, especially students, heaved sighs of relief as they knew they were back to make progress. But, as things stand today, normal teaching and learning has not yet resumed at Chanco. Whether this paints a good picture of the Mutharika legacy is perhaps something anyone may tell with the courage of their convictions.

In essence, if truth be told, Mutharika showed that he was not utterly convinced that the lecturers were fighting for a legitimate cause. His use of phrases like “false pursuit for heroism” in the speech clearly showed that the president was not satisfied that the lecturers were right in their pursuit.

And, it is clear that since Mutharika is Unima Chancellor and therefore formally holds the top most position in the university hierarchy, the University Council can in no way do anything contrary to what the president has said. And the only logical conclusion drawn from these premises is that it is Mutharika who wants to make sure Kapasula and company are fired, and therefore one may say without fear or favour that the president is the one who instructed Council that whatever the case, the four lecturers should not return to Chanco. This definitely puts this administration’s legacy in very bad shape.

The commonplace sayings regarding the passing of character traits among relations are “Like father like son” and “Like mother like daughter”, but of late, Malawians have been forced to coin another one which draws the similarities between a husband and a wife: Like husband like wife”. Callista Mutharika has been the centre of public attention because of very infamous remarks.

This lady politician who chanced upon finding herself in the presidential palace by matrimonial virtues seems perfectly set to consolidate the palatial stubbornness and conceit. She was recently quoted in the media as having told Civil Society leaders who are championing for a better Malawi to go to hell. Such undiplomatic language from the first lady begs the question of what sort of advice she offers to the president.

Normally, first ladies are supposed to be apolitical women who must take the leading role of advising the president. There is a certain kind of softness that crowns men’s hearts when they are being talked to by their wives; and if Bingu remains adamant, then we conclude the first lady is helping him to retain that status.

First ladies are not supposed to be compared, but it is hard to fight the temptation to compare Callista and Ethel (May her soul rest in peace). They are, of course, two different beings, but the dictates of their position demand that they be exemplary women who should refrain from petty politicking and mudslinging. We don’t expect them to be utterly infallible – for they too are human beings and are not immune to invulnerability – but we expect that in their fallibility, it must be understood that their intention was never to attack or offend someone.

But the first lady had calculated her speech in Mzimba perfectly. Whether written or imaginary, there might have been subheadings of aforethought insensitivity in the speech. She must not take the ululation from women as a sign of approval of what she said; it was simply the predictable response that people are always eager to offer to their leaders with words, but never with their hearts.

The same people who were applauding Callista when she recklessly attacked the Civil Society leaders must have been mocking her on their way back home. Amongst them, there obviously were women who understand the tenets of motherhood beyond or behind politics. It might not matter to them whether the first lady is a politician or not; that she is a careless mother might be the remnants of the whole speech. And this must be a strong move in the mission to maul a legacy.

After the expiry of his term in 2014, we would celebrate Bingu’s remarkable political career, but unfortunately things will go to the contrary. We will rebuke him, chastise him and even imprison him for a number of atrocities we have encountered. The goodies of his first term will not be remembered any more and we will wish we never saw him in Malawi.

Of course, those who are employed to right his wrongs will always tell us that between now and 2014, people’s anger will subside and the Mutharika brand will be the favourite. They still believe Malawians are still slumbering sheep that will wake up tomorrow and forget whatever happens today. But while it is hard to predict the course of politics, Mutharika’s future seems clearly dim.

Such an economic engineer who couldn’t see that changing the national flag, buying the posh jet for himself and donating maize and lending money to Zimbabwe would culminate in the current economic crisis, may only wish his brother should take over the high office. Such an economist who couldn’t project his strategies a little further – beyond the theoretical economic drawings – must rue his near past, the time when he rested on his laurels and sent packing Fergus Cocrane-Dyet.

No one can say with confident conclusiveness that there is nothing Bingu can to do “reorganize” Malawi’s economy. He just has to sink a little lower and apologise to the donor community for his egotism. After all, he himself initially understood that the budget would need donors to be fully implemented.

He should not waste time, for the greatest waste in this world that man can ever make which cannot be recycled or reclaimed is the waste of time. In fact, all wastes are done in the realm of time and we need to be careful not to waste time. Money and honour might be there in abundance, but a legacy in tatters destroys a man’s reputation. And this is what Bingu is doing – wasting the last part of his presidential term; battering his own legacy.

There is no doubt that somewhere somehow Bingu is having or will have regrets. Regrets are pains of the memory that all mankind have. But the most painful regret is that which keeps you company when there was all hope and advice to avoid it. Mutharika could have avoided the current political and social-economic tragedies rocking Malawi if only he listened to voices of reason.

And still, he can retrieve a little bit of some confidence from Malawians if at all he is ready to embrace a kind of leadership style that should emanate from the heart and should consider the hearts of others; a kind of leadership that embraces the harness of compromise. That seems to be the last hope to recoup a staggering reputation; a legacy in tatters.

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