Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has vehemently rejected claims that southern African nation is sliding towards full-blown dictatorship.
Mutharika in an exclusive interview published with the British broadsheet daily, The Guardian, he dismissed claims that he was becoming more autocratic and intolerant to criticism.
“It’s total nonsense because there’s no country in sub-Saharan Africa that is as free as Malawi,” Mutharika who turns 79 on February 24 told the paper.
“People can make statements against the head of state, people can insult the head of state. They call me names – some of them even heckle me at public meetings. I haven’t arrested them,” he said.
The British publication said Mutharika granted its report an interview at the presidential palace Sanjika in the commercial capital, Blantyre.
Mutharika, according to the report, entered a wood-panelled room in suit and tie and sat, unsmiling, in a regal red chair under a crystal chandelier and the gaze of his own framed portrait. Four twitchy, stiff-backed staff stood deferentially throughout the 50-minute interview.
The spectegnarian leader also scorned off claims that he is a new Robert Mugabe, his political ally, the Zimbabwean dictator who has been in power close to three decades.
“Malawi and Zimbabwe can never be the same,” he insisted. “The political system is different, the economics are totally different.
“What they are trying to do is to draw a parallel between the leadership of Zimbabwe and Malawi. There is no basis for that. That is totally unfair and uncalled for. I have been very democratic.
“From 2004 until now, there is no single political prisoner in a Malawian jail. Is that consistent with the restriction of democracy in this country? We have been very democratic, we have been very patient. I have asked the opposition to come and see me but they refuse.
“It is simply not true. Because if it were true, all these people would have been rounded up. None of them have. They are free now. If indeed Malawi was starting to be a police state, would they still be walking free? That’s the question.”
He alleged that “foreign agents” were plotting regime change in Malawi and had a “shadow cabinet” primed to take over.
“There are foreign elements here that are paying NGOs to cause havoc in order to get regime change,” he said. “It was foolish on the part of the western interests to do this because they themselves are preaching that we should be more democratic, but they come in and foment this kind of trouble.
“There was already a government in waiting – some people already had a cabinet, a vice-president and ministers.
“A shadow cabinet was established here hoping that on 20 July this government would fall and they’d take over. It’s unconstitutional. They are the ones that are destroying democracy because they have to wait and respect the constitution.”
Asked to identify the forces conspiring for his overthrow, Bingu replied: “I have no idea. But there are foreign agents, I know, because some of them [civil society activists] could not even afford slippers.
“Suddenly they can afford to buy a business class ticket and go round the US and stay in posh hotels, when they couldn’t afford a slipper. Where has the money come from? And you know, they are not employed, so clearly someone must be funding them.”
He pledged to relinquish power in 2014 when his consititutional mandate expires.
“I will leave Malawi better than I found it, but I am retiring in 2014. Is that not democracy? What demonstration of democracy is there more than that? An autocrat has no timeframe, can stay forever.
“And here am I, saying voluntary retirement, and yet I’m called an autocrat, I’m called a tyrant, I’m called anti-democratic. All these adjectives are not fair because things on the ground do not support these adjectives.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :