When president Peter Mutharika speaks these days, I listen but with very little interest. I stopped listening attentively when not too long after he became president, so much that had puzzled me about the man became clear. In the next few weeks, I intend to serialise on this column a profile of the man who became a professor who became the president whose learning was never there when his country needed it most.
Barely ten months into his administration, there was a mystery to be explained about Peter Arthur Mutharika: the contrast between the promise of his first months in office and the disappointment so widely felt later on. Part of this had to do with the inevitable end of the presidential honeymoon, with the unenviable circumstances Mutharika inherited from Joyce Banda, and with the fickleness of the Malawian public. After all, when Peter was serving as a minister in his late brother Bingu’s cabinet, there were even then many questions surrounding his leadership potential.
But so much more of it grew directly from the same quality Mutharika displayed recently at Katoto in Mzuzu. In Mzuzu, speaking against his sister-in-law, Callista Mutharika, and against some leaders of the recently launched United Transformation Party (UTM) President Peter Mutharika was speaking with gusto because he was speaking about the only subject that he has displayed competence on while in government- castigation of opponents. Even at his inauguration, Mutharika was most confident when he spoke about his predecessor Joyce Banda and the persecution and the harsh treatment she had subjected him to, and not what he proposed to do.
Where his brother Binguwa Mutharika enunciated plans to build roads and end hunger and poverty, and to have corruption sacred cows in his government, Peter Mutharika tried to tell the nation what an innocent man he was and how unjust it was that Joyce Banda could throw him into prison so unfairly.
After almost four and half years of Peter Mutharika in leadership, I am not even so sure anymore that Joyce Banda wasn’t right in throwing him and his cronies in jail. Mutharika may have the moral virtues and the intellectual skills of a professor that he is, and to many people, especially his supporters, he is perhaps as admirable a human being as has ever held the job.
But on the basis of his administration’s performance and the display of a total lack of leadership skills, it seems to me that Peter Mutharika belongs not to the presidential office leading a cabinet of self-serving politicians, but rather to the University Council making decisions about syllabuses and curricula.
Apart from occasional profanity, I have seen him form no argument and strike no pose that depicted a man in charge of his own destiny, and with the weight of the destiny of a whole nation on his shoulders.
If he has the gift of intellectual prowess, there are other gifts he lacks.
One is sophistication. Although I was the first to point these things out amidst lots of criticism and accusations from various quarters, it has now become clear to the whole nation as I shall explain, that Peter Mutharika and those closest to him to him took office in profound ignorance of their jobs. They were ignorant of the possibilities and the most likely pitfalls. As a result, they have been falling prey to predictable dangers while squandering precious time- at the expense of national development.
Peter Mutharika has failed desperately to convert himself from the good man he was so desperate for all Malawians to believe he was into an effective one, and to learn how to do the job. From the start of his presidency, Mutharika often seemed more concerned with taking the correct position than with learning how to turn that position into results. As a result, passing the back and relinquishing decision-making responsibilities to others became the norm of his presidency. It remains so even until today.Since taking over the presidency, Mutharika has shown neither the zeal nor the compulsion to take matters of governing by the scruff of the neck and expound clearly his vision and agenda for the nation, and put his name to it. He did not devour history for its lessons and surround himself with people who could do what he could not, or learn from others that fire was painful before he plunged his hand into the flame.
I make these observations with sadness but without any resentment, malice or vindictiveness, for I have no reason to feel bitter. Mutharika the man, as I knew him back in the day, was always decent and nice to me and I have no reason to have any personal animosity towards him.
But the truth about the Peter Mutharika presidency needs to be told, and the truth is that the only area where Peter has excelled is where he stands on the podium to castigate opposition politicians and critics, and threaten to fall on them like a tonne of bricks if they do not stop pointing out where he’s going wrong.
At that rally in Katoto, one would have thought that Peter Mutharika would take that opportunity on the public podium to speak about his role in the MK145 Million police rations scandal, and tell the nation whom, if not him, was responsible for colluding with Zameer Karim to get bribes and backhanders on behalf of the Democratic Progressive Party.
One would have expected Peter Mutharika to strongly condemn the corrupt deal and the fact that- as he claims- he has been misled into thinking it was an innocent donation, and who was responsible for misleading him. With corruption scandals so rampant in his administration that it is so hard to keep track of them all, one would have expected the president to enunciate the steps that his government is actually taking to ensure that the rot is stopped and the situation reversed.
Instead, though, Mutharika’s interest on that most public of forums was not to address the nation but to address four individuals. Four people out of the whole 17 million Malawians were the focus of the president’s eloquence and oratory. And why? Because they had dared speak about matters that were personal to him and his “Good guy” image. Apparently, even though he spent so many years abroad and fits the definition of “Mtchona” by Malawian standards, Mutharika des not want to be referred to as one.
What bothers me to end and continues to amaze me is that Mutharika the intellectual, the president’s brother whom I got to know and work with from 2009 to 2011, the Mutharika who knew and discussed intelligently and wistfully the practical warnings and how administrations administrations go wrong can become so blind so soon after becoming president. I was under the impression that on becoming a president himself, Peter Mutharika would be first to heed the warnings and avoid these pitfalls. Instead, Mutharika failed to control, from his first moment on the job, the way he made everyone feel that he was in charge, and to control the influence of self-serving assistants and party strongmen.
Now that his method is clearing backfiring, it seems to me Mutharika has no choice but to resort to the very methods he condemned as an intellectual, because these are the only methods that his now trusted confidants and the people purportedly having his interests at heart know.
Thus when a scandal is exposed and there is a confided crisis, Mutharika inevitably bangs the political podium and starts ejaculating threats and promises to arrest the critics, not to listen to what it is that the people- the Malawian people want to have addressed and work on a plan and a strategy for addressing it.
It is because of his failure as a leader that Peter Mutharika has failed to impose his presence and make people feel he is constantly looking over their shoulders day after day, inspecting, reproving, and ensuring that they are doing only that which will present his presidency in the best light; an ever-present focus for loyalty and healthy fear that leaders must promote.
Instead of falling like a ton of bricks on the corrupt, the greedy and the incompetent in his administration, his interest is in eliminating critics and those who only wish for him to be a better president.
- The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Nyasa Times