Not too long ago I pointed out that the cleansing of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would require more than just the grafting of the gifted Saulosi Chilima to its leadership potion. The events that transpired this past week, especially the DPP parade that invaded the streets on Friday afternoon apparently demonstrating against CSO protests that had been planned for the following day, underlined the point. What the DPP really needs in a major overhaul. A grafting operation directed at its heart and soul. This is the cleansing that Malawians must demand of the DPP if they are to trust it again, and a task that Vice president Saulosi Chilima must accept to ruthlessly take on board if Malawians are to truly put their faith in him.
It can only be an arrogance and indifference of the highest order that can lead a ruling party into the decision of demonstrating and threatening people with violence if they turn out for anti-government demonstrations.
Credit to the demonstrators, they did not allow themselves to be intimidated and turned out in large numbers to deliver the message: we are tired of your corruption.
The DPP’s arrogance and indifference prior to the demonstrations, though, should tell us clearly that the DPP in its current shape and form is happy and quite comfortable with the corruption, the nepotism, the administrative failures and the poverty overrunning the nation.
In truth then, the corruption we are suffering from in Malawi is not just a temporary imperfection on a path of transition towards pluralist democracy and a better economy; it is the main guiding principle of our governance system, the religion if you want to call it that; around which public institutions, laws and their enforcement have been designed, structured and are operating.
Flaws and loopholes have been maintained in our laws and have deliberately been built into our institutional arrangements with intent, skill, and efficiency. These governance faults are not an indicator of state weakness or breakdown, but in fact constitute the very nature of the system.
The Malawian governance system was designed with the sole objective of maximizing wealth, power, and impunity for the benefit of particular groups and networks, rather than serving the public interest.
This is what governance experts refer to as “State Capture”. State capture is much more damaging than “ordinary” corruption in which a few “bad apples” demand bribes from citizens for carrying out basic services.
In the more systemic phenomenon of state capture, as is the case of Malawi, state institutions fall under the de facto control of persons or networked groups that use the state for their own interests.
In the more common cases, this control is exerted by powerful private actors who shape the laws, policies, and regulations of the state for their own use, usually by providing large-scale illicit gains to state officials—effectively buying the state, or key parts of it.
The capture with respect to Malawi has been by state officials themselves who effectively have seized the state by using their public positions to extract large-scale resources from the society and employ those resources through clientelism and other means to ensure their continuing positions, financial gain, and impunity.
The Malawi State, under President Peter Mutharika and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) contradicts the idea of an open society. The Mutharika administration’s capture of the Malawian State is negatively impacting the fundamentals of a democratic system, the logic of governance, social norms, and trust towards public institutions.
The challenge is that all this is being misinterpreted as simply a matter of corruption taken to the extreme, which conventional approaches can address.
This is wrong.
What we need to do to save the day is accept that ours is not simply a matter of corruption taken to the extreme, and realize that the situation needs out-of-the box thinking to address it.
Simple anti-corruption measures address only the design of nominally independent state institutions, overlooking the structure of the political system and the prevailing value structure of societies.
The dire Malawian situation makes it imperative and crucial to complement transparency and monitoring activities with in-depth understanding of the political forces at work.
Ordinarily, anti-corruption and anti-state capture reforms should be implemented by government institutions. In Malawi, these are the very frameworks that have either deliberately been hollowed-out, or captured by political interests of captors who benefit from stalling reforms or are the ones behind the grand corruption afoot in Malawi.
In Malawian society today, populist forces always appropriate simple anti-corruption frameworks to gain popular support rather than altering corrupt practices and ousting corrupt politicians.
In turn, the citizenry has been disheartened by mainstream politics—which has come to be seen as a tool in captors’ hands— and have either withdrawn from political participation, or keep changing allegiances to extreme populists who offer simplistic to fictional solutions to the challenges we are facing.
The systematic capture of the state has furthermore created insurmountable barriers to entry for non-corrupt political alternatives. The result is not only dismay with democracy and increased populism, but also calls for solutions incompatible with the basic ideals of open society.
Although this situation presents unique difficulties for concerned citizens who wish to address it; I submit that sustained public pressure under which even captured institutions go against the interest of their captors and come back to serve their citizens is the only way to take our country back.
In order to make gains in countering the capture of our Malawian state by the DPP administration, civil society and an all encompassing counter-state-capture coalition needs to ensure there is a critical mass of agencies and individuals that are not under state capture and who are ready and willing to confront the corrupt government.
It is important to recognize that the DPP is pursuing varied methods and strategies. Those benefitting from the appropriation of public funds and extracting rents from the economy are engaged in various forms of clientelism and full-fledged predation.
State capture is to them a means to exert monopoly control over different areas of economic activity, usually those where exclusive control is most easily established, such as banking, energy and natural resources, the military, land allocation, state-owned enterprises, and state procurement.
As we have seen from various reports, multiple state institutions are involved, implicated or affected by state capture. As we know, the executive is the main culprit, but the legislative branch, the judicial function, and subnational governing institutions have not been spared either. Institutions of force, the police, and the ACB are all involved, and any potentially limiting security or anti-corruption institutions have been hollowed out so as to reduce their potential threat to the network of the corruption cartel.
This is why it is my proposition that our protests and demonstrations of our disapproval must insist on a review of constitutional provisions – the very provisions that are perpetuating state capture and impunity – is no longer a viable option.
All Malawians of good will need now to recognize and accept that only a well-orchestrated popular action against the system will take our country back. Demonstrations and protests that last one day are good but not enough.
This arrogant and indifferent administration needs relentless pressure indeed a social revolution.
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