Out to cut Ephraim Munthali’s chaff in half?

Anganile Masambo, in an article titled “Wide off the Mark: Ephraim Munthali on President Banda”, goes to town on the Nation’s “Cut the Chaff” columnist, Ephraim Munthali.

Personally, I don’t know either Anganile or Ephraim and ordinarily, I wouldn’t have waddled onto their fracas because from the tone of Anganile’s article and from some readers’ reaction thereon, there could be more than meets the eye behind this duel.

But granting both of them the benefit of doubt, and assuming that both are patriotic Malawians who only want the best and nothing less for Malawi, here I am waddling onto this slippery turf armed only with the conviction that: just as Ephraim Munthali is breaking no law by opining on presidential actions and decisions, Anganile Masambo is also acting entirely within his/her rights to criticize Ephraim’s perspective.

Anganile’s beef with Ephraim’s views:

Anganile, introducing his/her viewpoint, alleges that Ephraim has never been complimentary about President Banda despite the fact that President Banda “has deservedly earned whatever nice words that have been said about her.”

We will revisit this allegation later in the article but for now; let us focus on the substance of Anganile’s case.

Anganile faults Ephraim on two fronts; firstly on Ephraim’s take on the AU Summit and secondly on his viewpoint on presidential travels.

On the AU summit:

Anganile argues that Ephraim went overboard when he likened President Banda to Alice in Wonderland and takes exception to this analogy because, as far as Anganile is concerned, comparing President Banda to Alice in Wonderland portrays the president, “who has achieved a lot”, as some-one who is hopelessly lost and totally clueless.

On President’s travels:

Again, Anganile trashes Ephraim’s criticism of travel saying that the “feats” that the president has achieved internationally could not have transpired with her “locked up at the State House” and asserts that the President must travel to see and interact with the people in order to sell her vision.

Separating the wheat from the chaff:

Reading all this, and having assumed that both disputants are bona fide citizens, some questions arise:

  1. What was it that Ephraim was trying to tell the president on these two issues: the handling of the AU summit and the travels?
  2. Did he have a point or as Anganile more or less implies is he just a disgruntled “cheque-book” journalist behaving like proverbial the fox of the sour grapes tale?
  3. Or, is it Anganile that has a problem?

We will not debate President Banda’s international travels because after parliament raised concerns on same, with one Joseph Njobvuyalema M.P. saying some trips were made “merely to shake hands”, the president reduced her international adventures and said she would henceforth be delegating.

This, it can be argued, equals to tacit admission of the criticism levelled.

Ephraim could equally be spot on with his suggestion that the president should also delegate the local trips which a minister can ably undertake so that she can focus on the big picture.

We now move on to the events around the AU Summit. To appreciate the fullcontext, a recap of the key events pertaining to the AU Summit is necessary.

In order of occurrence, as below is the way history unfolded:

  1. February 1, 2012: President Joyce Banda, then as VP questioned thewisdom of hosting the AU summit in the midst of an economic crisis. She made a passionate call to President Mutharika to forego the summit.
  2. April 17, 2012: U-turn. After a phony Cabinet meeting, phony in the sense that the cabinet was the same one that had been pro: hosting the summit, President Banda declared willingness to host the summit, saying it was too late to cancel. To placate the same followers that she had convinced on February 1 that the Summit was expensive, she said donors and friends would help out.
  3. Preparations proceeded in earnest until the forgotten ‘minor detail’ to do with one Bashir came up.
  4. Enter the Bashir Factor: Malawi’s hosting of the summit became conditional. Malawi will only host the summit if AU tells Bashir not to show up. Knowing the AU, this was unlikely to happen.
  5. June 8, 2012: AU, you can stuff your summit and take it to Addis! All over a sudden, on the eleventh hour, it was not “too late” to cancel the summit!

All this vindicated Ephraim because way back in the “Cut the Chaff” of Saturday April 21, 2012 titled “Chaffy AU reasoning” he had questioned the president’s sudden change of mind to become, on flimsy reasons, a supporter of hosting the Summit contrary to her appeal of February 1, 2012.

“She was for it, then against it and now she is for it again. What a load of flip-flopping hodgepodge. Does President Joyce Banda think Malawi should host the African Union (AU) Summit?

It is hard to tell from her ever-changing positions whose motivations, to the best of my knowledge, appear to be based on where her feet are at that particular moment in time—in government or lost in opposition wonderland and figuring out how to get back home like Alice.”

Did Ephraim have a basis to bring Alice in Wonderland into the equation and risk irking Anganile? You are the ones better positioned to judge.

His write-up after the u-turn aptly titled “Of AU last laughs, lazy budgets”can help you out:

To write from a hotel room in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on what should have been the Lilongwe-hosted African Union (AU) summit and the chaffy reasoning that made us proceed with the event before screaming, “Oh, God, we can’t” at the last minute, is as ironical as it gets….

Not long ago, President Joyce Banda called me out during one of her press conferences. She wanted to respond to my piece on what I considered a chaffy thought process leading to her decision to proceed with hosting the summit despite our tattered fiscal cloth and the diplomatic minefield Malawi could venture into, especially on the question of how to handle Sudanese dictator, Al-Bashir.

In that article, I also talked about the ridiculously chaffy reason her administration gave for hosting: to honour the late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s wishes. I also stated that Banda waffles around her positions so much that it is hard to know where she stands on issues.

Amayi, as some folks call her, was not pleased; hence, the search for me at the press conference. She also personally called my bosses to complain about my portrayal of her and was particularly aghast that I compared her to Alice in Wanderland.

Banda has been asking her Cabinet to decide where to go without her own destination in mind and look what that got us on the summit—nowhere.

Two months after that piece, I feel vindicated. Banda has apparently changed her mind again.

Simply put, Ephraim is saying that had President Banda stuck to her original stance that hosting the AU summit was ill-timed and an expensive feat that Malawi could ill-afford, subsequent complications, embarrassing about turns and the making of unnecessary enemies would have been avoided.

Personally, after reading and re-reading Ephraim’s Cut the Chaff series against Anganile’s trashing of the same, I fail to fault Ephraim. If anything, I am now inclined to believe even more that the reasoning that surrounded the hosting of the AU Summit was indeed “chaffy”, very chaffy in fact, if such a thing exists.

While I enjoyed most of Anganile’s passionate case for President Banda, I was disappointed with the blatant attempt to paint black, blacker.

The assertion that Ephraim has never been complimentary to Mrs Banda is totally false.

  1. In the “Cut the Chaff” of Friday – April 13, 2012 Ephraim commended President Banda for appointing Radson Mwadiwa as Secretary to the Treasury.
  2. Again, on Friday May 25, 2012 Ephraim was falling all over himself and practically all over the place too, praising JB sky-high for dealing adeath blow to the fuel queues!

What more does Anganile want? That Ephraim should now go all the way and compose a praise song? I wonder.

Going a step back to Ephraim’s column before the demise of late President Bingu wa Mutharika, one notes that the column was very consistent in writing articles critical of the Mutharika regime. Was Ephraim, at that time, on the payroll of opposition or regime change agents?

Why then is he today being branded to be on opposition or DPP payroll for merely providing the much needed critical analysis that exposes “chaffy” reasoning for what it is?

If indeed, as Anganile (and others) want us to believe, Ephraim is now practicing “cheque book journalism” then I will give kudos to Ephraim. Because while he is going about it, he is at least being consistent.

And I know just too many “critics” that are today struggling to maintain consistency and stay relevant.

Rejoice President Banda!

My advice to President Joyce Banda is that she should rejoice and rejoice for ever more that Malawi has brave columnists like Ephraim: who are not afraid to point out inconsistencies, question “chaffy” decisions and risk being called all sorts of names.

It is by encouraging, assimilating and integrating such contrary views (although the views may come bare-knuckled) into the policy and decision-making mechanism, that her decisions, actions and legacy will stand the test of time.

Finally, I am indebted to Anganile for daring to pick the pen and duel with Ephraim.

If PP apologists, like Anganile, will be debating with critics using brains and pens, all of us will be sleeping a lot better and safer; assured that we are free from the “pangas” and “petrol bombs” of yesterday.

To wind-up, I will paraphrase Anganile’s conclusion: the good news indeed is that there is hope; hope for a better Malawi. In the final analysis, all Malawians will benefit from President Joyce Banda’s leadership, vision and hard-work IF and only IF healthy debate and contrary viewpoints, no matter how unpalatable, are entertained, hearkened to and taken into consideration when making decisions.

May God bless Malawi!

* Wise One from the East 

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