In his Muckraking on Sunday column published in The Sunday Times of Sunday, September 7, 2014, Raphael Tenthani opines that among the many wishy-washy treason charges that have come up since multiparty politics dawned on this nation—from the Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda eras, the one involving the current President, Peter Mutharika, and several DPP executive members in 2013 is the one most meritorious and, in fact, less stupid.
Tenthani’s article followed outbursts by President Mutharika that all treason cases in Malawi, including the one against him, were in fact ‘stupid’.
Tenthani’s argument is pretty crunchy and deft to the touch. He backs it up with a quote from former Army Commander, General Henry Odillo, who said: “I felt uncomfortable because I think there is no provision at all in the Constitution, which provides that the military takes over power or involved in politics.”
General Odillo was responding to questions from the Elton Singini Commission, which was instituted to investigate circumstances surrounding the death of former President, Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012.
Odillo had explained to the Commission about how he had reacted when the ‘confused’ bunch of Peter Mutharika, Goodall Gondwe and other members of the DPP wanted to bypass the Republican Constitution by preventing the then Vice President, Joyce Banda, from ascending to power after the death of Mutharika.
Peter Mutharika and his alleged accomplices had asked Odillo that the Army takes over power instead of the Vice President, Joyce Banda, then, who was constitutionally mandated to do so.
On the afternoon of the same Sunday, September 7, (probably after reading what the Muckraker had written), President Mutharika reiterated that the treason charges against him and his DPP friends were “stupid and without merit”.
In sharp contrast to what General Odillo had told the Justice Elton Singini Commission, the President disputed that he had convened a meeting attended by some members of cabinet suggesting to General Odillo to take over power. He even went to town on the Elton Singini Commission, describing it as a sham “whose members come from the same village”.
What President Mutharika was implicitly suggesting is that what General Odillo told Commission was a pack of lies and that he is the one who is telling the truth. A case of your word against mine, or who is right between Mutharika and the former Army Commander?
Until Mutharika fired him, General Odillo was a highly trained career soldier; well-disciplined gentleman. Since the late President Bingu wa Mutharika appointed General Odillo as the Army Commander, he only appeared in the public when there was a need.
Peter Mutharika, on the other hand, was Cabinet Minister and heir apparent to the high throne. He was the egoistic young brother to a sitting President who could ride the presidential helicopter from Lilongwe to Mzuzu at his personal whim.
General Odillo was invited by the Justice Singini Commission to testify. He went to say what he knew and the role he played during those three mad days of April 2012, when Bingu died. Peter Mutharika chickened out when he was invited to appear before the Commission, giving all sorts of excuses that few people can remember.
It is strange, therefore, that President Mutharika has now chosen, after all this time, to say something about his treason charges and the Singini Commission (he did it at a political rally). We all know that our President is not a gifted public speaker and that he can really gibber incoherencies if given a chance.
His counter-jab, however, on Tenthani about the treason case came across as only excerpts of anger from a very tired old man. Mutharika had all the time to set the record straight, and to tell it like it was in those three mad days of April 2012 by appearing before the Commission or indeed any other forum.
He chose to remain silent all this time. It is of no use therefore to rant about the treason case now when the presidential plate is full with very important issues. He really is coming across as empty and the best thing for him is probably to stay in the office like he has been doing the past months.
Tenthani was pretty right. Among all the treason charges since multiparty politics began in 1994 in this country, the one involving Peter Mutharika and his cohorts is the one that looks very real. It is well documented that one of the ‘accomplices’, Goodall Gondwe confessed and said they behaved the way they did “because we could not believe seeing Bingu laying there, dead”.
Henry Mussa told Zodiak Broadcasting Station in the “Tiuzeni Zoona” programme that the group had lost their minds and direction and confessed it was wrong and unfortunate they conspired to bar Joyce Banda from taking over power. What are you talking about Mr. President?
General Odillo is just a good soldier who served his country; and served it extremely well. He had no reason to lie. President Mutharika fired General Odillo from the Army and that should be enough victimization than indulging in a defamation campaign because he enjoys some ‘presidential immunity’ against litigation.
The President must also be told in clear terms that it is political wickedness to trash a properly instituted Commission of Inquiry with a view to score cheap political marks. The Justice Elton Singini Commission comprised of Commissioners from various parts of the country and not “one village or Nkhata Bay”.
One does not want to belabour themselves outlining where the Commissioners come from, originally, but suffice to say that it is this Mutharika administration and the previous one of his late brother that hire and hired officers on the basis of where they came from.
The people of Malawi craved for the truth about what had happened during those three mad days of April 2012. The then President Joyce Banda was constitutionally obliged to institute a Commission of Inquiry. Whatever followed after the Commission of Inquiry Report was published did not concern Joyce Banda, General Odillo and indeed, the People’s Party (PP). The law enforcers had to come in, period!
Finally, on instructions from President Mutharika himself, the said treason charges against himself and his DPP friends were dropped immediately they came to power. It is therefore inconsequential for President Mutharika to keep taking us back to the past.
If the President chooses to go down that road, fine. But he should be aware that he would only succeed in reminding Malawians about how close he came to be nailed down for being treasonous not only against the state, but also against his late brother, whose dead body did not enjoy the dignity of a fallen President!
*Hastings Kandoje is a social and political commentator. He writes in his own rightFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :