Politics of despair, moral inconsistency in Malawi

I hate to say it! But the truth is that Malawians have since the days of British imperial masters been desperate people, always hoping for the bright future but with no shining prospects. In our state of despair, we have found ourselves – unknowingly I suppose – trapped by moral inconsistency and contradictions in our value system. Inevitably, it is the same moral inconsistency which perpetually glues us to the state of despair and hopelessness. It is this vicious cycle of despair and moral inconsistency which I contend makes all of us guilty of partaking in architecting the doomed nature of our nation.

Of course at the end of the day, it is the leaders who symbolically bear the mark of failure. This is the paramount challenge of despair and moral inconsistence which I contend should decisively be dealt by the incoming political leadership. As I will show later, despair and moral inconsistency are phenomena that even an amateur politician can capitalize on so until now I have no clue on whether the new leadership can deal with it. Suffice to say that our state of underdevelopment in both social and economic fronts cannot be divorced from these premises. I will revert to these propositions shortly.

New leadership, President Joyce Banda

Before us is a dark cloud. Death diminishes some us and it has never been a Malawian culture to celebrate one’s death even if the departed was a super enemy or devil. Abner in the Bible’s book of Second Samuel was an army Commander of David’s rival Saul. David’s Commander Joab and his brother Abishai did the needful by killing Abner even after the later had defected to David’s Camp.

David was not amused and angrily deposited intergenerational curses of leprosy and hunger on Joab’s family. David had earlier showed similar remorse over the death of his arch-rival Saul. That granted, I am not a stranger in this Jerusalem for me not know the source of joy amongst some quarters. Our socio-economic vicissitudes had reached unbearable labels under the departed leader’s regime. Malawians witnessed leadership arrogance of highest order, not even precedented by Comrade Mugabe and company.

The arrogance created several loopholes that resulted in miseries of millions. Puffed-up by arrogance, the leadership cared less even to explain and articulate in simple terms what I consider to be forward-looking policies. I remain convinced that our departed leader had a developmental experiment which unfortunately has not been finished. We could have all witnessed the results – positive or negative – if he was still alive.

I dare say so because many of the claimed successes of his first term (such as food security and infrastructural development) emanated from policy experiments which he single-handedly bulldozed in the corridors of the donor community and orthodox development thinkers. The results were seen by sundry and all. It appears to me that in his second term, he was resolute to embark on another developmental experiment – this time more risky – of zero deficit and confrontation with IMF and the tobacco buyers. The previous two presidents had considered these as no-go-zones.

To Pan-Africanists and other sober minded fellows, there was nothing wrong with these experiments. After all, no country in the world developed because of aid and contractionary policies championed by IMF and the World Bank.

However, in his arrogance puffed-up state, he cared less to simplify and articulate the beneficial side of his experiments. Messrs Zeleza Manda and DD Phiri have made similar observation. His inner circle flatly failed to do that as well – either due to incompetence or the same arrogance. The departed leader must have suffered from an “insensitivity-deficit” as he failed to decipher the need to constantly engage with the masses – by romanticizing the future – who were carrying Pharaohic hot bricks of inflation, forex shortage and dwindling quality of social services. It would also appear that the departed leader had not fully come to terms with the fact that he was the President of this country.

It also appears he did not completely believe that he was in charge. He occupied his second term with enactment and amendments of laws that had technically and theoretically little value to his grip of power, at least when one looks at the majority that he commanded. He tactlessly embarked on “irrelevant” reforms and honeymooning such as change of flag as K1.2 million and dear’s salary approval (respectively). Like Abner of the Bible, the dignity of this death is not optimum – sadly.

But thank God we have a new President. She is a sigh of relief both to those who wanted change and to those of us who were terrified with rumours of coup plots. She is coming in at a difficult time and when in layman’s language the economy is in “tatters”. We will be unfair to the new leader to compare her with her predecessor and set unrealistic standards for her. The qualifications of the new leader come nowhere close to that of her predecessor. The incoming leader has never delivered in a technical office (except the political headship of gender and foreign affairs ministries) as her predecessor and her command of economics and development appear to be at micro level only. In simple terms, let’s avoid expecting too much from her, lest we get disenchanted quickly. The economic mess in this country is beyond our layman’s eyes and prescription.

But the structural challenge that new leader will have to face pertains the levels of entrenched despair in our politics and its attendant moral inconsistency. Before Kamuzu, Malawians through the likes of the Chipembere, Kanyama Chiume, Chokani and Chisiza brothers were disparately in need of a redeemer. Few years into the country, Kamuzu was given ammunition which later became deadly to the very people who gave him that ammunition. Overexcited and stupidly so, Dunduzu Chisiza moved a “motion” in Nkhatabay’s MCP Conference to confer on Kamuzu life leadership of the party.

They all regretted their decision in less than 2 years. In its grip for power, MCP committed a lot of atrocities. Until now, we only speculate about who actually committed them. The uncontested fact is that the atrocities were committed and that some of the perpetuators are still alive and active in politics. After losing in 1994, MCP nearly came back to power in 1999 elections – thanks to the rigging tactics of UDF. Were the leaders who were associated with MCP atrocities not the ones who were flag bearers in the elections? Yes! UDF had tried in vain to remind Malawians of the ills of MCP regime. This could not go into Malawi’s ears. Why? As long as UDF was getting things wrong, it did not matter going back to MCP even with the same leaders. In fact, MCP five years later (2004) technically won the elections under the man most associated with MCP’s atrocities.

Ten years of UDF is widely referred to as lost decade in terms of development and democratic governance. In 2005, many of us would agree that UDF era was indeed a lost decade. Today, only few would agree. Why? Morally we are inconsistent. What was wrong yesterday to Malawians is not wrong today. We are too desperate to care about our political moral principles. The then leader of UDF was bedeviled for imposing the departed leader. UDF paid dearly in 2004 elections. Meanwhile, despair continues. When DPP was formed in 2005, there was mass exodus of UDF MPs masquerading as patriots with the heart to help the government in its development endeavors.

This was against the constitutional provision that bars the crossing of the floor by sitting MPs. Since Malawians did not want UDF back (at least for a while), it was OK for the exodus from UDF. DPP won with landslide in 2009 and several MPs joined the party under the same mantra of helping the government of the day. Now this was wrong in the eyes of Malawians. The departed leader imposed his brother on the party and Malawians from all corners protested because that would create political dynasty. Concurrently, the ex-leader has imposed his son to vie for Presidency and it seems it’s OK: another moral inconsistency fuelled by despair and hopelessness.

None in the cabinet of the departed leader has never hailed insults on the incoming leader. When the departed leader left us, the cabinet allegedly decided to stage a coup to ensure that the departed leader’s brother takes over. Some so-called “clever” cabinet ministers swiftly went to the incoming leader to throw their “support”. It is reported that there is a mass exodus to the incoming leader’s party. And Malawians are clapping hands. Some are even called the “voice of reason” by some online papers. Why?

In our current state of despair it is OK for them to “work” with the new leader even when we know their sinister motives. A colleague at Zodiac actually revealed to me how respectable cabinet ministers were willing to hold on the phone line for 30 minutes just to make it clear to the nation that they are not part of the “coup”. And these are the people that we Malawians want to entrust in our state of despair.

Unsurprisingly, in our state of despair and having mixed and inconsistent moral and political fabrics, we have given room to political mediocrity and recycling of unwanted and selfish politicians. They have flocked to the incoming leader’s camp and since our solace is to see that the other (departed leader’s) camp is finished, we do not care whether the defectors are doing it in good faith (for sure not) and whether they will be made ministers in the new regime. It is high time we as Malawians stood by what we believe in regardless of circumstances.

What we think is politically and morally right should be cherished and upheld throughout. It is because of moral inconsistency that Malawians will see no change on the political front because unwanted recycled politicians capitalize on our despair, emotions and inconsistency. The media has an enormous task in this regard. It cannot afford to glorify selfish and greedy politicians simply because they belong to the rival camp of their “enemy”.

Thus to the new leader: Malawians are generally inconsistent and do not get surprised if three years from now they will want to revert back to “Egypt”. The same media, civil society and Church organs that have carried you on their backs today will glorify the past and your rivals. Do not treat today’s honeymoon as permanent. They do not care going back to where they come from as long as you disappear from their sight. So play your cards well.

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