Presidential Dialogue Group: Bingu’s white elephant

NEWS ANALYSIS:

By Garvey Karvei, Nyasa Times

Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has appointed a ten-man committee to manage affairs of his recently announced Presidential Contact and Dialogue Group (PCDG), according to Zodiak Radio.

The terms of reference (TOR) for the Presidential Contact and Dialogue Group include;

*        To act as a platform for contact and dialogue between government and various interest groups in the country including representatives of political parties, non-governmental organizations, women lobby groups, youth representatives, vendors, the business community, the media, the elderly, people with disabilities, and any concerned citizens.

*       To mediate, guide, and propose ways of amicably solving any disputes and suggest how the people of Malawi can be united through mutual agreement, understanding, reconciliation, and tolerance in order to resolve any disputes among the people of Malawi with the view to safeguard the peace, security and stability of Malawi.

Bishop Malango: Chair of presidential dialogue committee

*       To prepare and present reports of such contacts together with proposals of other groups on how issues raised by them should be addressed.

*        To make public as appropriate the outcomes, understanding and agreements reached between the government, civil society, political parties and any other concerned citizens

*       To undertake any other such functions as may be assigned to them by the president.

The report further says Malawians are encouraged to use the grouping as the most appropriate channel of communicating with the president.

According to one Fred Allen, a committee is “a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done.” Bingu’s PCDG fits this description, to the letter.

The members of the Committee are as follows:

Chair – retired Anglican Archbishop Bernard Malango.

Deputy chair  – Goodal Gondwe, First Vice President of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party

Rapporteur – DPP Secretary General Wakuda Kamanga

Other members of the committee –

* Paramount Chief Lundu,

*   Sheikh Alhaji Alide Likonde of the Quadria Muslim Association of Malawi,

*   Sheikh Alhaji Ali Kanyamula of the Muslim Association of Malawi

*  Inkosi ya Makosi Mbelwa IV

*   Mrs. Catherine Munthali, president of the Society for the Advancement of Women (SOW),

*  Reverent Bishop Bvumbwe, Chairman of the Malawi Council of Churches and

*   Apostle Dr. Madalitso Mbewe, Founder and President of Calvary Family Church.

Without attacking the personalities co-opted into this committee or berating their negotiation or mediations skills; on the contrary while acknowledging the fact that most of them are well meaning and generally good people, this committee is doomed to fail even before it starts working.

To begin with, the committee, from the last clause on its TOR, will get its assignments from Mutharika and is ultimately accountable to him.

Mutharika from all his undertakings: his disastrous tenure at COMESA; his first term characterised by stand-offs with the opposition when we all –wrongly – thought that something was the matter with the opposition only to realize now that the matter was with Mutharika; and this current nightmare of a second term we are living in, has a listening problem. The man is deaf.

There is no single challenge facing Malawi today that well-meaning people, locally or internationally, have not offered advice on, to no avail! Mutharika believes that only he knows best. Local people offering advice are rebuked and accused that they want to overthrow his government and international experts are called appropriate disparaging names.

Secondly, compromise and negotiations are wasted on Mutharika.

President Mutharika, unlike others say for instance, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, subscribes to the out-dated philosophy that flexibility and a predisposition to compromise is a sign of weakness or a sell-out. The truth is that in politics, especially in a country like ours where we need to capitalize on the latent strength that lies in diversity, compromise is everything.

Thirdly, nothing has been said about how binding the result(s) of the contact and dialogue will be. If Bingu is going to have the final say, as always, then the committee is redundant. Bingu himself must stop hosting town-hall beer parties, set aside time and come in person to the table of dialogue. Otherwise, contact and dialogue for its own sake is useless, it only serves as Bingu’s gimmick for buying time as he waits for his pension in 2014.

With each passing day Mutharika’s insecurity is growing and becoming more and more open. He does not see himself attending the next president’s inauguration as a respected retiring president and the reasons are obvious. Hence, the creation of these useless committees is just another attempt to buy time, favours and sympathy.

And finally, the fourth TOR is designed to give a black-out to the committee’s dialogue with various stakeholders. If parliamentary debate is broadcast live, why should this committee’s meetings with stakeholders be “made public as appropriate”? What is the confidentiality for? And who is fooling who?

To conclude, the mass demonstrations, which are here to stay for the remainder of Bingu’s tenure, are not a result of people failing to communicate their needs and wants, no. As we speak, Bingu is sitting on a 20 point petition that has pertinent solutions to our problems.

If Mutharika  could get rid of arrogance, if only he could learn to tame his ego, this committee would not be necessary. On the other hand, committees or no committees, if he continues to be arrogant, not even a million PCDs will save him from inevitable premature retirement.

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