Scarce common sense – a response to Mzati

By Ganizani Desmond, a blogger

Mzati Nkolokosa’s 5,000-word article has received lots of attention, particularly because of his perceived attack on people from the Northern Region of Malawi. Buried in the commotion are some points he raises which also deserve being commented on. In this article, I will try to provide my own perspective on the issues raised. I have highlighted eight specific points – or paragraphs – which I thought merited an alternative view.

Why is President Bingu wa Mutharika blamed for the current country’s woes?

Mzati Nkolokosa writes:

All fingers point at Mutharika. Malawians have not failed anything, only the President has failed everything.

When the Farm Input Subsidies Programme introduced in 2005 yielded excellent results, who got all the credit? Wasn’t it President Mutharika? Awards have been piling up on his desk since then, and one has had to be choked before it could be delivered, thanks to activism.

Now that things have gone bad, why shouldn’t Mutharika take personal blame for this? He is the leader of our nation. In fact, he was sold out as “an economic engineer,” back in 2004. We were told that under his leadership, the economy would do well. On the strength of that promise, we elected him. When things started turning out well in the first term, he personally got all the glory. Why should he not be blamed when things have soured?

Mutharika: The man Mzati Nkolokosa 'worships'

In any case, we have a culture in Malawi of personalizing every achievement. If donors help us to build a road from Kamphata to Nkhoma, all credit goes to the President. When Americans donated The Polytechnic to Malawi, President Hastings Kamuzu Banda was praised for it. I remember in 1999 attending a Living Waters annual conference at Comesa Hall. Pastor Dr Nevers Mumba from Zambia said, as he preached: “In 1991, I went to a rural area in Lilongwe where I was amazed to find that scores of songs had been composed in praise of Kamuzu because of a single water tap that had been set up in the village. A tap!” This observation by the man of God epitomizes our quickness to praise. We Malawians do not demand too much from our leaders. We are so easy to satisfy. We demand the basics. And when those basics are provided, we over-praise our leaders. We call them “Saviour” or “Moses” or “Conquerors” or whatever names that can massage their ego. My argument, therefore, is that when those basics are not provided, we Malawians are right to point all fingers at the president. Let him be blamed in as equal a measure as he takes personal credit when things are working well.

First term vs Second Term

Mzati says:

Once we vote a President back into State House, for a second term, we fail to accept that he has five years to work. Our national psyche is not ready to allow a President have a full second term. Or some politicians play with our national psyche during second terms. How come both Presidents Muluzi and Mutharika’s first terms are praised and second terms despised?

Malawians do not fail to accept that a president has five years to be in the State House for a second stint. Why did Malawians overwhelmingly vote for Mutharika in 2009? Did they think he would be in the State House for twenty-four months only? No. They were happy with what he had done in the first term and wanted to see it continue.

Unfortunately, Mutharika had other ideas. He mistook the overwhelming mandate he received for a carte blanche to do as he pleased.

Mistake number 1: By the end of June, 2009, barely six weeks into the second term, Bingu wa Mutharika began advertising his younger brother, Peter Mutharika, as heir apparent. We began to see Peter being featured on the TV rather too frequently, and often times we were reminded of how many degrees he had, where he got them from, how many years he had worked as a teacher – or lecturer if you like – et cetera et cetera. My wife, a staunch Mutharika supporter then (she now hates him with a passion) wondered: “What has this to do with us? Why are they showing the guy all the time?” I told her: “Can’t you see that Bingu is planning a monarchy? Peter is being positioned to succeed him.” She did not believe me then, until Noel Masangwi, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Regional Governor for the South broached the subject and until Television Malawi as MBC TV was then called launched the Road to 2014 programme to specifically campaign for Peter. Now it turns out, according to a secret tape doing the rounds capturing Peter chatting with Charles Mchacha (which I have and those who want it can email me on [email protected]) this idea was in place right from the start, prior to 2009.

Commencing a campaign for Peter so early in the second term was a big blunder because it brought politics to the fore at the expense of developing the country. In the end, cabinet ministers fell over themselves to endorse Peter lest they lose their jobs. Our cabinet, a collection of opportunists that have been reduced into shivering wrecks in Mutharika’s presence, could no longer concentrate on the development agenda, prioritizing the marketing of Peter.

Mistake number 2: Because he thought having a majority in parliament meant he could do anything, President Mutharika began to recklessly change our laws. One top banker told me when I bumped into him in a Blantyre restaurant one evening: “We made a mistake to give him such a majority. He seemed sensitive to the people’s wishes when he had a minority government.”

President Mutharika completely closed his ears to the wishes of the people. His government came up with a bill to change flags. While people yearned for thorough consultation – with lots of articles in the newspapers and voices on private radios against the unpopular proposal – Mutharika’s government insulted the intelligence of Malawians by stage-managing what it called a “consultation process.” They featured a few corrupt chiefs on the state media to say they supported the idea, after that the bill was quickly passed into law. Some arrogance had even crept into Mutharika’s mind. He described anybody who said the consultation was inadequate as “drunk.” This insult infuriated many. The president went on to declare he does not understand us Malawians.

Not only that, the DPP government tampered with the penal code, amending Section 46 to give powers to a minister to ban publications that are deemed not to be in the interest of the public. They brought up a bill that was initially understood to ban farting in public. They made several more changes to the penal code with total disregard to the wishes of the people. Finally, they came up with an Injunction Bill which Mutharika signed into law in spite of an injunction prohibiting him from doing so.

Mistake number 3: Fuel began to be scarce in Malawi in September, 2009. Rather than give a clear explanation as to what was the cause of the shortage and what government intended to do to arrest the situation, Mutharika’s government resorted to lies. Leckford Thotho, Minister of Information as he then was, attributed the scarcity to congestion at the Nacala and Beira Port. The Mozambique government quickly refuted this. Mozambicans explained that if anything the two ports were suffering from the problem of under-utilization.

It is now a full two years since fuel supply has been intermittent. The Minister of Information – now Vuwa Kaunda – has told plenty of lies about it, including one about the Samora Machel Bridge at Tete being under construction – again refuted by the Government of Mozambique. On Valentine’s Day this year, President Mutharika lied about the situation too, attributing it to congestion at the Mozambican and Tanzanian ports, regardless of the pre-existing refutation by the Mozambique government. He went so far as to offer Mabvuto Bamusi – before the human rights campaigner sold his soul to Mutharika – to go on a ride to the ports to see for himself.

Instead of offering tangible solutions to the problem, the government played with Malawians by lying to them. Mutharika genuinely believes we are all idiots who cannot see through his lies. In the so-called “public lecture” and at sundry times before, Mutharika said his government has now established a company to be buying fuel. The problem, as many captains in the oil industry have repeatedly said, is not the procurement capacity of the Petroleum Importers Limited. The reason is forex scarcity.

And why is forex scarce? Our tobacco is not doing well, and, once again, the finger should point at Mutharika. In October 2009, Mutharika deported Kelvin Stainton, Chief Executive of Limbe Leaf Tobacco Co and his Leaf-buying Manager Van de Merwe; Collin Armstrong, the Chief Executive of Alliance One; and Alex Mackay, Managing Director of Premium TAMA Tobacco Co. He gave them 24 hours to pack up and go. What Malawi is suffering now is a backlash for this move.

Secondly, Mutharika’s government has failed to meet performance targets agreed with the International Monetary Fund. This has resulted in loss of budgetary support under the Common Approach to Budgetary Support (CABS). Developmental partners are also hesitant to supply aid in the wake of a deteriorating governance record.

In all this, the Mutharika government has done very little to show how serious it is in tackling these problems. Mr Mutharika’s idea of solving the problem is organizing a public lecture, surrounded by admirers and bootlickers who provide nothing of substance by way of advice. It, in fact, is more of a preaching session than a consultative process. What Malawians need now is not being lectured, but being told tangible suggestions of what the government will do to bring the country back on track.

Back, then, to Mzati Nkolokosa’s argument that Malawians refuse to accept that a president in a second term has five years to serve. In truth, really, I think presidents in a second term have a carefree tendency because they know they won’t need any political capital. It’s like mistress to King Louis XV Madame de Pompadour’s après nous, le déluge, “After us, the deluge,” meaning “I care not what happens when I am dead and gone” which she said when the French financial system was at the verge of collapse around 1760.  Malawian presidents hardly care about legacy. It is in the second term they build private palaces and plunder the economy with reckless abandon.

Besides, when into the second term, our culture of praising our leaders sky-high makes the president begin to think he is a god. He can say anything and do anything without anybody advising him to the contrary. Those around him are pre-occupied with protecting their own personal interests. One would think a cabinet with the likes of Dr Ken Lipenga, Professor Etta Banda, Professor Peter Mwanza etc would provide sound advice to the president. But, instead, they all do nothing but tremble and crawl in Mutharika’s presence, the inde-bwana, yes-sir, type.

So, yes, both former president Bakili Muluzi’s and Bingu wa Mutharika’s second terms are terrible, and this is all of their own making. Do not unnecessarily accuse the people of ill-will. If anything, the people wish them well.

Middle Class vs Lower Class

Says Mzati: Shortage of fuel. Load shedding due to major repair works at Escom’s power stations. Poor governance (whatever this means?). New laws that are said to be undemocratic. These do not resonate with the lower class. Essentially, the middle class is fighting the ruling class, President Mutharika in particular. But the battle ground is the lower class. The President’s sin is that he has chosen to spend forex on subsidised fertiliser and drugs for public hospitals. The middle class does not need any of these two because they can afford food and health care. The middle class wants fuel for their vehicles and forex for buying wedding rings and toothpicks from outside Malawi.

This is warped reasoning. Who says the poor do not need diesel and petrol?

In the rural areas, we need fuel for maize mills to work. When maize mills stop working, what shall we eat?

Fishing villages along Lake Malawi need fuel for their boats. We all know how fish like utaka, usipa, milamba, kampango, matemba etc provide proteins to villages and small towns and big towns and major cities all over Malawi. Without fuel, this source of protein disappears too.

What about ambulances that carry the sick from our rural health centres to major hospitals in towns?

In short, it is naïve to suggest that fuel scarcity does not concern villagers. To state that the Mutharika government has spent the money on procuring drugs for public hospitals is to insult our intelligence. A doctor at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital has just told me there is no medicine. Another doctor at the Kamuzu Central Hospital says the same. The equipment is broken or yet to be bought. Which medicine is Mzati Nkolokosa talking about?

It is wrong to pretend to be speaking for the marginalized poor while promoting the Mutharika agenda.

We should not forget the role of the middle class in ushering in change. In the early 1990s, wasn’t it the middle class that sang “We want change! We want change!” in our streets? The middle class decided the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had to go, and everyone followed. This is what is happening now. The middle class is merely leading the process, and everybody else is following. The middle class is not using the lower class at all. Nobody goes to force them onto the streets at gunpoint, by the way. They come alone.

 The North

In the widely reported attack on the Northern Region, Mzati writes: The question, now, to be tackled should be: How come some people of the North are leading a fight against President Mutharika?

The question I pose to Mzati Nkolokosa is: Why shouldn’t they? Are you more Malawian than they are? Does Reverend Sembereka have a greater right to lead the fight than, say, Undule Mwakasungula? Does Robert Mkwezalamba have a greater right to criticize Mutharika than, say, Moses Mkandawire? Malawi belongs to all of us, which is why northerners like Kanyama Chiume, Dunduzu Chisiza, Orton Chirwa and Aleke Banda – among many – played a leading role with Malawians from other regions for us to win freedom from the British. Which is why Chakufwa Chihana, Kamlepo Kalua and other northerners joined hands with Malawians from other regions to oust Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. So, if they, today, are leading the fight against Mutharika, it is their right. They are Malawians. Any Malawian has that right. You, Mr Nkolokosa have no right to stop them from exercising their freedom of expression.

It is bizarre that Mr Nkolokosa is bringing up this angle of tribalism. Why do people refuse to look at things without wearing the spectacles of tribalism? We need to be a united nation. Tribalism will destroy our country. This thinking is what leads to genocide (like what happened in Rwanda). Please, let us not use our positions of influence to turn one tribe against another or one region against another. We do not want war in Malawi. We want freedom, peace and tranquility. Malawians know that what divides them is of far less importance than what unites them. We may be separate in terms of where we come from and also in terms of the mother tongues but we are equal. We are one Malawi and one nation, proudly united under one flag, singing a single national anthem which begs God to “join all our hearts as one that we be free from fear.”

The opposition manipulating civil society

Mzati, in his long-winded article, says: The weak opposition, seeing an active civil society funded by imperialist powers, have hijacked the agenda of the civil society as a way of going into State House. So it is not about economic issues or about governance, it is about power, a struggle for power between the ruling party and the opposition parties.

In truth, opposition political parties were passengers in the July 20 demonstrations. They did not take part in organizing those demonstrations. We saw an attempt by the government to paint the demonstrations as the work of Leader of Opposition, John Tembo. MBC news on the 19th of July dedicated slots to Hetherwick Ntaba and Vuwa Kaunda to bash John Tembo – I think they spent ten minutes each, repeating themselves all over. That was undue credit to Tembo. He had nothing to do with the demonstrations. So afraid was he that he did not even step out of his house to be with the people in the street.

Yes, the opposition made a statement on the 17th of July that they were ready to take over if the people demanded that Mutharika should leave, but, in essence, the opposition were merely trying to do some wishful thinking. In reality, no opposition party used the civil service.

This boggles my mind, really. What, exactly, is Mzati’s argument? He is wandering all over, pointing fingers at everyone, chasing shadows. One minute, he attacks the middle class as using the lower class, the next minute, he attacks northerners, now he says the Opposition was using the civil society. Isn’t this conjecture? Who, exactly, was using who?

Cold War

As if the above hogwash is not enough, the rumblings proceed thus: So in essence, this is a war between the West and China but it is being fought in Malawi. Britain has made it clear that it will continue to put pressure on Malawi to legalise same sex relationships (David Cameron himself said this at his house, No 10) and that they will work with civil society and the media. This is in a way a fight against China that is working with government to bring infrastructure that is changing people’s lives in a practical way. At the centre of it all, it is a clash of cultures: the Western culture and the Chinese culture.

Mzati Nkolokosa seems to be hopelessly ignorant about cold wars. There is no cold war, not in Malawi, nor, for that matter, anywhere else.

It is an indisputable fact that both the West and China are in Africa to exploit the continent’s resources to their advantage. We have also seen India make similar moves. Neither the West nor the East wishes Africa well. They want to simply use us as they milk us of our resources. There is no fight going on. In any case, the West now so needs China that they cannot afford to fight it. America owes China trillions (26 % of all foreign-held US treasury securities). China has just bought Greek bonds. China is thus financing the West. The West cannot afford to fight China. They can scramble for resources in impoverished Africa, yes, but that is no cold war. Of what importance is Malawi in the international circles for the cold war to take place here? Who cares about Malawi? In Africa, countries of strategic importance to the West are the oil-rich countries, the mineral-rich countries and the like. I would have understood if the cold war went on in the North African countries, or in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Not, for God’s sake, poor little Malawi!

We also saw the hopeless attempt by Mr Mzati Nkolokosa and his team to label the demonstrations as pro-gay. This is an insult to Malawians. Surely, should we mischaracterize genuine concerns to a gay-rights fight? If this is what the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation genuinely believes is spin-doctoring or propaganda, then the broadcasting house is intellectually bankrupt.

Personal Wars

There are people, writes Mzati, who are fighting Mutharika but the battles are disguised as economic and governance issues. A journalist is working for a government ministry and does a column in the newspaper. One week he is in government and he writes in defence of some policy. The other week, his contract has not been renewed and he hits hard at the President. How do we explain that change of focus? This is a personal battle which we may not understand. But we know, survival is central to human kind. Or take a journalist who makes numerous calls to a government minister, asking for a director position in the ministry. The journalist does “good work” in writing positively about government. Suddenly, he changes tune. He hits at the President week in, week out. What has happened? He is angry that the position remains vacant but there are no signs that it will come to him. Again a personal battle yet disguised as part of the agenda of the civil society.

Mutharika’s enemies are legion, we all know. But a person in his position is expected to have enemies all the time, which is why they give them bodyguards to protect their lives. I do agree with Mzati here that there are people with personal interests, fighting personal wars with Mutharika. However, what I can dispute is that such people have enough influence to make the masses spill onto the streets to demonstrate against the Mutharika government. The July 20 demonstrations had nothing to do with personal hatred for the President. They were organized by the civil society with the support of the people.

Constructive criticism

Finally, Mzati says: Criticising, as we are seeing, can be exciting. But criticism as in constructive evaluation is rare; and saying so is not an elitist view. We are seeing more anger than analysis.

President Bingu wa Mutharika touts himself as a Mr Know-It-All and “Unpredictable.” He accepts no advice from anybody. The people have spoken lots of times but he chooses not to listen.

Those, like Mr Mzati Nkolokosa, in places of privilege to provide sound advice o the president shake in his presence and heap nothing but praises on him.

I think President wa Mutharika is obtuse. He gullibly accepts such praise, not knowing it is blinding him to reality. Six or so years ago, I was part of a small delegation that went to visit Muamar Gaddafi, the President of Libya, at one of his tents in Sirte, his home town. When the leader of our delegation and many others who spoke heaped praise upon praise on him, calling him “Great Thinker, King of Kings” et cetera, I asked Mrs Margret Safo, a Ghanaian editor: “Does he believe all that crap?”

She told me: “Incredible as it may sound, there comes a time when they begin to genuinely believe they are all that.” Mutharika has reached this level.

When a leader is so adamant, what use is writing the so-called “constructive criticism”? He won’t take it anyway. That is why, as Alpha Blondy sang, tout le monde est faché – everybody is angry. Everybody, that is, except Mr Nkolokosa and others who have sold their soul to the powers that be, those eating the crumbs falling from the table of power.


Mr Mzati Nkolokosa’s article lacks logic and is, at best, like the rumblings of a mad man. He points fingers at everybody and sees nothing but the president’s enemies all round him. In calls to some journalist friends who are members of an internet forum of the National Media Institute of Southern Africa (Namisa), he has said more unflattering remarks about Northerners, whom he calls “Tumbukas.” He lamented to a mutual friend why Tumbukas were taking over the Namisa forum. While he is busy lamenting that the middle class is using the lower class, he himself is being used like a condom by the Mutharika administration, which is capitalizing on Mr Nkolokosa’s fears that he might lose his job and the trappings that go with it. Before he knows it, he will be dumped into the dustbin of history, like they do after using a condom.

I wanted to ignore the opinions of Mr Mzati Nkolokosa until I came across this verse in the Holy Bible, Proverbs 26:5 which says: “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his eyes.”

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