As expected, President Peter Mutharika on Tuesday delivered his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) as he opened the fourth meeting in the 45th Session of Parliament.
The President’s major speech also marked the official opening of the 2015/16 Budget Meeting.
A lot has already been said about the speech and I will not dwell on analysing it—most people have already done that by now.
What interests me is the official response from the President’s top critic: Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera, who is also Leader of Opposition.
Whether Mutharika’s address was successful or not depends on which side of the political divide you find yourself in or what your interests are in a speech that is really there to outline the broad policy framework of an administration for the next 12 months.
Certainly, Chakwera was not too impressed and delivered a stinging rebuttal with great sound bites—well, they sounded great until you started searching for the devil in the detail and found very little, if any.
My favourite from Chakwera was the following passage: “I don’t know about you, but between the promises of the President and the dreams of Malawians, I choose the dreams of Malawians.
I choose to dream with Malawians of a presidency for the people, not for the government. I choose to dream with Malawians of a country where farmers make more money from their crops than traders. I choose to dream with Malawians of a country where government salaries are paid punctually by the order of a system, not tardily by the orders of a President. I choose to dream with Malawians of a country whose cities have tarred roads and landscaped sidewalks, not dirty roads, potholes, and bushes.
I choose to dream with Malawians of a country whose cities are secure by night and clean by day, not littered by day and feared by night. I choose to dream with Malawians of a country in which the power of the sun and wind are harnessed through technology to extend the power grid to every Malawian home by 2064.
I choose to dream with Malawians of a country in which handouts for votes are illegal. I choose to dream with Malawians of a country in which there is no State broadcaster to poison Malawians with propaganda. I choose to dream with Malawians of a country in which mechanisms of governance credibility, development equality and democracy security are guaranteed by the Constitution. I choose to dream with Malawians of a country in which foreign aid for the government is a memory, employment for young people is a [not] luxury, prosperity for all is a destiny, and security for communities is a reality…”
If this piece of lofty rhetoric sounds eerily familiar, don’t be surprised, because it is.
It surely sounds like former president Joyce Banda’s two State of the Nation addresses that were full of dreams that turned into the nightmare that is Cashgate. She too had a lot of dreams and look where they took us.
That is what you get for not pinning people to be specific on what exactly they want to do and not being bewitched by musical voices and uplifting words that don’t translate into much.
I will not be surprised really if it turns out that Chakwera has followed Mrs. Banda’s footsteps of finding solace in American advisers who may probably have drafted the speech.
It is clear that Chakwera has a good speech writer who understands his boss’s gift to deliver speeches and no one is better than the retired reverend with an American accent when it comes to giving a good speech and compelling closing arguments. Remember the first presidential debate and how Chakwera wrapped up his case?
But Chakwera’s response to the President’s address was a campaign style political speech.
But, as they say, you campaign in poetry, but govern in prose. Chakwera can afford the poetry, Mutharika cannot—he is governing and, therefore, prose and nuance are a must.
Chakwera is obviously a man of style when it comes to speech delivery, but substance is miles away.
The passage I have quoted above is a very good summary of the Chakwera governing doctrine, but without specifics on how to achieve that dream, it all comes to naught and, if he happens to be allowed to govern next time, ends in disaster just like Mrs. Banda’s shrilling rhetoric.
And that is the difference. Mutharika’s speech may have been boring—his addresses have always been—but at least it has details of how to reach the destination he has, or thinks he has, charted for the country.
Chakwera has done a very fine job of pointing out the problems with the President’s speech and the country as a whole, but has done a very shoddy job of offering policy positions or prescriptions that draw parallels with what Mutharika has offered.
What kind of government in waiting is Chakwera’s MCP then?