The fix is in: Meddling UK tilts Malawi election in Joyce Banda’s favour

I am definitely hardwired not to believe in conspiracy theories but when certain things just do not add up, I am left wondering what the hell is going on.

In two months, Malawi will choose its next leader in what promises to be hotly contested elections.

There are four serious contenders — incumbent Joyce Banda, Atupele Muluzi, Lazarus Chakwera and Peter Mutharika – on a plane field that is not level. And we have Britain to thank for an election that is guaranteed not to be free and fair.

We tend to focus on the few days running up to the election and on the actual day of voting to declare an election free and fair. If there is no violence and intimidation that would disfranchise voters on the D-Day does it mean the election was genuine?

British High Commissioner Nevin  with President Banda who has swallowed donor demands hook, line, and sinker
British High Commissioner Nevin with President Banda who has swallowed donor demands hook, line, and sinker

Elections that are free and fair provide equal opportunities for all contenders. Other than the ability of all contestants to register for office without unaccommodating prerequisites, fair access to the media, an electoral process that is independent, we must also ensure that voters have all the information they need before casting their vote.

Granting access to the media goes beyond allowing contestants to challenge one another on state-funded radio and television networks which reach more people than private ones. When the incumbent decides to hide information that has nothing to do with national security but still is in the national interest, elections cannot be declared free and fair.

I do not think I am going out on a limb suggesting that the UK has its own designs on the Malawi election.

Students – term used to include scholars and those who just follow — of international politics are aware of the behaviour of powerful players.

The West which does a good job promoting participatory democracy in less developed countries has learnt the hard way that free and fair elections sometimes produce undesirable outcomes. Democratic elections in the Palestinian territories in 2007 gave Israel’s enemy Hamas power and sidelined Fatah internationally recognized as the official Palestinian Authority.

Israel is a close ally of the United States (US), the world’s remaining super power. Israel does not hesitate to make noise when it thinks the US is giving Palestinians too much leverage in their quest for Middle East peace.

Democratic elections produced similar results in Egypt in 2011 after the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak who had ruled for almost three decades. Under Mubarak, Egypt, the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel, had a peace treaty with Israel which could have been jeopardized if the new leadership decided not to honour it.

After Mubarak was forced from office, the West led by the US ensured that the Egyptian military — Mubarak was one of them — maintained its influential role in the life of the Egyptian otherwise the whole Middle East power arrangement would come crumbling down. What should be mentioned is that Arabs believe the 1979 Camp David peace accord was a bad deal. It rendered Egypt impotent and gave Israel unfettered power to sit on Palestinians.

Let us return to our Malawi discussion.

The probe into Cashgate, which saw millions of dollars of public money stolen by some people with links to the ruling party, is on its death bed, again thanks to Britain which financed the forensic audit of government books.

The report did not reveal names and the UK has resisted calls for exposing those involved, arguing doing so would negatively impact cases now in court and future ones.

It appears it is only in Malawi and not the UK where suspects are guilty until proven innocent, according to UK’s position which defies logic. And the UK has chosen to be both player and referee at the same time.

Lest we forget, it was President Banda who normalized relations with the UK after one of the poorest countries in the world flipped the bird at her. The throwing out of Her Majesty’s envoy to Malawi by Banda’s predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika was crude and rude, the UK concluded and the Malawi ambassador to the UK was sent packing and development aid was cut off as a result.

It still is not easy for Banda, who assumed power in 2012 after the sudden death of Mutharika, to make the case that she deserves to be given her own mandate to rule Malawi especially after Cashgate.

The president is challenging her critics, saying the probe into abuse of public funds under her watch must include the time when Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party was in power because the audit shows K91 million lost between 2009 and 2012.

As Malawians get ready to vote, Malawi Congress Party’s Chakwera has given the oldest party in the country with a bad image a nice face lift and people are giving it a second look.

United Democratic Front’s Atupele is hitting the right note but it remains to be seen if the majority would pull the lever for him. His father Bakili did little to reduce poverty, a fact the former president is on record admitting.

Britain must think Peter and his late brother Bingu were cut from the same  cloth thus he would curtail its influence if he won. Britain’s choice is clear: President Banda who has swallowed donor demands hook, line, and sinker.

*The author is former founding editor of Maravi Post who is now a columnist on Nyasa Times

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