The sudden death of a sitting president almost seems impossible. We often redirect our thoughts about death to lesser humans, but fate has a way of invalidating human decisions. And death itself is no respecter of man’s wishes.
It really takes the hand of fate to be born human – and living – and it takes the same hand of fate to die. But, still, deaths of public persons spark a spate of conspiracy theories. It is even worse if the public person dies at the summit of controversies.
President Bingu wa Mutharika could have lived longer, only if wishes were the ultimate decider or our fate. Of course, he might even have lived less. But that does not even matter now. He is gone and death has emerged the victor. But, what does this tell us about human progress?
It tells us one significant thing: there is an inevitable enemy that keeps knocking at the doors of our hearts. We may not be prepared to face it, but we must face it anyway, even if we are public personalities. It also tells us that as far as politics is concerned, you can never be sure of what happens the following day. That is why today you can be a ruling party and tomorrow be an opposition party.
The progress of politics doesn’t work like some premeditated musical composition with a standard beat. You simply have to be aware that politicians, like all human beings, are not immune to vulnerability. That is why politicians, too, can die when we least expect it.
Presidents have at their disposal the finest of security details you can ever imagine. They also have the best healthcare personnel we can ever think of. But that doesn’t mean presidents can’t die. They are humans too, and fate sees them as such.
Eight American presidents died in office, the latest being JF Kennedy who died a few hours after being shot by an assassin. Four of the eight including Kennedy were assassinated while the remaining four died from very peculiar ailments, which, with the healthcare detail that is attached to presidency, seem almost unimaginable.
William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia, Zachary Taylor died of cholera, Warren Harding died of pneumonia while Franklin Roosevelt died of cerebral haemorrhage. These are deaths which could be thought of mostly in line with ordinary citizens, not sitting presidents. But, fate has a way of twisting world evens such that what we often choose to believe, we might as well not believe at all.
Bingu is the latest of state presidents who have died in office preceded by Malam Bacai Sanha of Guinea. Since the beginning of this century, the world has lost twenty-five heads of state and that seems set to defy any conventional prediction about who is not supposed to die at some point in time.
Amidst all this, the most relevant centre of attention – at least in Malawi – should be where we were, where we are and where we are likely to be, as a people, as a nation that was once the centre of world attention because of peculiar decisions made by our former head of state.
The Mutharika administration committed atrocities which, of course, we should not constantly remind ourselves of. Yet, there seems to be enough reason to do so. Malawi was plunged in terrible economic crises which were engineered by an economic engineer single-handedly. Cases of governance flaws and human rights abuses were not uncommon. It was shock after shock until at a certain point, we almost ceased to talk.
Now, the reject of the Mutharika administration has risen to the top-most position in Malawi. After undergoing a traumatising moment in her political career, Joyce Banda has been uplifted by fate to occupy the State House. She is the princess a few might have thought would one day be crowned, especially that it was the nature of Malawi politics for those who deserved the presidency to be systematically thrust into the periphery of opportunities.
We expect so much from Joyce Banda much as we know that she is not some divine entity who can turn rotten things around in the twinkling of the eye. Of course, we will give her time, but there are things that we expect her to realign the soonest. A few of them she has already undertaken, and we wait with baited breaths for some other reforms.
But, what JB should avoid is the predictable appeasement policy that is bound to leave her spoilt for choices. We can never rule out the possibility of a government where ‘friends’ will not miss out, but that should not go to the extent of overindulgence.
Let us also look at the other side of JB’s rise to superiority. There are those who would want the president to move into the future with hope, leaving behind all frustrations and vengeful wishes. There even are those who would want the president to make sure the course of justice is exacted to its fullest on all offenders. That should, of course, be the case: vengeance and justice have very little in common, except that there is room for punishment in both.
Take events that have been and continue happening on the political scene in this country. The former ruling party has its future cast in dark shadows of hopelessness. Its most crucial members are leaving it like rats deserting a sinking ship. That is when it becomes clear that political allies should not be admired.
For those that are leaving the Democratic Progressive Party – a party that has seldom been known to be democratic or progressive – two strands of thoughts are in their minds: they must join the risen reject so as to avoid prosecution, or to consolidate their socio-economic positions. But, Malawi seems not ready for either of the two.
Those that were once caught up in the dynamics of clandestine businesses because they thought they were immune to prosecution, must face the long arm of the law. That is what we expect to be the starting point as long as healing the wounds this nation sustained in the aggressive rule of the previous administration is concerned.
Malawi can only be healed through a thorough process of justice. Malawians will only rest if thieves and murderers are arrested. We must know where things went wrong and how they should be corrected. Of course, we have a long way to go, but that is the more reason we have to start off early.