Uncommon Sense: Sobering reflections on Malawi democracy

In spite of the many failures that our nation is exhibiting, I am grateful that we are in a democratic dispensation with at least some respect for human rights and the rule of law.It is obvious and evident that with the advent of democracy we have opened the door to so many evils such as corruption and greedy politics. However, these aspects of our democracy are lesser evils, with easier solutions than the spectre of the dictatorship that hung above us before.

If it was not for this new democratic dispensation, some unspeakable atrocities would still be committed in the name of the government. If you take the arrest of journalist Golden Matonga on Wednesday for example, I am certain that in the old days, these young people that call themselves political party cadets would have joined the police in harassing him and it is unlikely that he would ever have had the hope of being released from incarceration.

For those that are unfamiliar with the issue, Nation Newspaper journalist Golden Matonga was arrested by the police at the Kamuzu international airport simply for availing himself there to cover the arrival of the European Union delegation that is apparently in the country to present its independent observer report on the May 2019 elections.

If these were the old dictatorship days, Cadets, which then were called youth leaguers and Malawi Young Pioneers and would have been the ones throwing us- the people who dare to criticise and disagree – into the shire to be “food for crocodiles”.

The kind of political sycophancy and bootlicking that these cadets exhibit is pretty much the same. Back then, there was once an MCP lady supporter who went on record that she was ready to pee on the catholic bishops that had written the pastoral letter in 1992!

Today, that same spirit is manifested in police officers that arrest people in an attempt to please political masters. We have Revenue Authority officials that pursue tax laws on political lines and we have many working in government department and parastatals that are doing nothing other than serving the politicians of the day, helping them loot public funds and persecute the opposition.

On social media, the hateful spats between opposing cadets is mostly disgusting. Intellectual discourse is avoided. Yes. We may have come a long way from the dictatorship days of MCP and Kamuzu Banda, but in some ways, we have not really moved at all. Not even an inch.

Nevertheless, the fact that I am able to write this, and I am able to criticise the president and tell him that he is corrupt when he pockets MK145 million from Zambia Karim give me great reason to be thankful of the change that happened in 1994.

The change that happened in 1994 was, however, only a political ideology revolution – if that. What needs to happens now to get rid of the political cadet and the bootlicker mindset is an intellectual revolution. An economic revolution. To be honest, I cannot predict when this will take place.

As I reflect on Malawian Democracy, I cannot help but feel discouraged but how little the distance we have travelled as a nation since the dawn of democracy in 1994. If in this day and age, the police can still arrest a journalist for trying to cover a news item that is clearly of real importance to the country, and if presidents, cabinet ministers and party faithful can still believe that as long as they or their friends are in power then they can get away with corruption and breaking the law, then perhaps the democracy we talk about so much is nothing but a phantom.

As a matter of fact, when we see these incidents of patronage and impunity taking place, it is difficult to even claim that we did achieve a political ideology revolution back in 1994. It seems that perhaps an important underlying foundation of what democratic governance should mean was overlooked or deliberately avoided.  The impunity we see in our political leaders is a symptom of an underlying cancer that is at the heart of our so-called democratic constitution: the powers of the presidency, and the notion that when a president is governing the country, he is doing so in his capacity as president of a party, making that party which he belongs to the “ruling” party.

The political ideology revolution that took place in 1994 left this element of good governance behind. Changes were made to the constitution to ensure the presidency was possible and available to any aspirant, but the accompanying safeguards to ensure that such leadership was conducted with principles of transparency and accountability were overlooked and omitted. As a result, it seems to me, every five years, Malawi votes for a president who then goes on to rule the country for five years as though it is a one-party state: Accountable to no-one, and responsible to no-one.

Furthermore, the powers given to the presidency by the 1994 constitution are almost exactly the same powers that the presidency had during the one-party dictatorship days; meaning that the moment one takes the presidential seat, he has the powers to do whatever he likes. The danger of such powers is that it then opens the door to patronage, as the president is compelled to believe that his first loyalty is to his party and to those that provided him the support- financially or otherwise- for him to achieve the presidency.

This is how we end up with the rich businessmen, especially the so-called Malawians of Asian origin, being given all the lucrative procurement contracts, and being protected from prosecution when they are caught in corruption scandals and other crimes. This is how we end up with party members being more powerful than heads of our governance institutions such as the police and the Anti-corruption Bureau. This is how we end up with top positions in government departments and parastatals corruptly given to party loyalists and party cadets.

It is sobering to consider that Malawian prisons hardly ever have in them these `Malawians of Asian origin. It is as though these people are saints and never break the law. It is ridiculous!

Unfortunately, the nature of our democracy and the serious flaws in our constitution mean that it is unlikely that the current crop of politicians competing for the top seat in will ever really bring about the kind of political about turn that the country needs, for the remedy lies primarily not in trusting the goodness of individuals but in rectifying the system through the constitution.

Nevertheless, I do know that somehow, inevitably, the required change will come. I pray that I am still alive to see that day.

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2 years ago

Sobering reflection indeed! Unfortunately, those who will feel hit very hard, will take this with a pinch of salt because they are blinded by power, corruption as everyone in the DPP is busy making hay while the sun is still shining since they are all aware that the sun will soon set and darkness takes over. They never accept facts and truth. Everyone in DPP knows what the fake president would be happy to hear, and capitalize on that to feed him with lies to soften him into releasing of funds which they pocket. Sadly, Mutharika is too power-drunk to… Read more »

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