“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right” Oprah Winfrey
Our friends from the Orient have their own unique way of naming years. They have the Year of the Dragon, the Year of the Tiger…they even have the Year of the Rat, Rabbit and Snake and the good old Ox! The Horse and Sheep also do not miss out on the action! Wow!
I am not sure if we were Chinese how we could have named the Year of Our Lord 2014…the Year of the Goat, the Chicken?
But let me hazard a guess…2014 should have been the Year of the Hyena!
Yes, it is my considered view that that might have been the right animal for us to name 2014 after.
Why the ‘Year of the Hyena’? Look, while kalulu the hare is depicted as a clever animal in many of our folktales, the hyena in many a folklore the world over is depicted as symbolising anything that is bad and silly. In fact in the Mtwara Region of Tanzania, it is believed that a child born at night while a hyena is crying – some say laughing – will likely grow up to be a thief. The Muckraker does not believe that, of course!
In Middle Eastern literature and folklore, the hyena is a typical symbol of treachery and stupidity. You see now, Africa is not the only place that sees the hyena in descipicable terms.
I grew up knowing the hyena as a cowardly animal, feasting on rotten game left by other cleverer animals. In my village hyenas would hit a goat kraal here and there but, unlike the lion and the leopard, we were not cultured to fear the hyena.
Such is how lowly the hyena is viewed.
This view of the hyena, I must confess, is not evidence-based. Neither is it scientific. It is just how people over the years have believed the hyena to be. The truth may be different but, for the purposes of today’s discussion, let us see the hyena in that uncomplimentary light.
So how does the Year of Our Lord 2014 begin to be the ‘Year of the Hyena’?
Look, 2014 was an election year, the year Malawi was supposed to define its destiny. We had three – make it four if you are generous –political groupings that had a realistic chance to lead this journey.
First, the People’s Party got into power by an accident of fate. If Bingu wa Mutharika had not succumbed to a malfunctioning heart during those ‘three mad days in April’ Joyce Banda could not have become president in 2012. She could have waited for 2014 to prove her mettle.
In 2014, Peter Mutharika could have been the candidate to beat for he could have been the ruling party’s candidate. But if Bingu had lived that long the DPP could have been so damaged that Peter could have been mice-meat at the polls. We all know the precipice Bingu was taking the nation to.
So the elections could have been for Joyce Banda and Lazarus Chakwera of the MCP to lose. Atupele Muluzi’s ‘Agenda for Change’ could not have been felt that much because the strong southern vote could have been realistically split between the PP and the DPP.
But Bingu’s death ironically gifted the DPP a new lease of life. As an orphaned party, the DPP was guaranteed a sympathy vote. And ‘cashgate’ that unravelled on Joyce Banda’s watch did not help her case either.
Although Ama was not directly fingered in ‘cashgate’, the fact that the systematic plunder of government resources happened on her watch damaged her.
So the game was thrown wide open – Joyce Banda versus Peter Mutharika versus Lazarus Chakwera.
While Banda and Mutharika could not escape the political sins of the past 20 years, Chakwera was a fresh-faced guy, straight from the pulpit complete with grace and righteousness.
But politics is not about grace and righteousness. Strength in numbers is supreme in such close contests.
So Malawians were given a choice to choose among Ama, Peter and Abusa. Atupele was not a real factor if truth be told.
Ordinarily Chakwera was a safe choice because he was untainted with the grime of corruption of the 20 years of democracy. But then Malawians still go into the polling booths with tribes and regions of origin at the back of their mind.
And the MCP did a bad job about weaning itself as a party of the Centre. That did it in.
Ama, too, could not make the most of the incumbency factor. Aside ‘cashgate’, her gender in a paternalistic society where women must play second fiddle to men did not help her.
The fact that she shared the southern vote with her main challenger, Mutharika, and the eastern one with the young Muluzi, sealed her fate.
So the mathematics worked for Peter Mutharika, the reluctant candidate whose very abhorrent name was supposed to have worked against him in a normal society.
But Malawi has never been a normal society. Look, Bakili Muluzi defied the odds to win the 1994 elections despite being the least educated and most vilified of those he competed with. Some naughty chaps revived his long forgotten 1960s criminal case but, that notwithstanding, we proudly said, ‘wakuba yemweyo’.
Bingu, too, could never have been president if Malawians cared about candidates’ past. The economist-turned-politician messed up at Comesa in Lusaka and a report by Eminent Elders was there for all to see but we still voted for him just because Muluzi told us to do so.
And, again, the younger Mutharika should never have been anywhere near national power owing to his dismal performance when his brother nepotistically placed him in Education, Justice and Foreign Affairs. But just because our tribal/regional politics, he scraped through.
Coming back to the Year of the Hyena, the DPP should have been the least-favoured party if Malawi were a normal country. Here was a party that ran our development partners out of town because of the arrogance of its eccentric leader. Here was a party that made us sleep for hours on end outside service stations looking for that all-important liquid.
Here was a party that almost made Malawi a failed state on the highway to Mogadishu.
But, like the Israelites of old who cried ‘better the slavery of Egypt’ when things got tough on their way to the ‘Promised Land’, we returned the party that made our life hell back to power.
Like the hyena in many a folktale, the DPP took advantage of the PP ‘cashgate’ mess and the fact that the MCP failed to grow itself out of the Central Region.
But, like the hyena, the DPP is failing to stamp its authority on the country. Everything is falling apart and nobody seems to be in control. Like the hyena in my village, when the powers that be speak we are not sure whether they are laughing or crying.
Just look at the flip-flopping that has gone down in the past few months. We are like kids in a science lab in junior secondary school experimenting which colour water may turn to when mixed with which chemical.
I hope in 2015 the DPP will wake up and realise the hyena politics it has practised in the past seven months has made us all look stupid and dumb like the spotted animal. I hope the DPP will make 2015 the Year of the Hare, at least that is one clever animal whose antics we should strive to emulate as a nation.
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