This article was written by journalist Kandani Ngwira back in 2012.
By Kandani Ngwira
I had developed an almost obdurate revulsion of politics in the country owing to the bigotry with which the administration suppressed free speech and criticism.
Criticism of the government is looked at with oblique glances of suspicion. Critics are looked at as enemies so that the art of critiquing became a futile exercise.
But, thank God, sanity prevailed albeit by way of a deus ex machina intervention when death struck at the heart of executive arrogance through Bingu wa Mutharika’s sudden demise – may his soul rest in eternal peace.
Since the Joyce Banda administration took over the reins of power, a number of interesting events have taken place and have, once again, rekindled my interest in political matters. I, therefore, wish to once again fetch my needle and thread and return to the tattered body of my country that has for long been lying on the operating table awaiting to be sewn back to life, hence this article.
APM and AAM represent everything wrong with our politics
My poisoned harpoon is aimed at Peter Arthur Mutharika and Atupele Austin Muluzi. These two, in my view, represent and epitomise everything that is wrong and farcical about our politics and democracy.
This is why. They are both beneficiaries of previous leaders who, not content at having ruled the country and plundered its meagre resources with reckless abandon, believed it is now the turn of their kinsmen to plunder, ruin and impoverish us more. They are intent at creating dynasties.
Now, it is not wrong per se for a president to endorse and support his brother’s or son’s nomination as a presidential candidate to succeed them. It has happened before with George H. Bush and George W. Bush in America.
However, in this case the initiative was not with the predecessor (Bush Snr.), rather the aspirant and the voters. As such, Bush Jnr. was a leader in his own right; he went through transparent Republican primaries and competed against other competent aspirants to emerge the winner.
But in the Malawian scenario, things are different. The initiative is neither with the aspirants themselves nor voters but their God Father relatives. They are all products of God-father-politics that has corroded our politics.
Beneficiaries of God-father Politics
The late Bingu wa Mutharika anointed his brother Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) as heir-apparent while Bakili Muluzi has promoted his son, Atupele Austin Muluzi (AAM).
This has been done at a huge cost to both parties as the decisions have been met with resistance from within the parties and without. However, the late Mutharika and Muluzi ably implemented their crude succession plans because they are the God-fathers of the two parties.
The God-father is the founder and sponsor of the party. It means whatever decision they make, unpopular or not, it goes through whether others like it or not.
For the DPP, this view has been supported by all political harlots who have moved from DPP to PP. They have confessed that, in the DPP, whatever the late Bingu said was law. Little wonder, his brother ascended to power without any hurdles.
As for Bakili Muluzi, his God-father whims started way back. The only time he was challenged was in 2003 when the Third Term bid failed to go through in Parliament although it had already been accepted within his party.
Later on he went on to impose Bingu on his party to very disastrous results.
This time around, being the self-styled political engineer he is, he has manoeuvred for his son, Atupele, to be the torch-bearer of the party in 2014.
This means the ascendancy to power of Peter and Atupele has not come through a transparent and legitimate process, let alone through the mandate of the people in the party. They are in those positions by virtue of the blood connections with the powerful people in the parties they represent.
The problem with using kinsmanship/dynasty arrangement as a criterion for choosing leadership is that is does not look at competence. Rather, it is predicated on blood ties. It is like chieftaincy which passes through the bloodline of a clan regardless of age or competence. Kindredship in politics reduces the state to chiefdom and the presidency to chieftaincy.
A dynasty only works in a communist state like North Korea where the people are zombies; brain-washed and indoctrinated from a young age that the president’s family is a quasi-divine family entrusted with leadership of the pariah state.
Since 1945 when Kim II-sung rose to power after World War II, he was treated as the living God of the people. When he died in 1994 he was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il who again was succeeded by his youngest son Kim Jong-un early this year. But this is not North Korea. This is a democratic Malawi.
The element of Competence and Incompetence
Any selection of leadership that does not prioritise competency of its candidates is doomed to hire the wrong candidate. The current economic situation requires a serious mind and, as such, we cannot try to experiment when there is a chance to identify a mature and competent leader from the 15 million people in the country.
Both APM and AAM had chances to prove to this country whether they had it in them the competence and temperament to run government affairs when they served as ministers in the DPP and PP governments respectively. They both failed the litmus test. None attempted to turn around the fortunes of this country.
Muntharika, the lawyer, proved the most incompetent minister of the DPP regime. At the height of the protracted academic freedom wrangle between the government and University of Malawi lecturers, Peter was the Minister of Education. But this minister said and did nothing to resolve the wrangle despite the hardships and mental torture the lecturers and students were going through.
A year after it was resolved, the scars of the academic freedom wrangle are still being felt now with a discordant academic calendar that has stretched resources like never before.
APM’s behaviour reminded me of cowardice of an Ostrich which, ironically, is perhaps the biggest oviparous bird around. The Ostrich buries its head in the sand in the face of danger. The Ostrich creates an optical illusion as it believes that if it cannot see the enemy the enemy does not exist.
This tale as a figure of speech is often made in reference to incompetent leaders who think a problem can go away by hiding from it or doing nothing about it.
Peter did literary nothing, apart from hiding himself from the public, wishing the academic freedom wrangle would go away on its own. Some may argue that he was handicapped by the presence of his late brother who was the president and Chancellor of the University.
But this is where he could have proved Malawians wrong. A true leader will act to promote the welfare of the people. A true leader is moved to action by the suffering of the people. Peter should have challenged his brother and show he can stand on his own. That would have endeared him to the people. But, by remaining silent, he proved he does not have the interests/welfare of the people at heart. It proved that he was just an ordinary man who was in government by virtue of his brother’s presidency. He missed the opportunity to demonstrate his leadership qualities.
His leadership credentials are soiled further in that the economic problems Malawi is experiencing at the moment started and were aggravated largely by his late brother’s arrogant government in which he Peter was very much part of. What does he have now that he didn’t have then to solve the problems? Nothing!
It’s like his incompetence knows no boundaries. At the moment Peter is failing to resolve the feud between his late brother’s children and widow Callista Mutharika over property ownership. Instead, he has decided to abdicate from that responsibility and excuse himself on grounds of being busy with politics. How convenient. If someone cannot resolve a petty family issue, can that person handle state affairs? I doubt.
Atupele Muluzi, too, was given opportunity to show his governance credentials as Minister of Economic Planning and Development. I have neither seen nor heard anything tangible emanating from his time in that position. The many youths he claims to identify with and represent are as jobless as they were before. He didn’t create any jobs for them while he had the opportunity to.
His silver-platter upbringing further betrays how fake his campaign mantra is when he claims resonance with the youth in Malawi. Atupele’s resonance and identity with the youth does not go beyond age. He is young, yes at age 34, but does that mean he identifies with the hardships and painful experiences the youth are going through in Malawi? I doubt.
He was brought up in a palace, chauffer driven to and from school and went to an international tertiary institution in UK. The youth in Malawi go to school on foot, walk long distances on empty stomachs, not to mention the mental stress of whether their parents will find the schools fees for their education.
After school, there are no jobs for them apart from working in Asian-owned shops where they get peanuts for salaries. Can some of Atupele’s upbringing appreciate these things? I doubt.
On the political front, it is more surprising that Atupele quit the ministerial position on grounds of being insulted by MP Yusuf Matumula and Vice-President Khumbo Kachali. This is funny because Atupele comes from a family where the father thrives on hauling insults and vulgar words at others.
Muluzi, the father, used to insult fellow politicians with a tongue so sharp he ended up insulting himself. I remember when Malewezi complained of being sidelined and quit UDF, Muluzi described the erstwhile vice-president as being a sick haggard who survived on swallowing 32 tablets every day.
Muluzi also insulted John Tembo, a vitriol that boomeranged on him as DPP manipulated it in derision of Muluzi’s alliance with MCP.
Why didn’t Atupele quit UDF during this period on grounds that its leadership (his father -Atcheya) was insulting people?
When Joyce Banda took the reins of power, Atupele shelved his ‘Agenda for Change’ circus because he had the chance to effect the change he wanted with the new PP government. He argued that it would be prudent to work with PP as a way of sustaining that change.
So why has he decided to quit now? The reason is simple and clear: he has found it tough going. His father once said running government is a serious business. He knew what he was saying as his son has found out just a few months into a ministerial position. Can he be president and run state affairs? I doubt.
Best at dividing parties
These two candidates are responsible for dividing political parties in the country. Arthur Mutharika is responsible for dividing the once mighty DPP. His anointment as heir to his late brother did not sit well with other aspirants such as Joyce Banda and Khumbo Kachali in the party.
When Banda and Kachali protested, they were expelled from the then ruling party and formed the break-away PP which is now the de facto ruling party. These people did not just leave the party on their own but took many with them, leaving the DPP the weakened party it is today.
In similar fashion, Atupele Muluzi’s ascendancy to the position of presidential candidate of the UDF in 2014 has left the party reeling. Atupele, young and inexperienced as he is, bulldozed his way past the experienced hands of George Nga Ntafu and Friday Jumbe, thanks to the father’s money and crooked oratory.
In the run up to the convention, other aspirants shied away as they knew the results would be fixed. Jumbe and company stayed away and have since quit the UDF and formed their own party, the New Labour Party.
In all this, Bakili Muluzi seems to be the major culprit as he does not seem to learn that for the UDF to first lose power it was because of his undemocratic tendencies. He imposed Bingu on the people after being denied the third term. The party got divided as many who did not like the decision joined DPP.
Bingu, having been mentored by Muluzi, did the same by imposing his own brother and, today, the party is almost finished.
Muluzi is at it again this time around. His only advantage has been his money and resources.
From the foregoing, it is clear that God-fatherism and the creation of dynasties have brought more problems to our politics than solutions. Kinsmanship uses convoluted logic in that it does not matter whether one is competent or not; so long as they are family members, then they qualify to become leaders.
It also rests on a false premise that leaders are born and not made. And yet the best leaders around the world have been made out of circumstances of their lived social milieu.
In a nutshell, by ceding to kinsmanship and pandering to tribal affections, as exemplified in the endorsement of these two persons as presidential candidates for their respective parties, the DPP and UDF, purport to imply that in Malawi, and since the dawn of democracy, there have only been the Mutharika and Muluzi families blessed with the gift of producing leaders of this country so much so that the presidency must rotate between members of these two families.
But this, too, is very incorrect.
Campaign sponsored by our stollen taxes
Bakili Muluzi is currently answering corruption charges that he misappropriated K4 billion belonging to Malawians. He has obviously used part of this money suspected to have been stolen to manoeuvre for his son, Atupele.
Similarly before Bingu died, the civil society, surprised at the sudden wealth (K61 billion) the late president had amassed, they asked him to explain how he had amassed so much wealth so suddenly. This is the wealth that his brother Peter was put in charge of.
So when Atupele and Peter swagger around in their petit convoys to rallies, one cannot but feel short-changed that they are spoiling themselves on our fortunes which the two previous leaders plundered while in power.
And that their families, not satisfied by the plunder they did, are using our own on money to prepare these two for another grand scale of personal enrichment of these two families. Can it be so worse?
It is up to Malawians to decide