Two days ago I heard something unusual. I was talking to a friend when he informed me that a recent Malawian who not too long ago was working as a junior supervisor at a McDonald fast food restaurant here in Britain, is now a Minister in Joyce Banda’s government. This friend wondered whether there was even a criteria that was used when appointing ministers in Malawi, let alone regular performance reviews to audit their performance, to ensure that they were doing their jobs properly.
“Tandiwuzeni bwana” he said “I hope I’m not being big-headed here, but what does someone who was working in a McDonald’s just yesterday know about public service in a ministerial capacity? Have they had extensive experience in governance, learning about government and public administration, listening to the needs of the people, observing the many dynamics in society, soliciting advice from several stakeholders, making comparisons with what has worked elsewhere – outside Malawi, and produced positive outcomes, what have they done to ensure that the decisions they make will be proportionate, relevant, effectual and not prejudicial?”
I was surprised to hear of this news and told him that maybe there was a good reason as to why this man had been appointed as a minister, but that his analysis was more or less spot on; without being qualified for a particular role, and having the essential experience in public office, logically, it was more likely than not, that this minister would either perform badly in his role, or utterly fail.
“If it had been someone with a proven record, who has got extensive training in governance, and experience in the specific field he will work, on the ground in Malawi, or even abroad, who had studied the environment carefully and had formulated a way of balancing difficult interests, maybe, just maybe you could say okay forget his less than glamorous stint at McDonald’s, this guy has a realistic chance of performing, lets give him the benefit of the doubt and see how he does”
My friend’s words reminded me of a Facebook status I once read [a snapshot of which I kept :-)]:
I couldn’t agree more. Leadership in Africa , and particularly in Malawi is in critical need of a fresh injection of calibre, the quality of leadership is simply not good enough. It leaves a lot to be desired, and in Malawi, the calibre of leadership is appalling.
My friend continued:
“We need a soft dictatorship in Malawi, like the way Paul Kagame is doing. Although I’m not entirely sure of his politics, his style is an example of how to do things. He runs his country like a corporation, with targets and regular performance reviews, whereby if a minister does not meet their targets, they are out, that’s how it must be done, otherwise if there is no incentive, no fear, how will you get lazy buggers from actually doing work?”
I told him that I didn’t know about this, but read somewhere that Kagame got his whole cabinet to read Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid [see one book review here], and that subsequently the country was performing well economically.
“When you speak to insiders at State House in Lilongwe, who do not want to be identified, but who know of the wrongdoing happening, you get to this point of disbelief…I’ve lost Faith in the leadership of Joyce Banda” my friend said “I’ve lost Faith in Peter Mutharika, I have absolutely no faith in Atupele Muluzi, and Chakwera, he’s come too late to the crime scene”
“It will take time” I said. “It will take time for Malawians to learn how not to do things”
I reasoned that my understanding of what is currently happening in Malawi is the classic Kleptocratic story of abuse of power, which has been seen over the ages in various countries, but which is being perpetrated by leaders who should know better.
“You have to be willing to dig into history to understand this.” I said
In Malawi, MCP did it in its time, although then it was a dictatorship, and only a handful of people were corrupt; the Muluzi’s did it en-mass when fate brought leadership to them; the Mutharikas did it to the tune of K61 billion ( £116 million) and now we have a lady who began very well, but who has fallen to the trappings of power, and is surrounded by corrupt wolves, against whom she appears powerless to act decisively to clean up her government’s image.
“Take Muluzi for example” this friend continued ” When he came in power, there was one particular politician who corruptly amassed a fortune, as most other UDF people did at the time. Somehow this guy found himself implicated in a scandal the trail of which the media were following. Guess what they did, UDF got him to confess to claiming too much on expenses. He repaid those fictitious expenses (which were miniscule in comparison to what he had actually embezzled), and then he was advised by insiders within UDF to go and live in the UK for 6 months, for the dust to settle, for people to forget, and after that period, he went back to Malawi, and was given the chairmanship of ESCOM..tell me, as bizarre as that sounds, how does a country develop with such blatant corruption and nepotism?”
I replied that the that the problem with leadership in Malawi is that of ignorance and lack of integrity. Most people in leadership do not understand who a leader is, what a leader does, why they should do things that way, the ramifications of not acting properly.
Also, there is a problem with our judiciary, whereby we have few transparent and incorruptible judges with integrity – but a number who are known to be corrupt; then there is the object of fear in that some people (including journalists) are afraid (to an extent for good reason) of revealing corruption because they will be ‘punished’, including losing their jobs, or face threats to their lives.
The public also have a part to play, most Malawians are ill-informed of what is really happening in the world today. Add to that illiteracy, poverty and a peace-loving predisposition (markedly different to that common in peoples of a gung-ho attitude, some of whom were probably responsible for the revolutions that swept North Africa -in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia), you will neither see a warlord emerge to fight against a corrupt government nor millions take to the streets of the capital to demand change anytime soon. It’s simply not happening…
Further, it seems most forget of the ill-treatment they received under Dr Banda, the rampant corruption under Muluzi, and the debilitating economic struggles they faced during Bingu wa Mutharika’s last days.
Putting aside the issue of what a leadership role will actually involve (e.g. needs of the people, firefighting one crisis or another, pushing agendas, etc.) in my view, Public office in Africa requires someone who has a certain attitude towards their job, life and other people. Someone who has a deep conviction to lead, a Gandhi, a Mandela, a Maathai. These kind of people don’t care whether they drive a Maybach, top of the range Mercedes or not, or whether they own a house in the Bahamas and in New York. They don’t care for material things. That’s why you never ever heard of corruption allegations against Nelson Mandela, or against Ghandi, or against Wangari Maathai. Instead these kinds of leaders care about leaving a real legacy, having a real positive impact (on a large scale) and giving a genuine and honest service to the people they represent; they are at pains at trying to always achieve fairness and equality, utilizing resources for the benefit of all (not just an elite few), they care about truly ending poverty for the benefit of everyone (because they understand the knock-on effect of ending poverty), they want to help the majority (not just their own families) achieve some form of prosperity, on being real and exceptional (as opposed to being two-faced and mediocre), these kind of people care about making life better for others – irrespective of whether those others support the same political party as the leader, or indeed whether those others like their leadership or not. Great leaders are not afraid to disobey the party line, if what the party demands doesn’t fit well with their personal ideology and convictions, or if the party line is clearly unethical or wrong.
To lead and serve in an exemplary fashion as a leader of a country in Africa, one has to think about nothing but service; to abandon their needs and crucify the lusts of the flesh (personal wealth / fortune, fame / popularity); to be willing to punish shady associates who cross the line – setting an example that corruption will not be tolerated. Yes, a leader must be diplomatic and unite factions; treading a thin line in which they attempt to balance mutually exclusive requests while fending off arrows from opponents, but crucially they must also maintain integrity while doing so, and not pay a blind eye to wrongdoing or rampant corruption in top government positions.
In addition, it seems politicians in Malawi have either taken lying to a whole new level– for all sorts of wrong reasons, or have the worst advisers any leader could have. Recently this fiction saw the Malawian president declare her assets to parliament, but the speaker of Parliament refused to make them public, apparently because the constitution is silent on the specific matter. How can anybody criticise the former president for amassing billions but obstruct the process of publicly declaring the assets of the current president? Do they think that the public are that stupid not to know that something is amiss? You’d wonder which leaders they emulate… let them ask themselves whether Wangari Maathai or Mahatma Gandhi would have done what they are doing?
And to make matters worse, most bad leaders have no shame at being exposed as shady, even on the international stage. If Richard Nixon had been a Malawian President, he’d probably have served a full second term, even after Watergate, and would have received a presidential medal afterwards…that’s how low Malawian politics has sunk lately.
Typically, business as usual often goes as follows: tell the donors what they want to hear, make promises to the voters which you have no intention of fulfilling [typically just before elections], travel the world sweet-talking donors and painting a good picture, but at home get in bed with dodgy businessmen/ corporations, receive bribes through your family’s going concerns, concentrate your efforts on staying in power and award contracts (with inflated prices) to non-existent, shady or unexperienced companies in order to embezzle, money from the government…
No thought towards a conflict of interests, or what the long-term implications of your actions ( or the actions of your ministers) will be. Little intention to discipline or disciple those who take the wrong turn. Sometimes one wonders whether some ministers even know what a conflict of interest is??
But the truth always comes out. Lying to voters or the international community(including donors) will not get Malawi or any African country where it needs to be. Greed, lies and corruption can never develop a nation. It never has, it never will.