Why President Lazarus Chakwera shouldn’t have visited former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika

The Christmas holiday season is a strange time. One where friends, families, acquaintances and others who don’t fall into any of these categories meet to catch up, for food, celebration, for worship and generally for festivities. Suddenly, far removed from the ordinary day to day preoccupations most of us are usually accustomed to the other 11 months of the year, the petty-dislikes, by December many of us begin to plan for Christmas. Where we’ll spend the day, with whom, and for how long: we begin buying presents, buying gifts for the children, close friends and family, our choice of Christmas cards (even for those who we’re only obligated to do so), we begin planning the feast that is the Christmas meal/dinner, complete with all manner of indulgences from expensive drinks we don’t usually buy to calorie-rich desserts that do no justice to our health. It happens everywhere, even in countries where Christianity is not a big deal

President Lazarus Chakwera & the first lady meeting the former president and former first lady.

And so it was no great surprise seeing President Lazarus Chakwera and the first lady stop by Mangochi to visit the former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika and his wife.

However, Malawian are divided as to whether the visit was a smart move, and there has been a lot of harsh words on social media as to whether the visit should even have taken place. There are some hailing the visit as a sign of leadership and of building unity. But others think in terms of preserving the integrity of the presidency and giving out the right messages, the visit wasn’t a smart move.

As a private person, Lazarus Chakwera has the right to visit who he likes, when he likes, and at a place of his choice. But as the President of Malawi, I believe those personal liberties are constricted by the office of the presidency, and need to be exercised a lot more cautiously.

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The above picture is a beautiful picture of two leaders spending some time together, but I think the concern for most Malawians is that any interactions between Lazarus Chakwera and Peter Mutharika should not influence due legal process, or give the wrong signals to those in charge of discharging that due legal process.

There is also the idea that a President who won the country’s support on the back of the noble and overdue anti-corruption ideal “of cleaning up the rubble” to quote Chakwera’s own words should not associate with a former president who is either facing an impending investigation, or whose very close associates are facing corruption / embezzlement charges. And refusing to associate with a former leader whose colleagues are under investigation is not tantamount to punishment. Instead it’s saying that the Presidency should be above disrepute, and so any associations that can potentially tarnish that Office must be avoided.

That’s the reason why some of us were very angry with what some South Africans were suggesting regarding who smuggled the controversial self-proclaimed ‘prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri out of South Africa.

In any case, now you have a man of integrity in President Lazarus Chakwera – by any measure an honest and conscientious leader. But what happens the day Malawi somehow gets a dishonest and rogue leader; a tinkerer who after such a visit to a former president starts insinuating without proof that the former leader is in fact innocent? Or starts casting doubts or throwing aspersions on the legal process, or interfering in any impending investigation? What happens if at a different time and in different circumstances a Malawian leader indulges in behaviour – much like what the outgoing US president Donald Trump has often done in the US – to try to undermine Malawi’s institutions and legal process?

That’s when Malawians will realise that it’s not a great idea for a sitting president to be chummy with someone who has a grey cloud over their head, or in Mutharika’s case – someone who presided over the monumental racketeering of state resources, embezzlement of government funds and wholesale corruption like never seen before in Malawi.

Protesters in Lilongwe against nonpayment of salaries by the Malawian Government

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Civil Servants Demonstrations in Lilongwe – Image via Malawi Breaking News

We’ve just received reports that civil servants have gathered in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi to protest against the government’s decision to send them home early for the Christmas holidays without pay. According to reports, some civil servants have not been paid for two months (November let alone December). If this is widespread, the Christmas holidays may be a very hard time for some.

It seems the actions of donors to withhold budgetary aid are having a serious and far-reaching effects on the operations of the Malawi government, in that not only is the Malawi Kwacha continuing to slip against the dollar, but  while the president continues to travel around the globe, her government has now found itself in a difficult position where it cannot afford to pay its own employees??

This is interesting because, just a few days ago, someone in Malawi informed me that this was going to happen. Further, I was told that the 60% increase of civil servant salaries promised by the government here (see another report here), and for which Joyce Banda received a lot of acclaim, press attention and media coverage, has in fact not been effected??

Further, we are also hearing reports that the government has rescinded a promise to loan civil servants fertiliser, to a current position whereby a civil servant can only receive 2 bags on loan.

Again, we need to verify these reports carefully, but it seems there was an agreement / promise in place that stipulated that as long as a civil servant produced proof that they were into farming, evidence of land and how much they were investing, they were going to be loaned as many bags of fertiliser as they needed.