Lazarus Chakwera Elected 6th President of Malawi

Malawi’s Opposition Leader who is the leader of the Malawi Congress Party, Dr Lazarus Chakwera has been elected as President of the Republic of Malawi, on a ticket which included UTM leader and Vice President Dr Saulos Chilima as running mate. Taking 58.57% of the vote, Chakwera and Chilima’s Tonse Alliance took over 2.6 million votes out of the 4.4 million casted votes in what is a historic election in Africa. 

The vote was a re-run ordered by the country’s Constitutional Court, following a disputed May 2019 election that was annulled because of widespread systemic irregularities, and mishandling of the election by the country’s Electoral Commission – which had declared incumbent Peter Mutharika winner in the 2019 disputed poll. Mutharika, who has been in power since 2014, won 38% of the 2019 discredited vote, while Chakwera and Chilima won 35% and 20% respectively.

Chakwera will be Malawi’s 6th President, and the first from the opposition Malawi Congress Party in nearly 30 years.

Chakwera’s victory was given impetus mainly by the votes which his running mate Dr Saulos Chilima brought to the Tonse Alliance (which included nine other opposition parties and figures such as former Preident Dr Joyce Banda) which boosted Chakwera’s figures significantly to achieve and surpass the required 50% +1.

Malawi’s courts changed the interpretation of the definition of a “majoritiy” in it’s constitution earlier this year, such that a leader is only lawfully elected as president if they get at least 50% +1 of the vote, instead of the first-past-the-post that was used in previous elections.

Chakwera’s victory brings to an end many months of demostrations against Peter Mutharika’s DPP government, which has been accused of tribalism, corruption and significant mismanagement of the country’s economy.

Dr Chakwera and Dr Chilima will be sworn in today, Sunday 28th June 2020, in Lilongwe, Malawi’s Capital.

Should Malawi’s next Cabinet reflect the country’s demographics?

So you’ve managed to get the May 2019 Presidential election results nullified. Great! And since February the 3rd of this year, your beloved Malawi, the beautiful country which you love has become a shinning star, the gold-standard in judicial independence anywhere in the world.

Fantastic news!

Media outlets everywhere are praising you, Africans are congratulating you, everyone who knows you are Malawian talks positively about the developments in your country in terms of free and fair elections and an independent and competent judiciary. You feel proud. Fabulous!

Look! The FT has called the Constitutional Court decision… a victory for African democracy’. (Yes, the same Financial Times with revenues of $500 million). Favourable publicity doesn’t get any better than this, does it? All great, all wonderful stuff.

But let’s not get too excited too quickly here. Let’s not celebrate too much … yet. Ask any honest person who follows politics in Malawi, and they will tell you that while the victory against the fraudulent enterprise that is the Malawi Electoral Commission is one important victory battle in a war of many battles, there is unfinished business and on-going tussles that must be won in order to to clean up the structural rot in Malawi’s public bodies.

As Professor Danwood Chirwa put it here in his brilliant analysis whose intro was “The rearguard action has begun“, some people will fight tooth and nail to resist any meaningful change.

For example, there are Malawians who still think it is okay for a president or a government minister to decide which contractors should be awarded lucrative government contracts?? Then, there is the matter of public appointments; why should the heads of statutory corporations or parastatals still be appointed by the president, under a system that is definitely not merit-based – see [1], [2] for reference?  What about the boards of statutory corporations, shouldn’t their composition also be merit-based, and shouldn’t they be appointed by an independent body? What about public sector reforms. Didn’t the commission heading the initiative say the lack of political will was the reasons why bringing in the reforms had failed, with the UNDP comenting that: “Reforms call for transformation of organisational structures, a merit-based public service, transparent processes and procedures for improved service delivery.” (source: ‘Reforms on deathbed’, Rex Chikoko, The Nation)?

“Reforms call for transformation of organisational structures, a merit-based public service, transparent processes and procedures for improved service delivery.”

There is also the issue of the independence of the graft-busting body – the Anti-corruption Bureau (which in the past has been accused of being partial and having factions controlled by the executive); there is the matter of the independence of the police (who have at times used violence and acted shamefully against Malawians as if they were merely an unruly mob of the ruling party – see [3],[4]); there is the issue of the taxpayer-funded MBC, and how biased and unprofessional it is – see [5],[6]); there is the issue of political advisers, party honchos, strategists and other minions (some who like to call themselves “ana a daddy”) amassing fortunes and large amounts of unexplained wealth…

I could go on and on, and on.

And then there is the issue of the make-up of the Cabinet (which in past administrations, not only Peter Mutharika’s administration, has not reflected the country’s demographics). Wouldn’t it be fit and proper if Malawi’s next Cabinet more accurately reflected the country’s demographics, and was more than just a reflection of the president’s inner circle, party loyalists, cronies and tribal buddies?

Shouldn’t such be a given, that in a 21st century young democracy, one with (unfortunately) deep seated tribal allegiances, we should have a Cabinet that reflects the country’s ethnic make-up?

In any case, how are we to get rid of tribalism, cronyism, regionalism and nepotism in public office in Malawi, if we ignore the problem, and certain ethnic groups continue to be favored whereas other ethnic groups are sidelined and discriminated against when it comes to ministerial appointments, or more generally public appointments? You can’t say you have a genuine interest to get rid of tribalism, cronyism, regionalism and nepotism, but fill your cabinet positions, parastatals and board posts largely with yes-men, people from your village, chiefs, cronies from your region, members of your enthnic cultural association, and family members galore. That can’t possibly be right! Those state bodies can’t possibly excel.

If Malawians are going to fully capitalize on the Constitutional Court’s decision, and clean up the country’s many ills and failings (let’s be honest, there are many) for the benefit of every Malawian, then important undertakings like public appointments, cabinet positions and ambassadorial/ foreign mission postings must not be rewards for patronage or loyalty, but must be transparent merit-based exercises which reflect the country’s demographics and in the best interest of all Malawians.

Won an election in an African country? Build a Prison.

You will need it. There are that many idiots you will have to lock away.

And it’s not sensationalist to say that the first duty of any leader of an African country should be to build a prison. A very big one.

To give you an example, a few days ago we were told that Muhammadu Buhari has just won Nigeria’s presidential election, and that sometime in May he will be inaugurated to lead Africa’s largest economy and most populous country.

So, the question is what difference will he make?

You’d be forgiven if you thought not much because Nigeria has been hit by so many scandals lately it’s insane to expect one government to sort out all the mess within a short space of time. And without some radical policies.

Still, there’s reason to be optimistic. According to one Ignatius C. Olisemeka who served among various diplomatic roles as an ambassador to the US for Buhari’s first administration, writing on Vanguard here, Buhari is a man who is deeply religious, lacks bitterness, is incorruptible and is a

.. patriotic Nigerian devoid of any trace of ethnicism and parochialism.

Sounds great right?

But Nigeria faces some extraordinary challenges. And it’s doubtful in my view whether merely being a disciplinarian uncle – in the absence of an extraordinary plan to get things moving – will do much to help. Needless to say I hope I am wrong.

Olisemeka does a good job in listing a good number of these challenges that typify many parts of Africa beyond Nigeria :-
The nation’s sense of indiscipline and disorder is evident and all pervasive even in very simple things and matters of the day and moment. A road-side mechanic claims to be an Engineer (Engr) and insists on being so styled. A traditional herbalist insists he must be called and respected as a professional medical Doctor (Dr) and, indeed, hugs the appellation. An ordinary traditional village community leader who flamboyantly styles himself a Chief and clownishly attired in a self-designed robe, is addressed not only as “Your Highness”, but takes offence if he is not properly addressed as “Your Royal Highness”.
… Pages of our national newspapers are replete with lavishly self-serving advertisements of obituaries, weddings and birthday celebrations. Why not severely tax those who place these wasteful advertisements to rake in and release funds to charities or other good causes such as sporting and educational development of the country.
… confident young ladies on our television sets in order to make themselves more attractive and acceptable, bleach their skin to pale sickening white, with their veins thinly exposed; their bare knuckles and elbows still looking jet black. They should be reassigned to the back room offices, decorated with mirrors, left to rue their new look which has become an eyesore to many viewers. Our television channels have suddenly become a babel and cacophony of crude and embarrassing noise makers, reflecting the values of a sick society, drunk with democratic excesses.
Honorary degrees are sold, bought and conferred on undeserving personalities by many of our Universities and these personalities shamelessly parade them at will. A few prominent church leaders have relocated their pulpits from their churches to the seats of secular power while a number of Imams have not been able to teach their adherents the purity of their religion which preaches respect for human lives.Our youths need impeccable high level connections before gaining employment at any level, both decent or menial. Impunity freely reigns in the land more than ever before. The temples of justice are daily being desecrated. The Lady now has her eyes wide open; seductively beckoning and soliciting for favours….

And those democratic excesses being refered to here are just the icing. According to one Joachim MacEbong, writing on African Arguments here, the downfall of Goodluck Jonathan had as much to do with his own shortcomings as with external factors against which he didn’t do enough. MacEbong summarises the issues as follows:

Having received a strong mandate, Jonathan proceeded to fritter it away on issues like a proposal for a single term of 6 years and a badly-handled public debate over the removal of fuel subsidies, which culminated in Occupy Nigeria. As scandal after scandal came to light without any decisive action, and Boko Haram escalated its activities, Jonathan came to be viewed as being soft on corruption and security, which made a Buhari presidency much more appealing. When you add a flailing economy to the mix, the discontent was there to be tapped

So the same corrupt system Jonathan and his predecessors failed to eradicate is the same one which Buhari will encounter. The same Boko Haram, now twined with the middle-eastern thugs that are laying claim to a caliphate and who are calling themselves IS, ISIL and ISIS is the same group Buhari has to contend with. The shocking Youth unemployment (credible estimates range from 23% to 54%) and associated crimes haven’t gone away just yet, and the armed militia running roughshod across the Niger delta – groups who have been responsible for the loss of billions in illegal sales of Nigeria’s oil every month – are still very much on the loose, free to continue their havoc on Nigeria’s economy.  The tribal conflicts between tribes, and religious intolerance between Christians and Muslims are still very much around – it’s probably only a matter of time before the next church or mosque is torched.

The problems don’t end there. Remember this report by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), titled  Nigeria’s renewal: Delivering inclusive growth in Africa’s largest economy and published in July 2014, in which we were told what a huge opportunity Nigeria presents to investors? Well, that report also mentions that Nigeria averaged a GDP growth of 1.5 percent a year under military rule ( between 1983–99) – the same time period Buhari had his first stint as country leader. It further states that:

In rural areas, 53 percent of the population lives below the poverty line due to low farm output, poor access to markets, and a rising population that is leading to cultivation of smaller plots …Recent reforms in agriculture are promising, but the scale of challenges is vast, and it may take many years for farm incomes to rise substantially.

However what is probably most worrying, besides the fact that Nigeria remains in the bottom 25% of most corrupt countries according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is this next fact:

… poverty rates have remained high and stagnant. On metrics of human health such as child mortality, Nigeria falls far short of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, and it has under-invested in education and infrastructure.

Under-investment in Education and Infrastructure means you have a long way to go to turn around your economy because your institutions can’t just produce quality graduates at the stroke of a presidential decree. And putting in place the necessary infrastructure to kickstart your economy will also take time.

So uncle’s work is cut out. And that’s before we even begin talking of illicit financial outflows.

But what these problems also show is that a little leaven is leavening the whole lump.

You may say look Sangwani, this happens in all poor countries, these people are messing things up because of poverty and corruption they see; that it’s because of the tribal alienation that has left large parts of the north underdeveloped, which forces them to seek political power by hook or crook.

You may have a point, I’m not dismissing other causative factors.

My contention is that a leader can’t address the real issues when there is lawlessness  (if not continuous sabotage) in the form of endemic corruption, terrorists, militia groups and white-collar criminals.

Before there is even any talk of progress, the task of cleaning up will inevitably entail prosecuting those who are spoiling the broth. If nothing is gained from such an exercise, at least a breathing space may be found that allows the leader to squarely face the real issues (security, job creation, healthcare, the economy) without constant disturbance from issues which fuel detractors.

So, it can’t possibly be sensationalist to suggest that the first duty of any newly elected leader of an African country should be to either build a  new prison or ensure one exists that can accommodate as many of those who must be behind bars.

Such an exercise will create jobs (imagine the number of jobs you could create if your budget had $20 billion more each year) It will instill a sense of discipline, and could even attract investment?

I’ll end with another quote from Olisemeka’s article:

The immediate challenge before him [Buhari], I feel convinced, is how to curb the excesses of the teaming mass of followers who, undoubtedly, adore him. The next, is to rein in the display of empty, hollow pompousness and offensive arrogance by a few of his elitist, lazy patronage-seeking associates; who, if victorious, will flock to him without discrimination