Political Party funding in Malawi needs a complete overhaul

Thom Mpinganjira

Politics and money have a cunning way of accentuating the dishonest and desperate aspects of humanity.

I mean, even if Zaccheus – the archetypal taxman of the time, & physically challenged chief tax collector had been a tame, impressionable and honest man, even if he had possessed more than just a few ounces of feigned holiness, his relentless pursuit of other people’s hard earned cash, and his association with politicians, I suspect, might have hidden his amiable senses firmly away.

But if you needed further proof of the pervasive corrosiveness money has on people in politics in more recent times, then the attempted bribery court case involving Thom Mpinganjira (in which he has been found to have a case to answer) presents an excellent example.

Because if Mpinganjira is to be believed, then we have on our hands the latest manifestation of just how vulnerable our politicians in Malawi are to manipulation and influence by moneyed folk.

It’s something we’ve known for a while, and while yesterday it was the Makhumulas, the Mbewes, the Tayubs, the Ganis and a long list of wealthy Asians bankrolling aChair and his UDF, today it’s the Thom Mpinganjiras, the Simbi Phiris, the Mias, the Gaffars, the Batatawalas, the Karims, and the Mullis who play benefactor, or as Malawians like to say “Well wishers”, writing big cheques in donations or loans to keep afloat our Politicians & political parties.

The game fundamentally hasn’t changed. And that’s before we even get to the melee of private companies jostling for political favours from one abiggie or another.

Clearly this is not a sustainable situation, not least because universally it is very well understood that many of those who fund political parties often seek influence or payback in some way, whether directly or in more subtle ways. The loan or “donation” is hardly an innocent transaction.

Indeed there’s no shortage of tales of benefactors of all shades across the world who have tried to exercise influence over the leaders of political parties they finance, in order for those leaders to make decisions that favour the benefactors or their companies. In quite a few places, some cunning benefactors have even managed to land cabinet positions, if rumour of the shenanigans that happen behind closed doors is to be believed.

But what have we learned from this court case so far?

Thom Mpinganjira claims he donated around K100 million to President Lazarus Chakwera, more than K400 million to Vice President Saulos Chilima of UTM and over K950 million to the DPP, under former President Peter Mutharika. He claims that even former President Joyce Banda also received about K40 million.

If these claims are indeed true, and evidence of the transactions is produced to back his claims, it further confirms the fears of people who have for a long time decried the negative role money has played in Malawis politics; that as a nation most of our prominent politicians are still beholden to private interests.

https://twitter.com/onjezani/status/1392508272708669443?s=19

Mind you, this is all just coming out now, and was unknown to most Malawians last year – when the country was busied by street protests & the Constitutional Court (Concort) proceedings that nullified the 2019 “Tipp-Ex” Elections.

Some analysts are now saying these are the funds that were most likely channelled to finance the 2019 Parliamentary and Presidential elections (the aforementioned Tipp-Ex Elections), and the re-run of 2020.

But ultimately, it means in nearly 30 years, Malawi has not made any progress in curtailing the influence that unregulated and undeclared party funding has over our politics. It means we have failed to create transparency so that party funders are known – for accountability and to prevent conflicts of interest further down the line.

Unfortunately for all the fanfare of last year’s ConCort decision, we haven’t made much progress elsewhere.

Had there been sufficient progress in this area, then it’s highly unlikely that Thom Mpinganjira’s FDH bank would have bought Malawi Savings Bank(MSB), with it’s large debtors book, for a pittance. In fact at the time, many keen-eyed political analysts observed in despair the many irregularities surrounding the sale including just how absurdly little opposition the transaction faced, and how some of the debtors on MSB’s books were said to be the very same major financiers of political parties and other politically connected persons.

In light of these revelations, one can see why there was no chance of the MSB deal being scrutinized or facing the required oversight you would expect to take place before such a large and treasured piece of national financial infrastructure was sold, when everyone (including those who were expected to provide scrutiny) was in Mpinganjira’s pockets!

Further, and on a different level, the Bribery court case revelations hint at a present failure of our legislature, in 2020, and now 2021, to establish laws which work to protect the interests of Malawians. In this case, laws that create a fair playing field where merit & qualifications are a stronger determinant in the suitability of a Malawian to stand for public office, than the size of their “well-wisher” wallet.

Simply put, it means you can unfortunately not only buy oligarchical influence in political circles, but you can probably buy your way into parliament in today’s Malawi.

And unfortunately that’s not a good verdict for Lazarus Chakwera’s Tonse Alliance. It certainly does not inspire confidence in the Government, because many people will be asking (and rightly so), that who else has bankrolled our politicians including those in the current Tonse Alliance, who we don’t currently know about, but who we ought to know about?

But how do we solve this longstanding problem? What must be done to move towards a path where political party funding is more transparent and does not negatively influence our politics or create an environment festering with conflicts of interests?

In a future article I will try to explore these questions in more detail with a view to mapping a way to a set of solutions, including highlighting past and present key solutions suggested by others.

As Malawians, this is not an issue we can afford to continue to ignore year after year because it’s costing us. The sooner we begin to address it, the less likely we’ll have these kinds of problems haemorrhaging our politics in the future.

What does a Pro-Malawian Position on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Malawi look like?

  • Listen to this article here

Last week President Chakwera took part in a webinar hosted by Invest Africa. (https://investafrica.com/event/malawi-insights-for-investors-with-his-excellency-lazarus-chakwera-president-of-the-republic-of-malawi/ ). It was a good decision that minimally should show that he is proactive in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Malawi. However, there are some painful lessons from the past that must be learned.

I think as far as Malawians are concerned, one of the main concerns is how the Tonse Alliances policies of President Lazarus Chakwera in regards to attracting Investors will translate into tangibles that will positively benefit and impact people’s lives.

Specifically, people will be interested to know how The Government of Malawi’s (GOM) policy on FDI will affect them in terms of employment, environmental protection and a stake in the national wealth creation, not only for the short term, but in the long –term.

Besides these concerns, Malawians will want to know what level of transparency will be established to safeguard against and prevent the corrupt practices of past administrations whereby influential party cadres illegally benefitted from contracts awarded to foreign companies via backhanders and by charging investors “access fees”.

This means that President Chakwera would be best advised to structure his policies on FDI to focus on Inclusive Prosperity for all Malawians, as has been his theme in many of his speeches, especially now that with the COVID-19 pandemic there sadly are many people who have been laid off work, and whose livelihoods have been disrupted and are uncertain.

Thus, the Tonse Alliance Government must publish its position on FDI, including deliverables and should enshrine into Law Investor Responsibilities towards the Malawian people, including how such will be monitored, and the penalties for failing to abide by such laws. This is important to give confidence to Malawians that the Tonse Alliance, unlike previous administrations is truly serious about creating shared prosperity for all Malawians.

Let us put an end to the days when an investor would come to Malawi, invest a couple of hundred thousand dollars, use low-pay Malawian labour, utilise Malawian roads, and our weak labour laws, to extract raw materials (including minerals), export those raw materials abroad, refine and add value to those exports, then sell them at a large profit to reap tens of millions of dollars from their investment – while the people of Malawi do not benefit proportionally.

I am not against investors making money, far from it. But in a poor country such as Malawi, with so much want and poverty around, the benefit to Investor versus the benefit to Malawi should be proportional and acceptable. It is not right for an investor to walk away from their investment extremely rich, but pay little or no taxes, and critically, leave behind impoverished communities that have not benefitted or been empowered beyond the token gestures (bad roads that soon disintegrate, mediocre school blocks built hurriedly with little thought, no decent hospitals, no decent services, poor infrastructure, no pension plans for former employees, no facilities for children of former employees, etc.).

Another reason why things must change is that unfortunately some investors in Malawi have left behind problems including polluted rivers / lakes/ grounds, deforestation, environmental degradation including soil erosion, sick former employees and suchlike. This is simply unacceptable in the 21st Century and should not be allowed to happen.  

A well thought through legal framework will reduce the likelihood of such omissions happening in the future.

There are some lessons from what countries like Tanzania, Rwanda and Botswana are doing, which Malawi can learn from. There are even lessons from China! For example, Rwandair is owned 51% by the government of Rwanda and 49% by Qatar Airways (See this).   Similarly, Airtel Tanzania is owned 49% by the Government of Tanzania.

These companies contribute millions of dollars to the state coffers of these countries.

So how much more are such resources required for a country such as Malawi, where ~ 70% of the population live in relative poverty? I propose that as much as FDI is desired, and as much as it is needed, the deals that are signed can no longer be about only appeasing the investor with disproportionate ownership stakes, while the people of Malawi who are supposed to own the resources are left with next to nothing. This can’t possibly be right.

You can try and justify investor ownerships stakes of 80%+ or 70%+ of industry in poor countries whichever way you like, but with the current global levels of inequality, such type of disproportionate ownership stakes just don’t cut it.

FDI under the Tonse Alliance Government of President Lazarus Chakwera should be about how to ensure the Malawian people are stakeholders who actually benefit from investments into Malawi. Enough with the rhetoric of the past, right now show us how investment will actually pull people out of poverty.

So Government of Malawi FDI policy should be about protecting the people from the exploitative and corrupt practices of some companies, which leave far too few long-term positive benefits or sustainability in the areas they invest in.

Of course protection of Investor Rights and strong pro-Investor Laws are necessary, even essential to ensure that the private sector flourishes. But there has to be a balance in that equally Strong Labour Laws that protect workers should be established, complemented by Strong Environmental Laws and strong Consumer Protection Laws to ensure that Malawians are treated with dignity, and that there is fairness; to ensure that each investor receives written obligations / responsibilities towards consumers/ people living in the areas which will be affected by the FDI.

It’s not a zero sum game, so both groups can benefit from the investment.

Such a policy position is also important for social cohesion. For example if you go to any township in Malawi today, and ask people what they think about certain companies, you’ll find that some companies (and the senior people who work there) are disliked by large sections of the populations in those areas because those companies are perceived as exploitative and not doing enough to empower the local man on the street. Yet such companies benefit from locals – who buy their goods, or provide cheap labour. Clearly this is not a desirable situation.

So while Malawi is open for business, when an Investor comes to invest, be it into a resource, or to extract a raw material, it should be the Government’s clear position that the company will be expected to establish a development fund, where 10% of the profits must be invested, to develop schools, to build decent housing, hospitals, roads, transportation links, to provide electricity, high speed internet, & to provide scholarships & loans to children in the area including children of employees and former employees. All this must be in black and white, enshrined in the contracts which are signed with each investor. Otherwise there is a real danger, based on past experiences, that verbal promises some investors make will amout to nothing.

What everyone needs to understand is that historically, most investors who come to Malawi walk away having made a lot of money. Our weak laws, poor bargaining, corrupt officials and poor implementation of measures designed to protect against exploitation are the reasons why we have failed to benefit proportionally from the profits that FDI has generated the last 25 years or so.

Thus, if you really want to develop the county, then the state can no longer be a mere passive observer in terms of ownership stakes and management of major industries. Malawi should have a greater stake in industry, so that, as a developing poor country, the proceeds from these interests can help catapult us forward economically.

This means deals of 51% GOM ownership (like Ethiopia and Kenya are now doing), and Botswana has done for a long time, whereby the investor holds no more than 49% of the stake in each major interest / industry / company,  should be standard.

That can still translate into profitable returns of millions of dollars for the Investors. But the difference is that GOM, and Malawians will benefit proportionally than has been the case in the past.

Mind you, these are Malawian resources we are talking about, for Malawians to benefit from. So 51% ownership by GOM by 49% ownership to Investors is quite generous. In my view that is how you create a win-win position.

There will be criticisms to such policies, as has happened in other countries. But such criticism is levied by people who :-

  • are thinking only about themselves
  • do not understand where our country is coming from (and the level of poverty/ want in our villages)
  • believe incorrectly that Africans should be subservient or otherwise in deferment to what Western Capital dictates – including unfair geopolitical neoliberal policy positions on resources, agricultural produce & raw materials.

What the Tonse Alliance Government should do is to communicate to any interested investor that while Malawi is open for business, essentially they will be dealing with a deprived man, who has been taken advantage of and abused for a very long time; who has few resources and who needs every penny from those resources to move forward, to rebuild his ruins and to feed his young.

That deprived man will only do business on his own terms. And with investors who care beyond just about making profits.

Ultimately, there’s always another fairer, more ethical, more responsible, more empathetic and more compassionate investor down the road …

Has the Tonse Alliance Cabinet Declared their Assets?

  • Listen to this article here

When Joyce Banda became president of Malawi, following the death of Bingu Wa Mutharika in 2012, a lot of noise was made by some Malawians regarding Banda’s declaring her assets.

Similarly, when Peter Mutharika was elected President in 2014, Malawians demanded that he declare his assets to the Office of the Director of Public Officers’ Declarations (ODPOD).

So then, now that we have a new government led by MCP and UTM in place, have the Ministers and other officials in the Tonse Alliance Government all declared their assets? And if not, when will they do so?

It’s important that this question is asked, because as President, Lazarus Chakwera said this governement’s ethos includes servant leadership. So it is only right and proper that all members of his cabinet, all MPs and other officials declare their assets. If not for anything else, then at least to inspire confidence and trust from Malawians

Also, who is monitoring and verifying these declarations, to ensure that they are accurate and not over-estimated? Maybe this job shouldn’t be entrusted entirely to ODPOD?

I think, in the interests of promoting public confidence in the new government, and in order to abide by the stipulations of Malawi’s constitution, and in the interests of protecting the country’s resources – so that we do not go back to the failures of the past, it is of the utmost importance that all public officials disclose and declare their assets.

Malawians need to know what assets public officials own, not only in Malawi, but also abroad. What interests including property do they own in foreign countries, and what is the value of those interests. How long have they had them and suchlike?

It is up to Malawians to demand that this is done, and to ensure that the process is honest and transparent. Otherwise you risk the failures of the past where people connected to the presidency or people with links to public officials began to suddenly accumulate so much unexplained wealth, and there was few ways of knowing or verifying whether such was acquired legitimately or not.

Why has President Peter Mutharika of Malawi sacked General Vincent Nundwe?

General Nundwe (video via facebook)

Many people in Malawi are wondering why General Vincent Nundwe has been removed as Commander of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF), and replaced with Major General Peter Andrew Lapken Namathanga.

In an interview, General Nundwe said he was not aware of any wrongdoing that may have led to his removal, but he said it was the president’s prerogative to choose who led the army.

However, in a week where the president has refused to assent to bills that Malawi’s parliament passed a few weeks ago (those relating to the new elections to be held in May this year), and refused to sack the Malawi Electoral Commission commissioners, as recommended by the Public Affairs Committee, and when Mutharika had ordered the MDF to use force against protesters who plan to march to State House on March 25th, Media analysts, Governance experts and Political Scientists are saying the decision to fire Nundwe and his deputy are politically motivated.

My word to my successor is that they should always act according to the law

– General Vincent Nundwe

For those who have not been following politics in Malawi in recent months, General Vincent Nundwe has led the army through a time where it has dutifully and lawfully protected citizens from the lawless aggression of the Malawi police, during the protests which Malawi’s citizens have mounted against the government in recent months, calling for electoral justice against the fraud-marred May 2019 elections (which the Constitutional Court annulled in February due to widespread irregularities).

So Nundwe and the MDF are seen as heroes in Malawi, for their professionalism in protecting citizens and not allowing the MDF to be used as a tyrant’s tool that quashes peaceful protests against the regime – as has been commonly the case in many African countries that are ruled by despots.

Thus, if Nundwe was the preferred soldier’s choice to replace General Griffin Spoon Phri when he got appointed, what changed for Nundwe to be booted out? Did the same soldiers who wanted him in to lead them request the President that there be a change at the top? Did Nundwe do something wrong that was a grave breach of his duties to the constitution and to Malawi, or is Peter Mutharika merely looking for a partisan, compliant and spineless officer to push around, one who will try to force the MDF to do his bidding?

In these uncertain political times in the country, I think Malawians need to know.

And if there are no credible or convincing reasons why Nundwe has been removed, then the next government will have a duty to restore him to his role.

Looking at Peter Mutharika’s recent actions, and considering public anger against his unpopular government, especially in light of the constitutional court decision, the world’s eyes will be watching what the new leadership at the army does, especailly since Malawi is scheduled to hold fresh elections as directed by the Constitutional Court.

Minimally, Malawians will be expecting the army to uphold the constitution, and for the MDF to maintain the same level of professionalism and high standards which Nundwe and others before him presided over. And if not, Malawi will be yet again thrown into political chaos and public unrest. Especially since over the years, Malawi’s army has had a legacy of upholding the constitution, even when people outside Malawi expected otherwise. So a sudden change is likely to irk those who have been protesting against the may 2019 rigged election and will most likely work only to increase the intensity and magnitude of the protests. In 2012 for example, when the then president Bingu Wa Mutharika died, General Odillo, a Bingu appointee moved to uphold the constitution and prevent a coup by Bingu’s cabinet (which included Peter Mutharika), who had at the time conspired to prevent Joyce Banda (Bingu’s estranged Vice president at the time, but rightful second in command) from assuming the presidency, protesters only left the streets after there had been a peaceful and constitutional transition of power.

Other interesting links across the web:

//Product development //

//Young People’s Empowerment//

// Skills Transfer to African youths//

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.

Lucius roasts Malawians

“It is only here in Malawi where people would knowingly vote for a weaker candidate at the expense of the country and a good visionary leader just to stroke their racial, religious, regionalistic and of course political partisan ego.

“A t-shirt or Chitenje can make a Malawian voter forget all the good developmental works one MP did. Why are we this myopic when it comes to making leadership choices?” he wondered.

More here (via Malawi 24)

Why Peter Mutharika’s recent outbursts are evidence confirming he is out of touch with poor Malawians

repudiation2

Last week,  the president of Malawi came out to angrily defend his New York Trip, and justified hiring a private jet (amidst an economic crisis), and taking out a large entourage to the UN, which he said was 106 strong, not 110 as most media outlets had initially reported. Basically, he rubbished the claims as the ones I wrote about here.

Mutharika claimed that many of the people who went with him were either self sponsored, or sponsored by other organisations. He also claims that the hired private jet was used only for the five-hour trip between Lilongwe and Dubai, and not for the entirety of his US Trip, as some media outlets claimed.

Complete with banging of his fist against the table, and language which is definitely not statesmanlike (‘nonsense’ and ‘stupid’ are two of the words the president used), language which is reminiscent of the last days of former president Bingu Wa Mutharika, Peter Mutharika told Malawians that he was already a millionaire when he entered politics, and that he can’t steal from them. He said he hired the jet because he did not want to wait at airports for 10 hours ‘like a fool’. He also called for an apology from those who criticised him, including from Zodiak radio and the Malawi Congress Party.

However many people have been irked by his outbursts, probably more so than the initial transgression, suggesting that his anger shows just out of touch he really is with ordinary Malawians.

And here’s why:-

  • In the interest of transparency why have we not been told the names of all the organisations which funded some of the delegates? Shouldn’t Malawians be told which organisations funded which individuals if what the president is saying is to believable? Further, shouldn’t these organisations tell us exactly why the funded such people, and what benefit that ‘investment ‘ would have for Malawi in the short to long term ? In addition, shouldn’t those organisations who privately funded members of Mutharika’s entourage speak up and justify why they couldnt have used their monies to fund much more pressing issues, such as funding district hospitals for example, which just this August Voice of America reported that they had reduced the meals they gave to patients to one meal a day, from the recommended three. Couldn’t those organisastions instead use the money they had to help employ the recent graduated doctors the government was failing to give jobs to? If the government cannot tell Malawians how many people were paid for by the tax payer, and exactly how many people were privately funded, and which those organisations were, then its difficult to take seriously what Mutharika said during that press conference.
  • Further, if these organisations he talks about cannot justify in black and white their reasons for paying for such a large entourage, and the direct benefits to the country – at such a difficult time for many Malawians, then they too are part of the problem holding Malawi backwards. Because which sane human being goes out to blow $600,000 + on flights and accomodation to New York when there are people who are dying because of lack of medical equipment in the hospitals; equipment which would cost a small fraction of that sum to repair? When we are told that 2.8 million people face hunger due to food shortages caused by the most recent floods? How about the exercise of empathy? The exercise of good judgement, and genuine exemplary leadership….
  • About the private jet, I’ll let someone else do the talking. For some strange reason, Malawian presidents always seem to get into trouble with private jets:
  • Ntata
  • That comment (“no single African leader went to New York on a Commercial Jet ” ) in the president’s speech is simply appalling…. because how many African countries are struggling in the same way that Malawi is suffering? How many African countries have as many shortages, a struggling economy, low poorly paid workers, hunger and high crime rates, how many have a free-falling currency, how many are grappling with a corruption crisis in which at least $2 billion went missing? How many are failing to improve their economies as Malawi is due to all these problems? So if Malawi’s problems are unique in a twisted kind of way, why should our president compare us with others who are flourishing, or at least doing far much better?
  • About the president’s comments of a ‘vicious kind of politics’..One must wonder why the President won’t take positive criticsm, acknowledge his mistakes, and apologise for bad judgement. It’s the president who must apologise to poor Malawians, not Zodiak or MCP…Why would people criticise him if he was doing what was right? It’s not the first time people have criticised a Malawian government or a Malawian leader over excess or bad decisions. From recollection, I remember very well that commentators and the media criticised Bakili Muluzi’s government when they made bad decisions; they criticised Bingu’s government when he erred, and most recently they criticised Joyce Banda – because of her government’s constant mistakes. Why then does Peter Mutharika think he is immune to criticsm?

Malawi needs a leader who is more like Mahatma Ghandi, or Fidel Castro, and not an out of control lover of luxury and pleasure that brings to mind dictators like Benito Mussolini.

Bad & Deceitful Counsel: Malawi’s unutilised advisers

YouthDevelopment2

There’s an old Ghanaian proverb that says When a King has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

This proverb essentially means a leader is defined by the circumstances and people around him. If a King is surrounded by good and honest people, wise men and women of good repute, truly knowledgeable and full of wisdom and grace, it is highly likely that they will provide sound advice to him; it is also highly likely that they will foresee potentially troublesome situations well in advance.

The result will be that the King will make good decisions, and fewer mistakes; the advisers will shine a torch for him, to see where the potholes are, all of which will benefit the people of the land he rules.

On the other hand, if a King’s advisers are unwise, evil or plain bad, if they are more interested in accumulating wives, wealth and personal possessions, and power, their advice is unlikely to be sound or helpful. They are more likely to give that King the wrong kind of advice, and if he listens or implements such bad advice, it is likely that his reign will be disastrous. Indeed many mistakes will be made, and the people of the land will be the ones who will suffer most.

The assumption implicit in these scenarios are that the King does listen to his advisers, since it is possible to have a wise King who happens to have a few bad advisers amongst the majority good ones, but who is strong enough (mentally) to filter out the bad advice he receives, selecting only that which is progressive and helpful for the realm, leaving out the crap.

There are too many examples of sayings or scenarios similar to this proverb throughout history, although a few are worth a mention.

In Genesis chapter 26 verse 26, we are told that Abimelech, the Philistine King went to Beersheba to see Isaac from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. This is one of the earliest mention of the presence of an adviser in the Bible and some scholars say Ahuzzath may have been a  ‘friend’ or ‘minister’ to Abimelech. But whichever way, if you read the story in full, you will see that throughout the period Abimelech lived at peace with Abraham’s son, save for a few minor scuffles between their herdsmen. It’s quite possible that this peaceful co-existence was largely due to the advice the Philistine leader received from his advisers. Indeed many stories in the old testament testify of the eventual downfall of Kings primarily because they listened to the wrong type of advice, ignored the right kind of advice, or sought no advice at all.

For those who disbelieve the Bible, dismissing it as a collection of fairly tales, maybe the influence of Piers Gaveston on Edward II of England will convince you. He was an adviser to Edward II and according to one account here

 Piers Gaveston was a knight’s son who had been Edward’s friend since boyhood. When Edward, still a prince, feuded with important officials in his father’s court, Gaveston was seen as the cause, and was sent to exile. Summoning him home was Edward II’s first royal act. Gaveston was made Earl of Cornwall, but his political fights with the existing nobility would define the rest of his life, which didn’t last long. The nobility, without whose money and prestige and feudal armies Edward could not run the country, forced Gaveston into exile twice more in the next five years. He was never openly attacked for his sexuality, but instead was hated because he gave advice to the king that was no good, and the king should be taking the real nobility’s advice, anyway. In 1311 a committee of aristocrats and bishops imposed a series of Ordinances on the king, which declared that “through bad and deceitful counsel, our lord the king and all his men have everywhere been dishonoured.”

Bad and deceitful counsel. It’s one of many stories but it always ends pretty much the same way.

Although it doesn’t mean that even wise counsellors don’t get it wrong sometimes. In Daniel chapter 2 verse 24, we have Daniel pleading with  the executioner Arioch, who King Nebuchadnezzar had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon (after they failed to interpret his dream) “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”

More recently, during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, despite a somewhat positive and respectable legacy, the US government was involved in so many controversies many of which were the result of bad counsel perpetrated by more than just a few dodgy advisers. Reagan’s White House aide Michael Deaver and national security adviser Robert McFarlane were convicted of various offenses. MacFarlane pleaded guilty in 1988 to four misdemeanors of withholding information from Congress and was sentenced, but later pardoned by George H.W. Bush. Deaver was convicted of perjury for congressional testimony he submitted to a congressional subcommittee and federal grand jury investigating his lobbying activities with administration officials. Then there was Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger who was indicted but later also pardoned by Bush? The question is why didn’t Reagan refuse to authorise all these botched schemes?

At this point let us consider the well-known English idiom Birds of the same feather, flock together, and ask the question under what circumstances will a sensible leader allow people who are unlike him to influence him in some material way in terms of making decisions that have particularly far-reaching implications? After all what do crows (akhwangwala) know about hawks? Isn’t one bird a cowardly scavenger ever pursuing after leftovers, whereas the other is a bird of prey that is not only an able hunter, but belongs to the same group from which the King of the birds come. Shouldn’t there be an exercise of judgement?

But what has all this got to do with Malawi?

Well, these days as I talk to Malawians from all over the world, and read what other progressives are writing about in terms of development and the general climate on the ground in Malawi, I’m left surprised by the sheer number of good ideas they have. From the writing by one Malawian originally from Salima,  to those of another (who is not from Salima, but is nevertheless inspiring), I feel these kinds of ideas should be listened to? In any case, just because someone opposed a certain thing doesn’t mean that what they are advocating is not valid.

On this blog, I’ve purposely chosen to echo some of such views not because I’m sunk in an illusory world of familiar opinion. Instead, I believe that in the right hands, with the right leadership and mechanisms of oversight, with driven effectors, those same ideas these people advocate can help transform our country positively.

I mean take a look at the recent news headlines coming out of Malawi, can you see anything that you can point that has a chance of transforming a country with 14 million people? The Banning of Satchets? Breaking up Escom? Tobacco Sales (the country’s largest source of export revenue) in Lilongwe Suspended again

The news that populates the airwaves is not that of innovative ways of helping young people, or of increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a result of a clean and conducive investment climate. Something which Paul Kagame in Rwanda has strived and just about achieved. No, the news on Malawi news channels is filled with accounts of dubious court cases (some on prosecution of embezzled funds by government officials, and another – a recent one –  in which it is alleged the president is suing a well-known UK-based activist); you hear of a presidential aide who is said to have bought a PhD from some serial con-artist – brilliantly seared here by one Pasteni Mauka (himself said to be a DPP insider in concert with other disgruntled DPP insiders, now turned against the clique running the show at Capital Hill);

As if this is not enough, then you read of charities pitying Malawians and sending them token gestures. And celebrities – all of which also serves to remind us all just how terrible the country’s situation is. Every single day I get about 3 different stories in my inbox, on various charitable efforts happening in Malawi. That’s over a thousand a year! What concrete progress has those efforts achieved all these years, especially in terms of sustainability and ensuring that the recipients stand on their own feet?

Here please allow me to digress: when was the last time you heard that some famous star had gone to Mauritius or to Malaysia to give alms? When did a wife of a billionaire wear a sari, mingling with the women who live in the slums of Mumbai? There are poor people in these countries – just as there are poor people in America, and in England. But such places are not ‘headline grabbing’. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but the fact is you rarely hear of such charitable visits…Instead it’s always a poor African country at the receiving end of do-gooders (most of whom I doub’t know these facts). Most recently it’s increasingly becoming fashionable to go do something charitable in Malawi. Malawi is fast becoming the Oxfam of the continent, if it hasn’t already done so.

It seems it’s easier to give Malawians fish, instead of a fishing rod. Because if you give them a fishing rod, you probably won’t be able to go back in 2 years time and pose for carricatured photos demonstrating your charitable kindness. Photos which you can then put up on Instagram and twitter for all the world to marvel at your fantastic heart.

Then there’s the regionalistic hatred (‘Ntumbuka’ uyu, ‘Mbwenu Mbwenu’…azipita kwawo) spewed shamelessly on the comments of these news sources I refer to … which frankly speaking shouldn’t be authorised on any news site; there are stories of police beating up innocent people – over some lame vendetta. And oh, I almost forgot – a presidential press secretary who writes a memo encouraging government ministries to advertise on a radio station with links to the presidency. And then accuses the radio station of forgery???

And in most of these things one must wonder where Peter Mutharika or his advisers are. Fine, you can’t expect a leader to hold everyone to a leash, but there has to be some ground rules, some responsibility, some direction. And when people screw up at government level -be they advisers or otherwise, they need to face the music. That’s the only way to restore public trust in politics.

So then, next time you meet a King or a leader, remember When a King has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

WHO IS CONTROLLING THE SECOND MUTHARIKA?

puppet-122915_640by Z Allan Ntata.

After almost a year in power, the dust has now settled on the hullabaloo that was the rise of Peter Mutharika to the presidency of the Republic of Malawi. What can now be observed clearly is the familiar Mutharika curse that led to the decline and fall of his late brother’s otherwise purpose-filled presidency.

Anyone familiar with Malawi and the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s presidency will testify to the fact that one of the issues that aroused the anger and disapproval of the late Bingu for many Malawians was his eagerness in allowing himself to be influenced by the Muhlakho wa Alomwe ethnic grouping. The invasion of this grouping into the affairs of state, especially the presidency, led to the kind of cronyism and nepotism that reminded people of Dr Hastings Banda’s days in which the Chewa people had over 90% of the national cake. Such behaviour was certainly one of the reasons that late Bingu’s second term ended on a note of severe controversy.

Peter Mutharika should not be deluded into thinking that Malawians have forgotten the DPP low points; the unjustified authoritarianism, the lack of essential political reforms, the governance challenges, the vain celebrations, and most of all, the Mulhako cronyism.

Although Peter Mutharika seems to have borne in mind that at one point in his late brother’s administration, about half of the cabinet was Lhomwe, he seems to have failed to recognise the danger of trusting too much in one or two confidants without proper justification.

In late Bingu’s administration, we saw at one point that senior cabinet ministers such as Justice Minister Prof. Peter Mutharika, Minister of Education Dr. George Chaponda, Minister of Tourism Anna Kachikho, Gender and Women Affairs Minister Patricia Kaliati, Trade and Industry minister Eunice Kazembe, Minister of Irrigation Richie Muheya, Deputy Finance minister Nihorya, Deputy Lands and Housing Minister T. Gowelo, Deputy Disabilities Minister Felton Mulli, Deputy Information Minister Kingsley Namakhwa, and Deputy Education Minister V. Sajeni were all from the Lhomwe belt.

We also saw that principal Secretaries in key ministries also reflected a pattern that favoured the same Mulhako kinsmen and that within the Executive big institutions were also assigned to Lhomwes. These included ADMARC General Manager Dr. Charles Matabwa, ADMARC Finance Director Foster Mulumbe, ADMARC Head of Administration George Bakuwa, Auction Holdings CEO Evance Matabwa, NFRA boss Edward Sawelengera, Immigration Chief Elvis Thodi, Anti Corruption Bureau Director Alex Nampota, Director of Intelligence Clement Kapalamula, Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito, Chairperson Malawi Electoral Commission, Anastanzia Msosa, Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, Clerk of Parliament Maltilda Katopola, Attorney General Jane Ansah, Secretary to Treasury Randson Madiwa, General Manager Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) Mondiwa, MBC- Director General Patrick Khoza, Reserve Bank Governer Perks Ligoya, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) Commissioner General Lloyd Muhara, Blantyre City Assembly Chief Executive Ted Nandolo and Malawi Savings Bank CEO Joseph Mwanamvekha.

More importantly, late Bingu was controlled to a significant extent by Leston Mulli and the top Mulhako wa Alhomwe brass that included individuals such as Jean Namathanga and Noel Masangwi. These people formed the President’s unofficial advisory council on governance, public appointments and political strategy.
The fact that Malawians are quiet now should not delude the current Mutharika into thinking that Malawians are not noticing that a similar trend has already emerged. Speaking to ministers and government insiders, it is apparent that the country is not really being ruled by Peter Mutharika, but the power behind the power that is a clique of special assistants, bodyguards and certain relatives.

But surely the learned professor of Law knows that Malawians gave a governing mandate to Peter Mutharika, and not to any of his personal assistants, doesn’t he? Does the Professor not know that the ruling mandate was given to him and the DPP on the basis, in part, of his solemn pleas that the DPP had changed and should be forgiven for past mishaps such as the nepotism and cronyism mentioned above? Does he not realise that Malawians expected that the DPP would honour that forgiveness by following a new political path, a different style of political leadership and governance, with appointments based solely on merit and in recognition of the contribution that various individuals have put towards supporting this country and their bid for the presidency?

The simple fact is that as learned as he is, the professor knows these things. The problem appears to be the fact that his administrative powers have been relinquished to his assistants and advisors. This relinquishing of his administrative powers to his personal assistant, and the warmth and cosiness that he is again displaying with the Muhlako old guard is not only disturbing, but may indeed be a cause for worry as to the direction of his presidency, and whether the so-called new and changed DPP was simply such in rhetoric only.

During its two years of exile, many talented and capable young men and women led the DPP push to power. These need to be given an opportunity to now utilise their talents in promoting a national development agenda. It will be an affront to public trust demonstrated in the vote to ignore and overlook these able individuals simply because one or two personal assistants, advisors or even valets (imagine that!) are in control and only their cronies can assist the leadership.

Indeed, it would be useful to remind the President that critics are already waiting in the wings and will soon come out of the woodwork with their pens blazing. It seems to be rather unwise to provide critics with ammunition in the form of competent CVs overlooked on important positions simply because they were not endorsed by one or two personal assistants or that they fall on the wrong side of the ethnic divide.

Furthermore, certain leadership blunders are already becoming evident: The misguided graffiti painting of Lumbadzi police cells, the seriously dubious asset declaration, the suspicious sale of MSB Bank just to name a few. Are these ideas consistent with a supremely learned professor of law with donkey’s years of experience? The answer is probably No- although anything is possible in politics!

How does one identify a puppet? You know you are dealing with a puppet when every time you try to say something to the puppet, the puppet says: Talk to my assistant, the guy pulling the strings.

Given the high intellectual respect with which President Arthur Peter Mutharika is regarded in the country and internationally, perhaps the time has come to ask the question publicly instead of simply joining those asking it in secret: Who really is controlling Peter Mutharika?

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Z. Allan Ntata is a Barrister of Middle Temple, Governance Specialist, Ex-Counsel to the President of Malawi and author of “Trappings of Power”. More details about him can be found on his website