Some Malawians are joining Politics for the wrong reasons

The 20th May general elections of Malawi consisted of three major political families all vying for the seat of the presidency. On one side there were the Mutharikas, on the other side there were the Muluzis and somewhere in the other corner were the Bandas. Distinctly different from this family centric crowd and very much an outsider was  Lazarus Chakwera and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

The three political parties, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the United Democratic From (UDF), and the Peoples Party (PP) all promised prosperity for the people of Malawi. However, the structure of Malawian political parties looks increasingly to be made up of political families who are chosen because of affiliation rather than merit. This sort of political selection leaves questions as to the credibility of some of the politicians, because a good number of them are only employed because their relatives hold senior positions in and around the executive.

Politicians are like modern-day pastors in that the prevailing ideology has entrusted them with a job which in theory can be likened to bringing salvation to the people of the world. Politics is about bringing change for countries and helping those that are helpless and living in abject poverty. Whether for good or ill, Politics has also been about ensuring that those who hold power and resources, get to keep that power, and those resources. But all good Politicians have to be patriotic, strong-willed, selfless, truthful and compassionate in the face of global societal problems. Michael Ignatieff , Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice at Harvard’s Kennedy School writes,

All the best reasons for going into politics never really change: the desire for glory and fame and the chance to do something that really matters, that will make life better for a lot of people. You have to be one of those people with outsized, even laughable ambition, who want their convictions to mean something more than smart conversation at dinner tables. You have to have a sense of vocation, a belief that something must be done and that you’re the person to do it.

The problem we have with Malawian politicians is that most of them never had a calling to become politician. Most of them just became politicians because of circumstances and opportunities that came their way. Most of all, some people in Malawi take politics as a means to an end of all their financial problems. Some Malawian politicians think more of the perks that come with the job than the job they were entrusted with by the electorate – who are always seeking the right individuals to govern them. Further, most of our politicians who are in power or in the opposition parties are usually handed the opportunity to become a politician on a silver platter.

hand-634689_640In an article titled ‘Barack Obama: how an unkown senator became president of USA‘, Robert McGuigan Burns details how Obama from an early age at Harvard embodied leadership qualities. An excerpt from the article describing Obama’s early achievement at Harvard University and how he turned down a high-paying job to work with the community.

After finishing High School he would study at Columbia University in New York before later going to gain a law degree from Harvard University. It was at Harvard that, somewhat portentously, Obama became the first African American President of the Harvard Review. Moreover, Obama’s co-workers, notably John Owens, were already noting Obama’s presence and power early in his career. In a Boston Globe article from 1990, Owens described: “…this guy (Obama) sounds like he’s president of the country already…” (Matchan, 1990). Obama chose to decline a high paying corporate law job in favour of a small civil rights firm and continue his work in the community, later entering politics (Bacon, 2005: pp 60).

In contrast to our politicians, how many Malawian politicians have such backgrounds where they dedicate years of their lives to work with the community from an early age? How many Malawian politicians can claim to have turned down a life-changing opportunity to work with people for a meagre salary? To understand the needs of those at the bottom. To build an informed picture of what the country truly needs?

Let us talk of our current president Peter Mutharika. Professor Mutharika worked at the prestigious Washington University for about 40 years where he was a professor at law. One of the colleagues at the Washington University had this to say about Professor Mutharika when they heard he was involved in politics in Malawi,

“I guess what’s surprising is he was a quiet man in class,” said attorney John Kozyak, one of Mutharika’s first law students at Washington University in 1971, and now a friend. “So it was surprising to me a couple of years ago when I was looking on the news and saw that he had thousands of people come out to rallies for him and he was dressed in some sort of (ceremonial) garb. I never saw him in anything other than a black or gray or blue suit. I never thought of him as a real African politician.”

Indeed Mutharika today is the president of Malawi at 74 years of age. Peter Mutharika was drummed up to be the leader of DPP through his brother’s presidency. I would strongly argue that had Bingu Wa Mutharika, Peter’s brother had failed to win the 2004 general elections, It is highly doubtful whether Peter Mutharika would have seen the light of day as President of Malawi. The argument is that Peter Mutharika became a politician by chance. Primarily because his brother was handpicked as UDF’s candidate, and subsequently became the president of Malawi. Peter Mutharika did not join politics of his own conviction and drive. I don’t believe that for the 40 years that he was in the USA he at any point seriously planned to become a politician in Malawi at the age of 65. If he did, then the evidence is nowhere to be seen. No political articles written, no evidence of serious participation in Malawian or other political Pan African organisations in the diaspora. Nothing.

A similar scenario applies to Atupele Muluzi whose father Bakili Muluzi was the first democratically elected president of Malawi in 1995. The young Muluzi, having little political experience in the form of a parliamentary seat, came out of nowhere, to head the United Democratic Front, when there were other senior individuals with substantially more experience, and who had been in the party for many years, some since its inception in 1992. This incident splintered the party, and saw the exit of some bigwigs, the likes of Brown Mpinganjira. Others claimed Atupele would be used as a puppet by his father Bakili, who Malawians will remember failed to change the constitution of Malawi to allow him to serve for a third presidential term. The senior Muluzi rejected this allegation.

Similarly, the current member of parliament for Zomba Malosa  Roy Kachale Banda, whose mother Joyce Banda took over the reins of power after Bingu Wa Mutharika’s sudden death, arguably joined politics only because his mother became president. It’s probable that his parliamentary campaign was financed by funds which only became available due to his mother’s elevated profile. In any case, Joyce Banda has been active in politics since 1999, winning the same Zomba Malosa constituency Roy now represents. Why didn’t Roy join politics earlier?

There have been several other examples.

Therefore, it is not rash to conclude that a considerable number of individuals that join politics in Malawi, do it for the wrong reasons. If a member of a family joins politics, it is common that cousins, sons, daughters, uncles or aunts, all suddenly have the conviction to help serve in an official capacity, under the totally convenient pretext that they want to ‘develop the country together with their relative’ who happens to be in power. Consequently, these become helpers, assistants and other officials around the corridors of power. And while one may argue that if the rules or constitution does not explicitly prohibit employment of  family or relatives then it shouldn’t be a problem, but what about a conflict of interests? What does it say of our politics? Further, when Malawi has suffered from tribalism and neopatrimonialism for many years, how justifiable is such behaviour?

cardsI believe that political and leadership skills in general are skills that either have to be learned, and or have to be honed over the years of someone’s life. One cannot just wake up one day and decide to become a politician. The awakening of politicians usually happens earlier in life where one decides to dedicate his/her life to help others through politics. It is delusional if not dangerous for anyone to consider themselves a politician just because a father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, aunt or uncle has or had a position in the government at some point.

As things stand in Malawi at the moment, cronyism is the biggest recruiter of politicians, when it should have been patriotism and a desire to improve people’s lives inspiring selfless individuals to be a part of change. This is why political parties in Malawi are run as if they are family entities, complete with wedding receptions of relatives at State House almost every year.

DPP has had two Mutharikas at the helm. UDF has had two Muluzi’s at the helm. AFORD has had two Chihanas at the helm and we are yet to see the next leader of PP after Joyce Banda. My guess is he or she will be dynastically linked to Joyce Banda. Even MCP in John Tembo had a leader who was arguably connected by a dynastic ‘family’ tie to Dr Kamuzu Banda via Cecilia Kadzamira.

However this is not to argue that one cannot become a politician when a relative or family member has been in top government positions. The intentions are the issue here. My argument lies in the manner in which politically affiliated individuals ascend to roles of power when their lives previously had nothing to do with politics.

(Edited by S Nkhwazi)

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Leadership: of standards and calibre

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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 :-)]:

leadersip

[For those who do not know who some of the above personalities were, I’ll helpfully provide some profiles (external links):  [Oliver Tambo; Jakaya Kikwete Julius Nyerere; Albert Lithuli]

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.

Reshaping the African Politician – Nick Wright

reshaping-african-leaderIn my quest to find progressive views and forward-thinking ideas which if embraced could potentially improve Malawi’s economic situation, I found myself interviewing Sir Edward Clay, the former British Ambassador to Kenya, whose interview will be posted on this website soon. He spoke about some very interesting things, including introducing me to another individual, a  British historian in the form of Nick Wright, who has spent several years in Africa, including some time in Malawi. It is my pleasure to share with the readership of  this website his insightful observations:-

1. You’ve had some exposure to Malawi and Africa in general… if you were to summarise your experiences, what has been your African experience?

My wife spent several years as a physiotherapist in Mulago Hospital, [in] Kampala. We had several Ugandan friends from that experience. After leaving our jobs in Australia, we enrolled in the (British) Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO): I as teacher of English in Chimwankhunda Community Day Secondary School in Blantyre, Malawi; she as physiotherapist at Malawi Against Polio (MAP), also in Blantyre. We were there for two happy years. I became interested in Malawian politics at that time and started as Malawi correspondent for the London-based Africa Confidential. Journalism of this sort continued for several years after our departure from Malawi in 2001 and obliged me to make several return visits to Malawi in order to conduct interviews. I met the leaders of all major Malawian political parties and the heads of some government departments, foreign embassies, aid-agencies, newspapers and business enterprises.

2. Most of the African countries in which you spent time in gained their independence around early to mid-1960’s. And at the time, Pan-Africanism was probably at its peak, with a freedom fervour sweeping across the continent, something that can probably be compared to what we recently witnessed in North Africa with the so-called ‘Arab spring’; It’s now close to 50 years since those ‘glorious days’, but to what extent in your view have the goals or overarching expectations of ‘independence’ conceptualised by the founding fathers of African countries been realised for the majority of their citizens?

Nkrumah’s pan-African ideal of the 1960s was never adopted because arrogant African presidents, like Hastings Banda, were (and still are) too attached to the trappings of a threadbare sovereignty to be able to surrender all the flags, palaces, UN flummery, and motorcades. I think the Western powers had an interest in divide and rule, too.

I once wrote an article which mourned the collapse of the East African Federation for just such reasons: “Central Africa’s Sovereign Issues”. Regional federations, as stepping-stones to wider unions, make good sense for Africa – especially for land-locked, resource-poor, Malawi – and they must not be allowed to remain the modern taboo that Kamuzu Banda made them.
This is another example, I’m afraid, of too much power in the hands of Presidents who scorn institutions like Parliament, the Judiciary; the printed media; the Civil Service, the Constitution which are set up to be their “checks and balances”. Presidents are told by everybody around them (until they are toppled) that they are God Almighty, and they come to believe it. Only Nyerere came close to the ideal of a model, modest, president, and his modesty was treated with contempt by the others

I developed a healthy respect and liking for individual Malawians but a very strong feeling that Western aid policies were failing Malawi badly. Why? Because: (1)they fed complacency, idleness, irresponsibility and corruption within the Malawian elites; (2)they fed arrogance amongst the expatriate community who were forever in the company of grateful and respectful poor people; (3)they created passivity and feelings of helplessness in ordinary Malawian people, including those in government who had their responsibilities taken away from them. Whilst being aware of the many individual benefits brought to poor Malawians by individual aid- projects, I felt that the real beneficiaries of aid-money in Malawi were: (1)state-presidents and their family members, friends, and hangers-on; (2)the staff of a multitude of NGOs and aid-agencies, and (3)expatriate consultants expensively employed by DFID, the EU, the UN etc to write expert reports. Bingu wa Mutharika was on the right track with his angry denunciations of Western aid but his protestation was undermined by his own lavish personal spending and his grotesque toleration of corruption. How can a person who makes all the decisions in Malawi and whose immediately previous experience was in minibus driving and in the corrupt bureaucracy of COMESA(Bingu) or small business (Muluzi), be trusted to act solely in the public interest of Malawi? Bakili Muluzi was more likeable as a man than Bingu but identical in his failure to distinguish between personal and public.

3. And if such goals and expectations have largely not been met, what are the main reasons as to why they have not been met?

Far too much unchecked power is in the hands of individual Malawians, especially the President, because of the “Big Man” [similar link here] culture which prevails in the country and the weakness of public institutions. The independent national newspapers, like The Nation, do a reasonable investigative job but are easily intimidated by threats to their advertising revenues and by their own lack of resources; the MBC public broadcaster is entirely under government control and biased in favour of government; the Malawian churches retain a sporadic consciousness of their responsibility as “public conscience” of Malawi but are often distracted by their own factionalism. The Parliamentary committees occasionally exercise oversight on public spending but only when in session and they are often starved of vital evidence by government departments and tend to divide on party-lines. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is widely considered to be only for “small-fry” financial criminality, and firmly under presidential control where corruption itself is often centred. Western embassies, (individually and collectively), sometimes exercise a restraining hand on the presidency through their aid-policies, but their staffs are usually too comfortably entrenched in their own luxurious lifestyles, and too suspicious of each other and of China, to risk serious confrontation with the president. The Executive arm of government (effectively the President) is overwhelmingly powerful in Malawi, and this patrimonial model of government filters down to all levels of administration. “L’etat c’est moi”

4. While there has been visible progress in some parts of Africa, when one travels in other parts, especially the rural areas, the story of suffering is the same. If it’s not wars and ethnic violence, then it’s disease and poor healthcare, or famine and hunger, else it’s lack of resources, poverty, corruption…the list goes on.  After over 50 years of foreign intervention and billions of dollars in aid, what in your view is preventing Africa from getting its act together?

Aid is ruining Malawians’ self-respect and their natural honesty and capacity for hard work. Its gradual removal will cause as much consternation in Western donor capitals (“What will Bob Geldof say about all the hungry people?”) as it will in some of the poorest households of Malawi (“See how our politicians can’t provide “Development”). But it is a “bullet” that must be “bitten” for the greater long-term good of Malawi. The Fertiliser Subsidy (FISP) which absorbs most of the agricultural budget has become a millstone around the neck of Malawi’s agricultural development.

The subject of overseas aid is a very important one and for the reasons explained above. Why should the presidency take note of competing institutions when the Executive is virtually guaranteed free money from overseas? Why should government departments do their jobs properly when overseas experts with university degrees in International Development seem to know all the answers? Why should Presidents feel the necessity of proper financial accountability?

All aid should be phased out. The endless tinkering between “good” and “bad” aid will not do for Malawi any more. It is ALL bad! If its abolition means the collapse of Western-style democracy in Malawi, then let it go. It will return in a different, better, African, form!

5. One of the problems that has been cited as holding back the growth of African economies is the relatively low levels of Venture capital investment into Africa, when compared for example with the Venture capital investment that has been flowing into Asia or South America. Do you agree?

Venture capital is largely absent from Malawi, except in uranium-mining at Kayelekera, and in tourism (i.e where Malawian control and profit-taking is minimal)

Nick Wright has worked in the History Department at Adelaide University (1975-1991) and for Africa Confidential as its Malawi correspondent (2003-2010).

Other Articles by Nick Wright:

 

Global 100 Voices: No 5

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My next guest describes himself as the proprietor of a recently opened media company(AGM Media).The company offers photography, audio and video services, amongst other services. He’s also undertaking International studies with the Open University. Mr MKOTAMA KATENGA-KAUNDA, thank you for doing the 100 Voices Interview!

  1. As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?

It is important because as a human being, one always aspires to have a better life for one self and his/her family. Socio-economic stability gives a better chance for someone with a dream to have a better quality life in a developing country.

    2. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain? In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?

It is really difficult to pinpoint any visible progress Malawi has made since independence. It is the same scenario of ‘the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’. It is sad that Malawi has not developed as it should have because the majority of visible structures in our country were built by Kamuzu Banda about twenty-plus years ago. It has been 19 years since we became a democratic country and not much has really changed in Malawi. In my view, I fail to register any visible progress that Malawi has made since independence because we have destroyed the very foundation which our nation once built (electricity and water supply is erratic, refuse collection is non-existent, our postal services are inefficient, Malawian-owned industries have been sold off etc). The most pressing challenge is ‘corruption’ at all levels of society in Malawi. For things to change, the government, starting with the executive, need to be exemplary by being tough on corruption at all levels in society. If the government is serious about such issues, then it is inevitable that citizens will follow suit.

  3. As someone who lived(or has lived) outside Malawi for some time, and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what symbols of development in the foreign country in which you lived have had the greatest impact on you, and why?

I lived in the UK for 12 years and there are a lot of symbols of development in the UK that have had the greatest impact on me. My view is that, anybody that works hard in the UK has the chance to live life above the poverty line. Their social welfare is admirable in that it manages to help those citizens who are unemployed, homeless, sick and disabled etc. The roads, universities, transnational corporations, manufacturing industries and many more are all symbols of development that are prevalent in the UK. These symbols of development have had the greatest impact on me simply because my country of origin, Malawi, is lagging behind as one of the poorest countries in the world.

   4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?

As this is a globalised world, a lot of Malawians have travelled and are still travelling. When we travel, it broadens our horizons and whatever we see in developed countries, always inspires us that we can also develop to the level of western countries. The lesson to be learnt is that as a nation, we should be resilient and ambitious with our developmental plans, because it is possible for third world nations to become developed nations. We should study and analyse those countries that have developed and try to figure out where we have gone wrong to strengthen our weaknesses on our path to development.

   5. When you last returned to Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development since the last time you left?

I think the most clear sign of improvement that struck me was the number of better cars in Malawi.

   6. What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?

The biggest sign of stagnation was corruption because everywhere i went, people preferred to do things through the back door.

frgl7. Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a new president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges? And specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of creating sustainable development and foreign reducing aid dependency?

The biggest challenge Malawi has, is that we are dependent on foreign exchange for economic stability. As we approach the elections, Malawi needs an innovative leader that’s ready to initiate an ambitious blueprint to try to become self-sufficient. Malawi needs a frugal, transparent and incorruptible leader who is willing to make sacrifices for the future of our nation. This means that we need to utilise all our natural resources in a meaningful way where we get full returns that in turn spark developmental pathways for our nation.

   8. As you know, Tobacco is Malawi’s biggest source of export revenue. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?

Malawi’s alternatives to acquiring foreign revenue apart from Tobacco, is through natural resources. We have uranium in the northern region which is a sought after mineral in nuclear energy physics. Lake Malawi is rumoured to have gas and oil deposits underneath its seabed, which is believed to have caused tension between Malawi and Tanzania. However if the prospect is true, the returns from natural resources are always rewarding to countries with natural resources.

   9. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, most recently when  Bingu Wa Mutharika was president, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?

The only way to progress from such a relationship is by becoming self-sufficient. Countries like Malawi are in a vicious cycle where they have become used to being dependants of the IMF and the World Bank. To come out of the reach of the IMF or the World Bank, Malawi needs to utilise its natural resources by channelling monetary gains into improving our social welfare.

   10. We know that Malawi has some precious minerals, including uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the present government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?

The present government’s management of natural resources is poor. Rumours were rife in the previous administration that they signed a weak contract with Paladin an Australian company that was given concessions to mine uranium in Malawi. The current government has also kept the nation in the dark about the contract and no one really knows whether Malawi is gaining from it or not.

   11. In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better?

Yes, the government can do better by becoming transparent in its dealings with foreign companies that are given concessions to extract minerals from Malawi. Contracts should be negotiated for the benefit of the nation and not for just a select elite few. There is need for our government to realise that natural resources are for the benefit of all the people of the country, and not just for the leaders in the executive.

12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?

The answer is to have a strong constitution without any loopholes, a constitution that punishes anyone in contempt of the law. There is also a need to separate the police from the state so they can work independently without government interferences.

   13. Any famous words?

Running a government is very serious business – Bakili Muluzi

 100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi.

Wait, Cross: Limits of democratic process

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It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” said Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. Irrespective of whether this profound quote is authentic and genuinely the wise words of the renown polymath, essentially it boils down to one thing: the notion that being receptive to other people’s views and opinions is a mark of education; a tolerance of another’s way of looking at a situation, facts, another’s opinions (or life in general) irrespective of your own opinions.

In a democratic society, this notion inevitably introduces an element of  conflict, which in parliament necessitates a call to a vote to decide which opinion (or groups of opinions) over matters of importance must be translated into policy, law and what have you.

However, while some of the opinions may be backed by some evidence,  the process itself is somewhat flawed as it arguably proceeds on a number of assumptions. Firstly there is the assumption that a  large (or at least considerable) percentage of the inhabitants of a land (country, jurisdiction, etc) agree on a particular course of action, when in reality they may not. Unless a referendum (which itself may not always provide the complete picture) is called, the reality may in fact be that the majority of the inhabitants (if we include those eligible to vote who didn’t bother to turn up in such a referendum) prefer an alternative course of action.

Secondly this process  is heavily reliant on the popular opinion or sentiment (which itself may not be well-informed, or accurately quantified). For example, how many people in the countries that have waged war against another can we realistically say have fully supported their politicians mandate to solicit approval from their country’s parliament to wage war, even when the basis for doing so was somewhat questionable (see more here), shaky or controversial (see more here – “The real reason for Iraq war” via The Guardian).

Finally, this process may be influenced by propaganda, which essentially is a tool for drumming up support (both informed and uninformed), irrespective of the ethical or moral implications surrounding the cause or core issue in question.

For example,a few years ago, the British government decided to increase the school fees that Universities are allowed to charge to home students. The inquiry into the issue can be traced back to the government of John Major, but eventually it resulted in Tuition fees increases in subsequent governments. But it was only recently that the House of Commons passed a bill allowing Universities to charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees. Inevitably, there have been demonstrations  in response [see more here, here and here], with tens of thousands of students taking to the streets. In one of these demonstrations taking place in London, up to 50,000 marched onto the capital. The issue of contention was simple. It was too expensive an expense, especially for poorer families to bear, even though the ‘debt’ would only begin to be paid once the students began to earn a sizeable salary. Then there were those who cited the poor job market, where thousands upon thousands of graduates find themselves being out of work for years after they graduate. They questioned whether increasing school fees wasn’t a gamble too high and risky to bet peoples lives (and future) on.

One really doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the validity of those views.  To me, the big questions are (i) Was there an alternative to increasing the fees exponentially, in the current financial climate? (ii) Was it a democratic exercise, in other words, if it were put across to a referendum, would the British people have voted in favour of increasing school fees? Or would the government’s plans be defeated? That’s besides the question as to why it wasn’t put across for a referendum in the very first place considering it is the children ( and families) of the voters who would ultimately be affected. Isn’t that the whole purpose of a democracy, for all to have a voice, or at least a say in how a country gets governed? Ok, there is a cost aspect of referenda that has to be taken into account, but in a world where polls are conducted everywhere from the high street  and outside schools to using bank cash machines, supermarket credit card machines and via online, surely it wouldn’t be that troublesome an exercise to undertake ‘referenda’ that use such channels (in addition to the historical polling stations) and are therefore slightly more accurate than those administered at polling station only. This would be especially possible in this age where fingerprinting technology is somewhat accessible. Similar things can be said about the ‘EU  referendum‘ issue that has currently gripped British politics

In Malawi, the new government of Joyce Banda once in office decided to devalue the Kwacha (the Malawian currency), in order to lure back donors into Malawi, who had withdrawn their support when the previous president refused to devalue the currency, leading to devastating effects. While countries such as China, whose currency is also artificially maintained, have resisted pressure to devalue their currencies, the new president claimed to have had no choice but to devalue the currency by 50%. All well and good, the petrol returned, the forex reappeared, but the prices of commodities doubled (and in certain cases tripled). Arguably the decision to devalue wasn’t a democratic process in that there doesn’t appear to have been a concerted effort to find another way. Who was consulted? Over what and for how long? Okay, it is fair to say that when a country is in a deep financial crisis, and there are shortages, decisions have to be taken quickly, but at what expense? In any case, medicines in hospitals are still lacking , in fact hospitals have been called ‘waiting rooms of death’, and most poor people cannot afford private healthcare.  And that’s before you take a look at the other problems plaguing the country.

More importantly, there is currently no transparency regarding the donations the government receives from Foreign donors, leaving the door wide open for mismanagement, fraud and corruption. There appears to be no independent auditing of the funds government receives from donors or other well-wishers, no accessible online portal, such as this ( see more examples here, here and here), that lists to the penny (or in this case tambala) where each of the money received in donations has gone. No wonder then some members of government have been accused (again and again) of corruption and mismanagement of state funds. But how can such be proved or disproved, when there is no transparent accountability systems in place which ordinary citizens can freely access or query?

So, essentially, a democratic process is being used to deprive Malawians of the money that has been donated to help them. And this is not new. During Dr Kamuzu Banda’s years, it was said that Banda’s estate ranged from real estate and agriculture concerns to investments in both local and foreign companies and off-shore accounts, and in 1999 was estimated to be worth $319 million (See here: BBC link). According to a blog that goes by the name Malawileaks, a lot of the funds are still unaccounted for. (other links on Banda here and here[Britannica Concise Encyclopedia])

Thus, it is probably fair to say that some of the money was in fact money that was made from institutions that belonged to Malawians. Yet even during such time, political manipulation ensured that it never got anywhere near its destination. Dr Banda wasn’t a private individual in the same way as say Aliko Dangote is, fully immersed in undertaking his own business interests whose money is separate from public coffers. Was it possible to distinctly demarcate the country’s money — which belonged to Malawi (and Malawians) as being distinctly separate from the money that belonged to him personally? Could it be proved that none of the donations Malawi received in the 30 years Dr Banda was in power, from outside donors, never found its way into his personal bank accounts? Arguably, Malawi was under a dictatorship, but does it then follow that the financial malpractice which could have occurred or had been committed during those years should simply be forgotten? Any possible fraud set aside, buried, primarily because of the iron fisted regime the man ruled Malawi with? Is that good enough? Isn’t that the same thing as saying it is possible to get away with crime in certain cases, if the crime  — which in this case is against the whole country, and fundamentally of higher importance — was committed years ago?

Looking at Malawi’s current budget deficit, shouldn’t the present government open an investigation into how Dr Banda made his money, and whether all of it was made in the honest course of business? Or  whether for example public contracts were awarded to Press Corporation, which could also have been awarded to other companies at the time, and therefore gave Press corporation an unfair advantage over other traders? Whether money donated to the country of Malawi was loaned to Press without following the due process and such like?

What about during the government of Muluzi, or Mutharika, what has happened to all the corruption cases (another here via Al Jazeera) that were opened to investigate anomalies or one accusation after another? If those have not been concluded, or are being frustrated by delays and other bottlenecks, why should anyone think the malpractice and financial mismanagement that is allegedly taking place in the current government will be investigated? Or even resolved? Doesn’t that show a weak (or at least powerless) judiciary? And a lack of will from the president, and her advisers?

Or is there something else going on that ordinary folk like us haven’t quite locked onto?