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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Economic Empowerment

mg2I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I’m not sorry to be the one that spoils the party. Especially this particular party…because while Malawi is currently heated with election campaign fervour, some of the events happening on the ground have caused one part of me to doubt whether much substance will in fact come out of the leadership that will be appointed after the 20 May elections.

Are we really going to see the transformation being excitedly predicted by each party’s honchos? What kind of transformation will we see? Are the parties really going to deliver what they have promised in their manifestos? Weren’t similar promises made during the election campaigns of 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009? To what extent were those promises honoured? So then, what major transformation came out of the administrations who won those elections?

I think no matter who you choose to vote for, it would be wise to be cautious, and carefully examine each candidate on their merits, and what their track records in terms of actual achievements the last 5 – 10 years (not just the last year or two) have been…

Many a times I have waxed lyrical as if on a soapbox about economic empowerment of Africans, and many a time, I have not exactly got through to the right people. Which is okay. The right people are rarely in the right jobs, they are rarely listening.

But this is an issue that has to be addressed sooner or later, otherwise African countries will continue to struggle with poverty and other ills. Donors and foreign corporations will not tackle the issue of empowerment because it’s not always in their best interests, and they are not good at doing so [See this: Between the Elusive and the Illusionary: Donors’ Empowerment Agendas in the Middle East in Perspective – Mariz Tadros].

In Malawi most NGO’s do not have the power, nor are they sufficiently well resourced to influence the establishment of a nationwide empowerment initiatives that have a real chance to make a big enough impact. It’s all down to the government and MP’s, and for what it’s worth one part of me can’t see enough progress being done after the elections. Maybe I’m being unfair and prematurely judgemental, but I’m yet to be convinced whether any of the major parties truly can deliver what they promise. And this is not only because the practicality of what they promise in their manifestos is questionable but also because the vagueness of some of the promises render them useless.

But for those voters who are listening, and concerned, the important questions every Malawian should ask the candidates of the 20 May elections, before voting, are these:

What will they do differently to ensure that Malawians are economically empowered, and not taken advantage of? And why should we trust you?

This is important especially because it is clear to most Malawians that the tenures of the MCP, UDF, DPP and PP governments in the past have established very little for Malawians to show for. While countries like Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mozambique (where there was a debilitating 15 year long civil war) have powered forward with impressive results, Malawi, despite unsustainable blips of progress, is still languishing in the doldrums.

So, what will the candidates who vie for election to Parliament do which hasn’t been done already in the country’s 50-year-old history?

The reason that this question must be answered is that economic empowerment will not occur if the policies the new government institute turn out to be mediocre (like distributing cattle, chickens, houses or shoes) or the same as what has not worked in the past, and if corruption continues to be tolerated. In a country with 15 million people, the presidency would be best advised to think on a much larger scale, than wasting resources on mediocre projects.

Taking a simplistic general view, for people to be innovative and industrious they require one or more of the following:- an income, education, inspiration, tools/ building blocks (trucks, implements & equipment), and power (literally electricity). So, one would think that when a government articulates how they will provide these as part of a wider national transformation strategy, there will be a much higher chance of transforming Malawi than say distributing a million cows to villagers.

But that alone is not enough. Empowerment essentially means giving one power or authority to do something. So I’d like to see factories built, where young people can work, earn an income and develop transferable skills. And those factories, must be majority owned by Malawians, so that the profits made from Malawi stay within Malawi. Further, instead of giving a mining contract or power generation contract to a foreign corporation – which has its own interests, I’d like a government that promises, and implements a national  mining company, or power generation company, which is government owned, and whose profits are reinvested into Malawi.

That is precisely the kind of visionary leadership Malawians should seek and vote for.

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Ahmed Dassu Letter to President Joyce Banda

On Jun 7, 2013, at 2:42 PM, Ahmed Dassu wrote:

 Excellency

 I refer to your response to my request for an audience during your visit to London for the G8 summit, which was “not available. JB,” which appears both intentionally abrupt and unbefitting of your high office and public servant number one!  Therefore I feel it prudent to address in this email the issues I had wished to discuss with you had you granted me the audience, in order to avoid any misrepresentation or misunderstanding.

 That I share a passionate interest in Malawi and its future with my colleagues Edgar and Thom of Nyasa Times, as I do with many other Malawians is widely known.  Arising from this I had expressed to Edgar and Thom some concerns regarding recent political developments and the continued unabated and open corruption in the sector of public procurement, and asked if Nyasa Times would carry an opinion piece by me, expressing these concerns.  Instead both Edgar and Thom suggested that as you were travelling to London soon I should meet you, Excellency, to put across my concerns directly.  This is what prompted me to request an audience with you.

 Turning first to the political scene.  On President Mutharika death, although I had previously expressed deep reservations about your leadership in a TV interview on MTV, I was amongst the first to publicly demand that constitutional order should prevail, and that as Vice-President you should be sworn in as President.  I convinced others to do the same, including a person who had during President Mutharika’s administration been at the forefront of publicly humiliating you and who had publicly demanded press censorship – now a leading office-bearer in your party, the PP. 

 Indeed on your swearing-in as President, in common with a majority of Malawians, I considered this as a Godsend for a new beginning for Malawi; this conviction was further strengthened by the words of wisdom in your inaugural address to the nation – full of promise and hope.

 Sadly, in office instead of being the stateswoman we had all expected you to be, you practise the politics of marginalisation and victimisation based on whether one is perceived to be your supporter or not. Instead of honouring the high expectations we Malawians built up on your assuming office, your Presidency is built and sustained on the foundations of Members of Parliament, now transformed into political prostitutes who who have been induced to defect from their own parties to your party by patronage and corruption , which the high office of President enables you to practise. Given the opportunity I would have pleaded with you, Excellency that it was not too late for you to live up to the high expectations and hope for a new beginning that were aroused on your ascendancy to the highest office in the country.  That you should focus on how Malawians judge you and how they will perceive you in posterity, and be the stateswoman that the world assumes you are instead of the power hungry, corrupt, vindictive woman, engaged in theft of public funds and who will do whatever it takes to remain in power, which is what a majority of Malawians now see you as doing.  What we see is you practising the politics of marginalisation and victimisation, all glitter in orange with no substance where it concerns democracy, accountability and transparency. 

 You are not minded to accept that you were not elected to the high office of President, just as your party was not elected to govern.  It is blatantly obvious that you are subjecting Section 65 to the patronage and corruption to sustain you an unelected President, in office instead of leading Malawi by consensus.  You have followed in the footsteps of President Mutharika and set aside Section 65 by encouraging resort to courts in the usurping of the powers of Parliament. You have condoned and sheltered those ‘political prostitutes’ who have defected to your party. In a parliamentary democracy there can be no more damning indictment.  Sadly the Speaker himself has fallen victim to allowing the usurping of the powers enshrined in the Constitution for Parliament and become a political prostitute himself.

Turning now to the issue of business, I believe that Edgar and Thom had conveyed to you the need for the wiping out of corruption in government procurement so that companies like mine and others which were prejudiced during President Mutharika’a administration could be encouraged to submit competitive tenders for fertilizer and in other areas of government procurement and thereby reduce costs and improve delivery.  

 It may be foolhardy to ask you to recall, so in the light of what has since transpired, so permit me to remind you that as Vice-President you had publicly said that President Mutharika had institutionalised corruption in government procurement of fertilizer and that you would be exposing the corruption. So it was reasonable, your having implied President Mutharika was corruptly awarding government contracts to selective companies, that these companies were guilty accomplices in the corruption of which you accused President Mutharika.  However in office you have proved no less corrupt, in fact even more so, as immediately on assuming office you proceeded to award contracts for the supply of fertilizer to the very same Indian-owned companies, except for a black indigenous Malawian who, because of his tribe and colour, was identified as a supporter of President Mutharika, when in fact he was no more a supporter of Mutharika then were Abdul Master, Apollo or the other Indians who are paying you millions of Dollars in corrupt deals.

 Indeed the vast unexplained assets and resources now at your and your party’s disposal since you assumed office are ample evidence of the high level of corruption in your government.  I go so far as to challenge the very concept of the Supplementary Fertilizer Subsidy Programme as being a manifestation of the unprecedented corrupt practices and an instrument for the bribing of voters with corruptly acquired funds by you. For as if you were cheating children in a kindergarten you cloud your corrupt misdeeds by telling Malawians that “I personally and my friends will fund the fertilizer for the Supplementary Fertilizer Subsidy Programme”. Where will the funds come from? No doubt the public purse that you are busy looting.

 And who are these friends other than those who are awarded the government contracts by you corruptly?

 In conclusion let me add that I know that in writing to you I expose myself to your reknown vindictive nature and possible victimization by you.  But I shall persevere whatever consequences I am made to suffer, for the struggle for a better, democratic, free Malawi, free from the hunger for power of individual politicians like you have turned out to be, is one I have engaged in since 1972.  My commitment to Mother Malawi is for Malawians to judge.  Indeed, I am convinced posterity will judge me a far better citizen of Malawi  than contemporary politicians like you have done.

God Bless Malawi

 Ahmed Dassu

Source: The Oracle