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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saulos Chilima & the Devil

There comes a point in a leader’s life when they have a critical choice over an important matter. The decision they make defines them forever.

Saulos Chilima & wife
© AFP. Saulos Klaus Chilima, accompanied by his wife, Mary, waits to be screened at Lilongwe High Court, where judges later annulled the May 2019 election,Lilongwe, Feb. 3, 2020.(Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

There is a little known African proverb which says Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.

It’s a metaphor which has been interpreted to mean people can achieve great things as a group rather than as individuals even when faced with danger; its the classic proverb meant to encourage collective action against innumerable or otherwise monumental challenges, even when there is danger (symbolised by the crocodile) and an obstacle or uncertainty of large proportions (i.e. the river).

But the metaphor can also be invoked to mean if someone undertakes an action together with a majority, they are unlikely to face the wrath of the masses (symbolised by the crocodile) sometime down the line since when making the decision, the person didn’t think only about themselves but took the decision (i.e. crossing the river) together with the crowd.

However, the kind of ‘crowd’ (and more generally partners) one chooses to mingle or intertwine themselves with when faced with a challenge matters.

While some crowds can elevate you, and propel you to greater heights far beyond your original standing, other partnerships can pull you down or even destroy you altogether (‘feed you to the crocodiles’). Knowing one from the other can be the difference between survival and catastrophe.

Malawi has recently experienced a monumental and historic moment in its democracy. In a landmark judgement, Saulos Klaus Chilima & Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera v Arthur Peter Mutharika & Electoral Commission, a unanimous bench of the High Court of Malawi sitting as a Constitutional Court nullified the country’s May 2019 elections and ordered that fresh elections be held in 150 days. Malawi is the second African country to nullify a presidential election, after Kenya. The court further held that a proper interpretation of section 80(2) of the Constitution of Malawi requires that presidential candidates garner 50% + 1 votes to be duly elected, effectively striking down the first past the post system for presidential elections.

However, now that the Constitutional Court has clarified the 50% +1 issue, it means it will now be difficult for any political party to win an outright majority in an election. It means parties must enter into alliances to be able to form a government, as is the case in many other countries around the world.

Critically, it also means Saulos Chilima and his United Transformation Movement (UTM) party will most likely become the kingmakers. This gives him a lot of influence because it means whoever he decides to work with will have to offer concessions or policy promises which appease the UTM block, which only has 4 MPs in Malawi’s 193 member Parliament.

There has been speculation that Saulos Chilima is open to working wth the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Peter Mutharika, the same party from which he resigned in 2018. In particular, several sources have told me that senior advisers around Chilima think it is feasible and not preposterous for UTM to get into an Alliance with DPP to contest the upcoming fresh elections, which the Constitutional Court ordered should be held within 150 days of its judgement.

Mind you, this is the same DPP which has been called by some Malawians as “our common enemy”. It is the Same DPP which has presided over numerous corruption cases, over accusations of nepotism and cronyism; a government that tried to intimidate those protesting in the streets and labelled them terrorists, shielding police officers when they committed sexual assault and raped women and girls in Msundwe. The DPP government has abandoned our hospitals in Malawi as people die because of inadequate medical care and lack of medicines while party cronies swim in unexplained wealth, and can afford medical attention abroad; this is the party that said nothing regarding an attempted bribery of the judges presiding over the Constitutional Court case – resulting in an unknown magistrate quashing the warrant of arrest of one of the suspects of the bribery (later the warrant was restored by a High Court Judge).

But most of all, the DPP government has presided over a corrupt, rotten and unprofessional electoral body, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) which the Constitutional Court revealed conspired with DPP to defraud the people of Malawi, of a free and fair election.

Is that really the kind of party Chilima now wants to associate, let along re-align with?

When Saulos Chilima left DPP, he insinuated many things about his old party’s excesses. Among the things he said were the following words, which many thought pointed to the rot within DPP. In an interview with Reuters News Agency, Chilima said: “I have been vice president for the last four years. I’ve had no support within to fight corruption, so the best way is to run for the highest office and then take corruption head-on”

I have been vice president for the last four years. I’ve had no support within to fight corruption, so the best way is to run for the highest office and then take corruption head-on

So contrast those words with the murmurs that a UTM – DPP alliance is still on the cards, and it’s easy to see why some of his supporters are livid.

Whether he realises it or not, this is the moment when ‘the dark side’ attempts to coerce an upstanding leader who up until now has made more right moves than wrong ones; this is the moment dark forces attempt to seduce someone into lowering their political standards against their better judgement, with potentially catastrophic consequences; a wanton and reckless decision devoid of any wisdom or forethought, one that would destroy their reputation, including any good fortune, high esteem held or respect the public had of them.

Here, a bit of context is necessary in that most of the people around Chilima have never held political office, either as elected representatives, or by being appointed to an official role besides an elected representative. So you’d think some of the advice they give will at best be taken with a pinch of salt.

But Chilima’s predicament is not unique to him or indeed Malawi. Many other leaders throughout history and in literature have been faced with challenging situations of one type or another.

This is the moment narrated in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, when Jesus no doubt exhausted and hungry from fasting forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, is taken by the devil to a very high mountain and showed all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. The devil says to him in Mathew 4 verse 9: “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” to which Jesus replies: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”

When Geroge W. Bush was president, the unholy cabal of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other hawks convinced the malleable Bush with feeble if not dodgy intelligence that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). A decision to go to war led to the deaths of over 300,000 Iraqi civilians, (500,000+ people according to other estimates[Washington Post]) and forever labelled ‘Dubya’ , as he was nicknamed, as the US president who took the US into a phoney war. Not only did the Iraq War completely destroy large parts of Iraq, but it spurred hatred against the US in the region, and directly led to the rise of extremist groups, including that known as ISIS.

This is the moment Nick Clegg, former leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrats Party made the ultimate political error by allowing the UK’s Conservative Party under David Cameron (with whom the Liberals were in a coalition government, following an election that produced a hung parliament) to overrule his most important policy commitments on University Tuition fees; a mistake so grave it angered his party’s core supporters who punished the Liberal Democrats at the next election (held in 2015); his party’s MPs were fumigated from parliament like rats flushed out of a rat hole. They lost a whopping 49 seats and Clegg resigned as leader!

This is the moment in July 2011 when faced with demonstrations in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Karonga, Bingu Wa Mutharika ordered a crackdown instructing riot police to fire teargas and live bullets in confronting them, leading to the deaths of 18 people. Malawians never forgave Bingu for that one single act.

It is akin to the moment Aung San Suu Kyi, once celebrated internationally as a champion of democracy, ignored widespread allegations of mass murder, rape and forced deportation in Rakhine state in Burma, and did little to act and protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of persecuted Rohingya Muslims, even after a UN fact-finding mission investigated the allegations and found compelling evidence that it said the Burmese army must be investigated for genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.

Malawians have been taken for fools for a long time, and their peaceful nature and hopeful trust in strong-men (“abiggie”), abused by politicians of all colours; the kind who make false promises (“I will turn Malawi into Germany“) that can’t possibly be fulfilled.

But if there is one certain thing the recent protests in Lilongwe and across the country have shown, it is that Malawians will no longer be taken for fools. Going forward, no one will take the people of Malawi for granted anymore: Not donors, not foreign election observers, not local political parties, not local party leaders, not chiefs, not foreign investors, not Chinese investors …. NO ONE!

So, whatever Saulos Klaus Chilima decides to do now, whether to listen to the blue imp perched on his left shoulder whispering falsities into his left ear, or whether to heed the red imp on his right shoulder – the tambala wakuda – he can be certain without a shadow of a doubt of one thing: that the Malawian people are watching his every move. And that what he does next will most-definitely be his legacy that will define him forever.

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.

The International minnows and their minions

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The term Minnow is an English noun used to denote a small freshwater Eurasian fish of the carp family, which typically forms large shoals.  The term has been used (among other definitions) to denote something that is small or insignificant, be it a person or an organization.

And I’m using it as the subject of this article because last week, the Hindustan Times quoted international affairs expert Dr Kanti Bajpai, who is professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School in Singapore, as saying India’s Narendra Modi’s decision not to make an address to the United Nations General Assembly at the 70th session may be interpreted as siding with an Indian school of foreign policy that doesn’t ‘..want to be in the company of the international minnows too long’

The writer of the article quotes Modi to have said of such international gatherings like the UN General Assembly, that there are “Lots of small countries with their small problems.”

It is therefore somewhat surprising, amusing let alone ironic when you read that some countries are taking large entourages to the very same gatherings at which they are somewhat frowned upon by delegates of much larger countries.

Uhuru Kenyatta travelled with 40 people, Malawi’s Peter Mutharika took an entourage said to have been around 110 members, whereas the Prime minister of Bangladesh had an entourage of 227 members!

Before he left, Peter Mutharika gave a speech which some commentators claim was effectively an SOS over Malawi’s problems. So why then take such a large entourage when he claims that Malawi is in trouble? In particular, the Government of Malawi recently conducted a Food Security assessment for the 2015 / 2016 period, which concluded that

  a total of 2,833,212 people will not be able to meet their annual food requirementt during the 2015/16 consumption period. This represents 17 per cent of the country’s total population.

It went on to state that the Government needed US$146.378 million to procure 124 thousand metric tons of maize to prevent a food shortage crisis which could quickly develop into a humanitarian crisis.

If Malawi had done some deals with investors and the economy was recovering, why would anyone sensible question the wisdom of going to the UN with a whole horde of people?

If Mutharika was taking the top 100 businessmen from across the country, irrespective of party affiliation (as most western leaders do when they travel to say Saudi Arabia, India or China)  to scout for opportunities, collaborations or business or to attend strategic meetings, why would anyone sensible question it?

The problem is Malawi is currently free-falling, Oil and gas licensing were suspended, the floods devastated land and crops, and will affect harvest, donors have pulled out of budgetary support and are refusing to resume, even the IMF has closed the taps, and you have a president taking loads of people to New York???

Between the president’s departure last week and today, we’ve learned that:-

  • The government of Malawi will be spending ~ K144million Kwacha on the airfares of Mutharika’s entourage.
  • That K238 million is being spent on accommodation alone for 111 people.  That makes a total of K352 million ($636,000) of taxpayer’s money being spent on Accommodation and airfares, without accounting for allowances, which are not coming in cheap.
  • That the president has hired a private jet – a Bombardier Global Express at a cost of US$4 million for the duration of th trip.
  • Speculation on social networks online is that the President’s step son is part of the entourage, as well as a chief and a PE teacher. We do not know if this is true, or why they went? How will their inclusion benefit the country or indeed what will they add to the trip?? Surely Malawians must be told why were they selected and what they will add to the trip?
  • Also part of the entourage is a lady who accompanied Mutharika only because the first lady is on the trip.
  • From one ministry 3 Directors went to New York, each with an allowance upwards of K9 million (US$16,000, and that’s besides the other staff members accompanying them)
  • Peter Mutharika and Ben Phiri are travelling separately so that they shouldn’t be seen in the same place, to give the false impression that Ben Phiri is not working for the government even when in reality he still is working for Mutharika.
  • There are some who claim the UN is paying for the trip, but our sources including some people close to government officials dispute this. Malawi is going to pay for their own bill, and any news that the UN is footing the bill is designed to mislead. If donors are paying why haven’t they explicitly declared so, seeing the situation in the country?
  • Last year, someone who went to the 69th Session of UN with the president blurted out in a drunken stupor,that he had been paid $10,500 for the days he was in New York. There is no reason to suspect that the officials accompanying Mutharika are being paid less this time around. Or is there?

Last year, Mutharika returned from a trip to the US and Malawians were told that he had received promises (or was it signed agreements) of investment totalling around US$600 million from some investors. While I can’t recall how many people he took along with him for that trip, how many of those investment promises he received have since materialised into real investment or real tangible projects?

I think there is need for more accountability and responsibility on the part of the presidency. Minimally, I think numbers of officials going to the UN should be capped at a figure such as 13, and allowances of officials of African government should be capped at modest sums. In particular, why should the head of state of a poor country sleep in Waldorf Astoria in New York , paying over $10,000 or is it $15,000 a night when millions of his country’s citizen are struggling with daily life, and live on less than $3 a day?  I think just as a matter of concern for other humans, for other people, just out of what in Malawi we call umunthu, expenses for all officials including the president should be capped at $500 a night. You can’t be that insensitive when people, real people in your country are suffering. It can never be right, and such selfishness is the cause of all human problems. I’ve seen this attitude again and again amongst the ruling class (even in Britain). There are some people who assume that just because they are doing well financially, everyone should be doing relatively okay. This is never the case.

So, all that these expensive trips do is give credibility to critics who dismiss them as self-enrichment schemes, which on some level they are.

When will Malawians leaders learn to be accountable? With all the poverty our country faces, should we really be throwing money around like this?

I think we should legislate to have laws that can remove representatives if they are unable to meet the expectations of their constituencies, or if they abuse their power. I think that is the way forward to counter corruption and self-enrichment.

Also, when the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria, took around 30 people (according to NAIJ.COM the number is 22) to the UN, does it really make sense for tiny Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Sub Saharan Africa, to be taking entire clans, complete with chiefs to New York?

Perspective

For those of you who say the amount Peter Mutharika will be spending is minimal, lets not forget that there are many American tech giants which began with capital of less than $4 million let alone $635,000. Facebook for example, a company now worth billions of dollars, once received $500,000 in seed funding from Peter Thiel , the PayPal Co-founder, in 2004, for a 10% stake. My point, the money Mutharika is wasting can be better invested into ventures that could greatly benefit the country in the short to medium term; it can be invested into young people, instead of blowing it on luxury and unnecessary spending at the expense of an already burdened tax payer.

One final thing … 🙂  the word minion. A minion, for those who do not know, is defined as a follower or underling of a powerful person, especially a servile or unimportant one. Where in Narendra Modi’s reality that definition places Mutharika’s 110 underlings is anybody’s guess.

Thoughts on the sale of Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) , and more

The trouble with capitalists (as with politicians) is that they think only about themselves. Until after things begin to go wrong, after which they still think only about themselves. Need proof of that?  What happened in the 2008-2009 financial crash?

Dont get me wrong, I’m pro Capitalism. Totally. May not entirely be proud of it, but I am pro ‘responsible Capitalism’, for lack of a better term. My line of work is made possible definitely only because of Capitalism. And yes, I enjoy what I do.

But when your only motivation and greatest priority is making money; and everything else including other human beings come second in the list of priorities, then it is more likely than not that you have lost the plot; that you need salvation.

But without digressing too much, why is the sale of MSB the wrong decision?

Well, firstly assets fetch more when sold at the peak of their value. When they are sparkling and in pristine condition; for companies, it’s when business is going well and the profits are pouring in in bucket-loads. During such times, the sale of a business can command serious financial digits and can really bring value to their owners. But when the business is  loan-laden with toxic debts it issued (some alleged to be politically influenced backdoor deals), when a bank is infested with inefficiency, corruption or dodgy deals, when there are some financial mishaps, you can’t possibly expect to get value for money, or for the bank to be sold for the real value it is worth. Had the management persevered and got its act together before selling, had the bank liquidated a significant part of the debts on its books, it’s likely that it could have fetched more on the market.

Think of it like selling your old car (which is partly owned by your friend who doesn’t want to sell it) when the windscreen has a chip in it, when the paint work needs improving, when one tyre is flat, and look! – .there’s a decomposing rat on the backseat..yuck!

Lets just say your car would have fetched a better price if you first reached an agreement with your friend, and fixed it; if you got it cleaned, …kuyikwecha bobo, before attempting to sell it.

Secondly, you can’t sell what you do not officially own. You can’t sell what you have no authority to sell. Imagine if I showed up to a potential investor and claimed that I owned the land on which the new stadium in Lilongwe is being built. Not only would my claims be laughable (and could possibly land me a stint in jail), but any foolish investor who dared believe such folly, without independent verification, would find themselves in the undesirable position of having to explain a useless contract – a piece of paper that would be completely unenforceable.

So, being state-owned, MSB is essentially a chattel held by the state in trust on behalf of the people. It is Malawians who should hold the key to its fate, they are the ones who can legitimately decide on whether to sell it or not. Malawians and not only the government of Malawi.

If that’s not currently the case, then that’s how it should be, for any state-owned property because otherwise there is a danger that the executive could make decisions befitting more of a dictator than a democratically elected president; that the legislature could act without consulting the people they represent.

Which is a problematic state of play since by selling the bank, the assumption is that the government is acting in the interests of Malawians – and has their blessing in undertaking such actions ; yet from the anti-sale demonstrations and all the opposition to the sale, it would be perfectly clear to anybody who was paying attention that there are many thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, or even millions of Malawians who didn’t exactly approve of the decision (the very reason why it had been initially suspended). So without a vote or proper public consultation, wouldn’t the sale of MSB be undemocratic? Or illegal?

In addition, state-owned property is one means by which the state generates an income to pay for the business of government. Without enough state-owned property (or some other dependable source of an income), most governments are unable to generate enough funds from tax-collection alone. They struggle to pay for services, and the business of government (Civil servant salaries, Security and public order, food, medicines, infrastructure, education, etc) with the result they end up having to borrow money from institutions whose primary motive is making money; international banks who can’t possibly be said to have the best interests of the loan recipient country at heart.

It’s the capitalists I mentioned above who get to provide the loans, on their terms and not the recipient’s terms. Therefore, it must come as no surprise if they disregard the hungry children the poor country has.

North_Darfur_IDP_malnourished_childDisregarding overflowing maternity wards in the country’s hospitals – which desperately need upgrading; with no concern, sympathy or consideration for parents who can’t pay for medical care for their children. Make no mistake, Capitalists are not charities. They are not mandated as governments of western democracies are – to care for the people, especially the most vulnerable people in society. They work without care for the villagers who have no clean water, no electricity and no medicines in hospitals. They don’t think about the young people who have degrees but can’t get jobs in their own countries because there are no jobs available (and the government or domestic private enterprise are not investing in jobs or youth development initiatives).

It’s no big secret, but most Capitalists think only about how much money they can make for themselves, for their organisations / institutions and for their friends.

I may not have all the concrete data to support this somewhat wild claim, but I’m willing to bet a few quid that they do.

The result is inevitable; whole countries end up tormented by debt, with ballooning deficits which can never realistically be got rid of, as Argentina and Greece have found out the hard way in recent years. They become the butt of jokes and stand at the receiving end of blame. Unable to raise credit, and therefore unable to finance their activities. It’s virtually a coup.

greek-bailout-fund2Countries like Greece. Countries like Malawi.

This is the reason why so many countries are in debt, because their governments do not own enough assets from which to extract a dependable and sustainable income, and they have to rely on harmful debts which damage their economies more than they help. Put simply, these countries do not have a job that pays enough for them and ‘their families’ to survive on, so they go to loan sharks who tie a noose around their necks.

In Friedmanian economics (or what he termed neoliberalism), the same governments – most of whom at the time were operating surpluses or relatively small budget deficits in comparison to the current levels –  were told by mostly pro-capitalist economists to relinquish ownership of high yield assets (in industries which were dominated by few individuals/ merchants in monopolies that traded side by side with the state-owned enterprises) they owned, in the process ‘laissez-faire’ economics morphed into ‘market competition’… a phenomenon similar in effect to the fall of the USSR’s property ownership framework while urging in the rise of the Oligarchs. Before you had fewer players gnawing at the national cake, and the government was a significant player- now you have more players at the banquet(even though they are still a minority in comparison to the whole population), but this time, the government is not even at the table.

No prizes for guessing who bought those assets, but the state – these fellows argued, shouldn’t be in the business of running anything. As a result, several decades later – culminating in Thatcherism in Britain – everything from utility companies (including gas and electric suppliers) were mostly owned by corporations; so were the mines, railway and telecommunication companies, virtually every large industry with the capacity to raise huge sums for the government fell out of majority stake public-ownership, in preference to some private outfit, whose primary motive was profit and little else.

Some of these countries do not have oil, or other high demand resources on which to depend in the long-run (and even many which do struggle to manage them properly).They have to rely on a small tax base (~ heavily taxed citizens) for revenues, crops such as tobacco which are fast becoming unpopular, on tax-evading companies to pay their fair share of tax to the state; how crazy do you have to be to depend on profit-shifting (cost-shifting) corporations to stop their dirty tricks and behave (even though there is little indication this will happen anytime soon)? They rely on meagre inflows of Foreign Direct Investment, on aid organisations whose ethics/ morality is often in question. And if all that isn’t sufficient to support their budgets, these countries have a ‘safety’ net which can only be described as a poisonous concoction of interest-driven donors and austerity-prescribing institutions – to provide loans.

In contrast, countries rich in natural resources such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait own significant parts of their largest industries, and can therefore afford to finance almost all the business of government from the sale of their natural resources (in this case oil).

When was the last time you heard that Kuwait or Qatar had asked for a loan from the IMF?

They don’t need to hold onto many state-owned assets outside of the petroleum realm, because the petroleum industry generates enough income to cover the business of government and give them budget surpluses for every other luxury – from financing huge construction projects, to paying for a controversial world cup that’s now increasingly doubtful – thanks to the FIFA scandal.

What about all the bailouts, someone may ask, and loans and aid provided to struggling countries over the last 50 years, where has all that gone? Well, mostly to the banks. And to companies from the countries of the aid providers. In the case of Greece which is suffering the same kind of debilitating debt onslaught as most African countries but on a much larger scale, the money went back to the same capitalists (see another link here from the Guardian) who created the very same mess in the first place.

Thus, considering all this, and more, I have to say for me it’s entirely valid to believe that if you don’t have a large multi-billion dollar industry in your country, if you have few natural resources to exploit, and if many of the common problems African countries have to battle with plague your economy, then it makes perfect sense as a government to hold on to as much industry as you can – and try to make it profitable. Maybe in the same way as Norway has done.

Such a strategy to me has a better chance of achieving a zero deficit budget, giving your country a surplus of disposable income others fail to achieve.

And that is why I think Peter Mutharika and the government of Malawi has got it wrong on Malawi Savings Bank (MSB)

P/s: Go tell the Malawian commentator who appeared to be saying that Malawians were wrong to voice their concerns over the sale of MSB that he has got it completely wrong this time. If anything, Malawians should be mad  for being taken for fools! far from being silent more Malawians should stand up to be counted. Foolish ideas deserve nothing but condemnation!

Malawi Government Financial Audit: how many billions are unaccounted for?

Beware when an official document of any sort begins with a disclaimer. More often than not, something fishy is going on in the background, and someone somewhere is trying to wash their hands off it.

Last week, the leaked PwC ‘audit’ report (titled ‘Reconstruction of the Malawian Government Cashbook for purposes of further investigation’) which some people (including the Legal Affairs chair Peter Chakhwatha) claim is just an outline or at most a data analysis, revealed that MK577 billion was unaccounted for from Malawi government accounts between 1st January 2009 and 31st December 2014:-

shortfallThis news has shocked many people in Malawi, and media reports are saying theat MP’s are pressing government to publish the real report, and submit it to parliament.

But irrespective of whether the K577 billion truly reflects the total shortfall or not, or whether there is more damning news in the real report, I think it would help with putting things into perspective if we analysed the kind of figures we are dealing with here, in US$ as opposed to Malawi Kwacha (MK) only.

A direct exchange of the MK577,238,840,510.67 on Xe.com  shows the sum to be equivalent to US$1,312,092,746.42 (1.3 Billion dollars). But this is incorrect since devaluation will have altered the power of the Kwacha over the years.

I believe the question which must be asked is how much of this shortfall was unaccounted for in each year during this period?

Meaning to find a less inaccurate dollar equivalent, we need to know how much of the K577 billion went missing in each of the years between 2009 and 2014. But again this method would have limitations since the exchange rate would have varied from month to month during this period, necessitating conversions from month to month.

However, a less inaccurate figure can be obtained by converting the sums in each year with the exchange rate at the time. Thus, looking only at the total value of payments greater than or equal to MK 1 million not in Cashbook as outlined by the PwC report:-

All-Payments greater than MK1 million, on Bank Statement not on Cashbook

a more credible figure of the US$ equivalent can be ascertained by taking averages of historical exchange rates in each year, or better in each month. Using this method, then in 2009, an Oanda conversion of MK21, 313,307,081.36 (21 billion) would have given you between US$146 million and US$154 million. But the statistical number crunching used looks somewhat complex. And I’m neither an Accountant, nor an economist…

An easier conversion as of 1st January 2009, on Xe.com would have equated US$1 to MK142.7, meaning MK21, 313,307,081.36 on that date would have been equivalent to US$149, 357,442. (149 million dollars).

average-fxThus, using average exchange rates such as those on FXtop.com or on Mundi, it follows that MK21, 313,307,081.36 in 2009 was equivalent to US$151,008,268.96. This means that give or take, the Malawi government couldn’t account for at least US$ 150 million in 2009, if we consider payments greater than MK1 million only as shown in the above table!

Who knows what the real figure is if we include sums below MK1 million ??

Similarly, in 2010 US$188,244,090.18 (188 million dollars) was unaccounted for; in 2011 US$112,357,926.19 (112 million dollars) was unaccounted for; in 2012 US$53,806,121.29 (53 million dollars) was unaccounted for; in 2013 US$357, 264,295.90 (357 million dollars) was unaccounted for, and in 2014, US$35, 412,203.75 (35 million dollars) was unaccounted for.

This gives a total shortfall of US$747, 084,637.31 (747 million dollars)

But since we are currently only looking at the total value of payments greater than or equal to MK 1 million not in Cashbook (K217 billion), then, it means if we consider the whole MK577 billion alleged to have been unaccounted for, then we are looking at US$1, 981, 858, 599 (1.9 billion dollars*) which is unaccounted for, assuming a uniform spread in the data.

So the last 6 years, under various Malawian Governments, civil servants and other corrupt types have misappropriated or failed to account for at least US$2 billion.

There you have it.

* [MK577 billion x US$747million divide by MK217billion]

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?

*** ~ *** ~ ***

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

 

Kawasineni khutu achikulire

I was surprised to hear that President Peter Mutharika of Malawi was visiting the jail cell spent time in when he was arrested in March 2013. According to media reports, the visit is meant to highlight Mutharika’s philosophy that no one in Malawi will be arrested on political grounds. That prisons should not be detention centres for punishment; rather that prisons should be places of reformation and rehabilitation.

This sounds commendable on the face of it, until you look at the fine print.

Firstly, who foots the bill for the trip? And how much of tax payers money was spent on this? Are we not in Joyce Banda’s 100 days celebration territory here? I’m not convinced.

If Peter Mutharika really wanted to help the political situation in Malawi, he would have fronted a bi-partisan (tri-partisan ?) legislative effort to ensure that ‘that no one in Malawi will be arrested on political grounds’. That would have been a better start because with the current economic situation, I doubt it is wise to get ministers and the entire DPP party to some rural area to paint some prison. I wonder how much money would have been saved if Mutharika stayed at home? At Sanjika Palace, possibly contemplating how he would reduce youth unemployment and create jobs for the millions of unemployed Malawians. He could have read this blog, at least it would have given him some ideas, on how not to do things? I think it would have.

One commentator, Billy Mayaya, writing on his Facebook profile opined that:

Malawi if facing the biggest economic crisis in its history and we have a crisis of leadership! The commemoration of his stint at Lumbadzi Police Station shows a lack of leadership. Malawians are tired of seeing their hard earned tax going to fluffy events. teachers haven’t been paid; There are no medicines in hospitals and meanwhile our leader is having a party!!!

It is true, most people feel insulted. Many Malawians were detained under the dictatorship of Kamuzu Banda.. Gwanda Chakwamba for example spent 13 years in prison.  Machipisa Munthali, 27 long and weary years! Even my own father spent 5 years in prison for speaking out against the Ngwazi. All at a huge cost to their families. Lives wasted by an unnecessary detention.

None of these patriotic men contemplated of or pulled some misguided publicity stunt designed to somehow prop their popularity.  None of them, after subsequently being elected to parliament, and serving in various capacities did such a thing. Does that mean that they did not care of the issue of political imprisonment? That they were less patriotic? That somehow they wanted ‘political imprisoning’ to continue? I don’t think so. If anything these men paid a much greater price than any political hardship Mutharika has ever endured.

And just imagine that this stunt comes barely a day after DPP’s secretary general Ecklen Kudontoni told a gathering in Mzuzu that now was time to enjoy the fruits of their hard work, that any CEO’s of a parastatal who does not render their support to DPP would face ‘consequences’…?? Isn’t that a political threat? Intimidation by a member of a governing party?

A government is elected to serve all its people. Not  just those who voted for it. Mutharika should stop these childish gimmicks by his lieutenants and implement his plan of rescuing the country from the brink of downfall. There are many of us out here who want Peter Mutharika to succeed. Because if he does succeed, it means Malawi will do well. That’s the wish of every Malawian. But why should people be silent when the government is getting things wrong. Achewa anati wakusina khutu ndi mnansi.

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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