Written by Z. ALLAN NTATA
Is it justifiable for African leaders to prioritise international recognition at the expense of the welfare of their people? No- if you ask most pan-African commentators. Yes- according to some African leaders and the international community that gives them international accolades without investigating closely how those accolades are translating to the improvement of Africa.
The online publication “Ahram Online” reported on 29th January that Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi had cancelled an official visit to France following problems in his North African country.
On Friday, the second anniversary of Egypt’s January 25, 2011 revolution, the presidency had announced that Morsi would not cancel his visit to Addis Ababa to attend an African Union summit. However, as violent clashes continued in the country, he chose to send the minister of foreign affairs on his behalf. Clashes and riots continued on Tuesday for a fifth day, with a 30-day state of emergency and curfew imposed on the three Suez Canal cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismailia where violence was most severe. More than 50 civilians have been killed during the nationwide clashes, of which 39 were from Port Said. Violent clashes in Egypt saw people demonstrating against President Morsi over a new Constitution, the conviction of football rioters and the lack of the rule of law in Egypt.
Meanwhile, in Malawi President Joyce Banda has found it appropriate to boost her international image by travelling to the African Union summit in Ethiopia and then on to South Korea in Asia to give a ‘key note address’ at another international summit when in her country, her own people are experiencing a worse kind of violence than that being experienced in Egypt.
The obsession of some African leaders to play to the international stage is a cancer that must be arrested and treated. Unfortunately, it is endorsed and indeed encouraged by the international community itself. In Malawi, President Joyce Banda continues to receive such generously flattering international accolades as “one of Africa’s great thinkers” and continues to be fiercely supported and promoted by the horde of so-called international “femocrats”. Yet the house that Joyce built is crumbling and taking innocent Malawians down with it.
The grievous violence that is running riot in Malawi is the most troubling fact that people are dying every day from treatable diseases and illnesses due to acute shortages of drugs in the country’s public hospitals. The Government’s central medical stores have announced that it has no medicine reserves and the sick are being told to go and buy medicines at private pharmacies. President Banda has so far spent billions of Malawian Kwacha on international trips while in Lilongwe a man died from malaria because there was no medicine at the government hospital. In another incident in Dedza, a woman had to give birth to twins through Caesarian without anesthesia or any painkillers. Doctors in Malawi have been reduced to the indignity of having to write a petition to the president to provide them with drugs and resources so they can do their work. Some Doctors have even started using their own personal money to buy drugs from pharmacies for their government hospital patients.
The civil service is about to go on national strike due to poor salaries and skyrocketing prices of basic commodities. Hundreds of homes and gardens have been washed away in some parts of the country due to heavy rains. Malawi continues to experience security lapses where people are found murdered in mysterious circumstances. The University of Malawi is on the verge of closure due to inadequate government funding and the general population is facing very severe hardships because of austerity measures imposed on President Joyce Banda by the IMF and other international donors.
A sensitive African leader would put her people ahead of her obsession for international recognition. Yet Malawi’s president Banda, buoyed by the approval she is receiving from the international community is globe-trotting while her country is collapsing under the full weight of problems, many of them arising from cluelessness of the administration and its brutal subservience to directives of the IMF and its crew of western shareholders which in many cases only serve to address the selfish interests of the Washington consensus. These organisations completely neglect the suffering of the people in the many countries where such impositions are handily accepted.
In 8 months since assuming office, President Banda has spent MK2.6billion (About US$ 7 million) of her annual budget on foreign trips when the country’s medical stores are empty and educational establishments are facing the risk of closure. Such wastage is a complete contradiction to her claims that most of her travel outside Malawi is fully funded by organisers of the functions and meetings to which she is invited to attend. If her claims are true and thus deserve to be taken seriously, then credence must be given to the fast developing notion that the President and her cohorts are syphoning state resources and stuffing their off shore accounts in case something goes wrong at the presidential elections in 2014.
She has emptied the country’s strategic grain reserves and distributed them as campaign incentives, causing scarcity of grain and an accompanying rise in the price of Maize.
She practices the politics of nepotism and proximity at will, exclusively appointing people from her husband’s district of Nkhata-bay to all important government positions such as that of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Justice and of Attorney General, while filling all three positions of Secretary to the President with people from her tribe Yao, after she dismissed the deputy secretary she found because he came from the tribe of the departed President Bingu wa Mutharika.
It defies common sense to believe that the International community- the IMF, the World Bank and the western donors are unaware of the disparity between the praise and the accolades they bestow on such African leadership and the real state affairs on the ground in the countries that such leaders are leading.
Either the international community deliberately encourages the mentality in African leaders to sacrifice their own people in order to gain international recognition because it plays to their agenda, or their reporting system is imbued with such gullibility they will not even notice when a fly dumps rubbish in their face.
For if the international community is engrossed with the kind of efficiency it demands from countries that benefit from its support, how can its system fail to discover that President Joyce Banda was making nonsense of its trust and confidence in her by not selling the presidential jet as she had undertaken just days after assuming the presidency?
Did it have to take the international community a whole eight months to discover that they had after all been lied to? How does the international community fail to notice that the ministerial limos, which were part of the promise-to-sale, are still plying the roads of Malawi with ministers riding them?
The fact that the international community will continue to glorify a President who can afford to take them for a ride serves to illustrate that the relationship between the international community and African presidents is narrow, opportunistic and self-serving.
Answering a question on her first leg to the United Nations general Assembly as to what difference she would bring to the presidency, President Joyce Banda flippantly answered: “the fact that I am a woman.”
President Banda believes the difference the people of Malawi need to experience under her presidency is how a woman can lead them. If her leadership is anything to go by, then it makes a mockery of the integrity and capabilities of women. One would expect that a woman would have the heart of caring and shuddering at the suffering that poor Malawians, pressed under by the hardships her government has imposed on them, are experiencing. One would expect that a woman being one who goes through the labour pains would be the more willing to suspend her extravagance and unproductive travel and attend to the urgent needs of the helpless parents who are watching their children die because there are no drugs in hospitals.
In stead, Joyce Banda has allegedly hired a publicist at a retainer fee of US$60,000 a month to work on her mother Teresa image. It is the work of this publicist that has seen her enjoying superfluous praise and undeserved awards that do not match any substance on the ground.
Recently, Banda was awarded by Oxfam for improving the welfare of her people, regardless of the fact that close to 60% of the Malawi population have been pushed down below poverty line. On the very day she was receiving her award, doctors had just written an open letter in the press literally begging for basic medication in major hospitals where dying children are being packed like sardines. Apparently money meant to buy medical supplies have been diverted to her penchant love for travel since her budget was exhausted barely five months into office. People in Malawi are dying today because of a decision Joyce Banda made to cancel tenders for medical supplies. Last December, President Joyce Banda issued a directive to cancel drug procurement tenders at the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) without explaining why. How many people would have been saved if drugs were to be bought in time?
African women should be disappointed and Malawian women have enough reason to stage protests that in Joyce Banda they have someone who is carelessly mischaracterizing their profile, making a mockery of their being and selfishly destroying their prospects at the presidency again.
The decision of President Morsi of Egypt, to cancel his foreign trips, forego opportunities to boost his international image in order to stay home and personally deal with the plight of his people must therefore be greatly commended. On the other hand, those African leaders that play for the international stage while their houses are crumbling and their own backyards are in serious disarray need to borrow a page of lessons from the book of President Morsi and recognise that it is to their people and to their own blood that they morally owe allegiance, and not to western massaged egos and fictitious international reputations and undeserved accolades.