“Stupidity is also a gift of God,

but one mustn’t misuse it”

– Pope John Paul II

Eight of Malawi’s most important development partners on Friday issued a brief but straight-to-the-point joint statement on the yet-to-be-solved mysterious shooting of Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo.

The donors correctly described the shooting as “worrying”, a development they said puts the country’s very stability at risk.

Since the unprecedented shooting of the youthful technocrat lots of theories are flying about, some of them pretty scary.

From the beginning authorities have not treated this incident as a regular crime. The Office of the President and Cabinet was unequivocal in stating that the attempt on Mphwiyo’s life was meant to slowdown the administration’s crusade against corruption. In fact the President herself did one better. In her own words, Joyce Banda unambiguously told all and sundry that she not only knows who was behind the hit; she knows the motive as well.

Raphael TenthaniWhich begs the question: why is it that two weeks down the line the police still are none the wiser about this case? Granted, some arrests have been made but, if truth be told, these are not the kind of arrests one expected considering the innuendoes from high up.

Or am I missing something?

Whatever the case I guess this state of flux is what prompted the eight ‘wise men and women from the East and West’ to say: “We urge swift and credible investigations that leave no stone unturned, allowing the investigating authorities to act without fear, INTIMIDATION or HINDRANCE.” (Emphasis is mine).

Underline the words “intimidation” and “hindrance”. Why is the supposedly ‘open and shut’ case taking too long to crack? After all, the initial official statements not only showed that someone was caught with a hand in the cookie jar but the proverbial smoking gun was still smouldering as well.

Or did some people spoke before their tongues were ready?

Notwithstanding that the shooting of Mphwiyo has kicked open a can of worms, a kind of Pandora box that is refusing to be shut. Daily we are suddenly hearing of how millions of tax-payers money are growing wings out of Capital Hill. The Financial Intelligence Unit – whose existence some of us were hitherto remotely aware of – is suddenly visibly tracing some funny pay-outs.

Maybe, cynically, the unfortunate shooting of Mphwiyo may just produce some positive outcome. Maybe the smell of Mphwiyo’s blood will smoke out the ghosts of corruption and fraud on Capital Hill…

…Just maybe.

It is very easy nonetheless to apportion blame for this ‘open sesame’ on state coffers. The buck, as they say, stops right at the doorsteps of President Joyce Banda. Is she on top of things? Is she being taken advantage of?

To be fair, she has been in office for just over a year. She surely inherited a rotten system that needs a complete overhaul.

But, still, she is the one in charge now and how she handles this emerging crisis will go a long way in writing her name in the stars or in the embers of hell.

There are several things she can do but the first is to own up that there is a crisis and desist from deflecting blame elsewhere.

This crisis has the potential of eroding trust in her governance abilities. She is facing a serious risk of being judged on mere perception. This is how I mean: obviously she inherited 99 per cent of the civil service but she brought in her own boys and girls to key corners of Capital Hill. If some of these are found wanting she must act decisively.

Perception, as they say, is key in politics. The moment she is perceived to be dithering on this touchy-feely issue or shielding some people she risks being labelled the architect-in-chief of the whole plunder of public resources.

The administration must read the donors’ statement between the lines. Ok, the statement might be brief, predictable and diplomatic, but the administration must read what is not being said in that brief statement. By saying these developments “potentially risk Malawi’s stability, rule of law and reputation” the donors may well be saying Malawi is already unstable, the rule of law has broken down and that its reputation is already on the radar.

The donors have cleverly borrowed the presidency’s very words to drive the point home. Look at how many times the word ‘corruption’ has been used in such a brief statement. Aid may soon be tied to how tough President Banda’s fight against corruption may be.

So Abiti has to be tough and decisive in her crusade against corruption regardless of who is in her sights. Bingu wa Mutharika may have been the very antithesis of a role model but at least the Big Kahuna was tough, resolute and decisive even on some of his crazy decisions.

Bingu literally practiced the kupha nyani saona nkhope maxim. Remember how he decisively dealt with Ralph Kasambara, Ishmael Wadi and Gustave Kaliwo – his famed ‘three young bright minds’ of his first term. When they overstayed their welcome, Bingu dispensed with them like, excuse the pun, used condoms.

President Banda does not have the luxury of time. She entered State House when the election gear was about to kick in. The tragic manner that her nascent People’s Party became the de facto ruling party means she already has a bitter enemy in the Democratic Progressive Party that cannot wait to see the back of her.

As if a wounded buffalo in the DPP is not already a handful, Abiti has to fight off a determined resurrected political phoenix and some young chap with a very familiar political name.

So the next elections are no longer for the President to lose as things were soon after she brought a breath of fresh air to our politics that was heavily satiated by her eccentric predecessor. Now she has to prove to voters she is not just ‘one of those’ Malawian leaders.

The way to prove her mettle is not just by reversing Bingu’s arrogant ways. Dealing with continuing crises from her predecessor may be easy. How to deal with a fresh crisis may not be as easy.

How she pulls this off will prove whether she is the leader, not a mere leader, if you see what I mean. 

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