When asked whether elections were giving democracy a bad name, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said: “Democracy is not just about one day every four or five years when elections are held, but a system of government that respects the separation of powers, fundamental freedoms like the freedom of thought, religion, expression, association and assembly and the rule of law … Any regime that rides roughshod on these principles loses its democratic legitimacy, regardless of whether it initially won an election.”
One of the simplest definitions of development can be considered as the objective of moving towards a state relatively better than what previously existed. In this regard, development could mean any positive change in life. For example, if one used to own a bicycle and suddenly possesses a car, then that change could be referred to as development, since one will no longer be required to cycle for long hours to get to work, thereby enjoying a higher standard of living. The same can be said about one acquiring a bicycle, which one previously did not possess. Based on this definition, the term “development” can also be regarded as relative, since its meaning differs from one person to another.Now, I do not deny that leading Malawi is difficult, and that the path of a president in his or her quest to democratically develop Malawi is a dangerous one to tread. I would be lying if I said I haven’t known and experienced the perils of this road more than most when I closely observed a leader grappling with these very difficulties of leading a nation when I worked for the presidency.
The forces that attack Malawi – poverty, corruption, lack of leadership commitment and integrity – are greater than those that defend her. And most of all they come as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They come as supporters and advisors, when all that they are doing is pursuing a personal agenda of self-enrichment and the advancement of personal ambition.
As I consider the forthcoming elections, I do not hesitate to state that in the current DPP administration, there are such reckless and desperate men working with the President, men who also worked with his late brother and who need only a small push to urge them to move their personal ambitions forward at the expense our country. I saw and heard them in action when my minority voice of protest was ever shouted down. Unfortunately, going towards 2019, these are the very men pushing for Mutharika to run again so that they can be protected from possible prosecution.
We find among the crowds praising and advising Mutharika only those who would destroy our country through greed and corruption and self-interest, either because they feel guilty about their own misdeeds and fear punishment, or because they are deranged enough to long for only selfish benefits from the independence we gained and from the taxes that Malawians pay, most of them with great pain and difficulty.
This is coupled by the fact that unfortunately, the decent and patriotic people are fearful and slow to act, and ignore obvious dangers until a crisis erupts. They are sluggish and willing to abide with peace and personal gain without honour. They forget that their own inaction causes them eventually to lose both
Those who would be guardians of our nation and it’s tortuous march towards true indolence, especially economic and moral independence must be people of great courage, great ability, and great resolve. Unfortunately, we are seeing a lack of these attributes and virtues in Peter Mutharika.
In the way the DPP is carelessly claiming development where none exists, and using these claims as justification for seeking a new mandate, for example, we see only evidence of a group of people determined to sabotage progress because of the fear that their own financial misdeeds will be exposed in the process. Hence they prefer to bring the whole country down in flames rather than burn alone.
When such people are the ones controlling the leadership such as is happening with President Peter Mutharika, the country inevitably is tossed about on the waves.
It is when such things happen that those of us who because of our patriotism and moral campus consider ourselves helmsmen who must continue to push the country in the right direction must be vigilant and use all our skill and diligence to preserve the principles of transformational leadership and help steer our country safely forward with peace and honour.
My pessimism regarding the forthcoming elections, then, comes from the fact that none of the aspirants thus far seem to be clear about the fact that initial investments in institutions determine whether leaders are more likely to pursue a strategy of growth promotion or rent- seeking.
Elections are supposed to help build better institutions and improve governance, which in turn should increase growth. Malawian democracy however, so far seems to have only led to a certain elite capture of the state, with a certain small group of political elites gaining undue influence in the governing of this country.
Despite an active civil society, a vibrant and free press, an independent electoral body, a competitive political landscape and a widely shared respect for the rule of law since the coming of multiparty democracy in 1994, Malawi has not developed much economically. Despite peaceful handovers of power and a peaceful and conflict-less country, Malawi remains one of the poorest country in the world. Every time, elections have failed to bring about the much needed change for the better. Elections have not automatically resulted in economic growth and development
We as citizens have failed to hold political leaders responsible for their actions. In the public service and the private sector, there is impunity and no significant level of accountability. With regard to public officials, mechanisms have failed to be devised to hold leaders responsible when they use public resources in ways that society considers unacceptable.
To that end, a credible leadership that can lead Malawi to development must commit in clear terms to implement a public accountability system that will include periodic competition and a clear set of rules and expectations. The principle of accountability cannot be overemphasised. It is essential to democracy, requires exposing the truth, and requires stated and enforced consequences for violating the rules, without exception, even for those in power. It is lack of accountability in Malawi that has led to the gross misuse of public resources. The effect has been rampant corruption and the deterioration of socioeconomic conditions—an indication that people in Malawi are governed without being able to control their governors. What we need is a commitment to put in place is electoral accountability – a right for citizens to recall representatives if they do not deliver on their promises and don’t govern well – Even when such a representative is the president. Perhaps the security of tenure given by the five-year presidential term should be revoked. We all know that because of an absence of effective structures with autonomy and strength to check corruption, the governing elites in Malawi have engaged in high and sometimes egregious levels of corruption, increasingly diverting state resources for personal gain.
Without any real social contract between whoever will win the elections and masses regarding the placement of a robust system of accountability and an important review of the country’s governance framework, I do not believe that the coming elections will solve the poverty and the corruption currently pulverising this country.
Allan Ntata’s Column can be read every Sunday on the Maravi Post