One of the main reasons why our nation is drifting and failing to establish a governance framework conducive for accountability, transparency and economic growth is cowardice.The demonstrations of 20 July 2011, while successful in their own right in the fact that they brought the late Bingu wa Mutharika administration to its knees, were also a catalyst for a sense of fear among Malawians when it comes to demonstrating, bringing the government and our leaders to account, and taking a stand on important national issues.
There is reason why Malawians are happy to only talk and talk about the governance failures of one administration after another, but yet fold their hands across their chests when Billy Mayaya or some other civil society leader calls for a demonstration. Successive Malawians leaders have left a trail of blood in their wake in as far as dealing with demonstrators and critics is concerned. From Kamuzu Banda to the current Peter Mutharika, the story has been the same one of intolerance and executive arrogance, not withstanding the transition in 1994 from Kamuzu’s dictatorship to a so-called democracy.
While Kamuzu Banda silenced his critics ruthlessly and secretly, subsequent administrations have been more devious, using threats, embargoes, and even bribes to make sure there is no dissent or criticism. This has been liberally garnished with a barbarism of their own, as was the case in the murder of Robert Chasowa, and the use of live bullets to curb protests in the July 20 demonstrations.
The upshot has been a nation happy to talk but very much terrified and afraid to act, and only too happy to receive financial incentives meant at buying their silence when they are spotted as strongly critical of government.
For instance, not too long ago, Media houses signed a declaration at Mount Soche aimed at sanctioning the current Mutharika administration on the way it decided to start intimidating and abusing the media. No sooner had the declaration made the headlines than we saw press releases from some media houses distancing themselves from the same. Why? Fear of losing jobs. Fear of being considered critical of government.
It is this same spirit of cowardice that is also reflected in the excitement and preoccupation that Malawians have demonstrated over their interest and support of either of the candidates in the recently completed USA presidential elections.
On Malawian social media, posts and write-ups about the American elections and why Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton was a great person were widespread.They were arguably more than those that were posted when there was an election in Malawi itself in 2014. Malawians feel more in touch and concerned with US elections than Elections in Malawi that have a direct bearing and impact on their lives.
Indeed the number of political cadets, especially for Donald Trump, the winning candidate, was impressive.
I hold the view, however, that it is intellectual cowardice to be too engrossed with American elections and yet fail to take a stand on more pressing political issues right here at home.
It seems to me that many are ready to take a clear stand on US elections just because there are no direct personal consequences.
There is a certain shallowness about this, for I do not believe that Americans and American leaders give a damn about Malawian political cadets. I doubt it makes any difference to Donald Trump that some Malawians Facebookers are strongly on his side and are shouting on the top of their voices what a great leader or a great person he is.
On the other hand, taking a stand on Malawian issues has some significance and impact potential, and should be something we must take seriously.
It is rather sad to see tempers flaring and a country going crazy over American elections when there are very serious issues back home that are begging for the care and concern of these same citizens.
Most of the Malawian social commentators that took the lead in cheering for Donald Trump have never ever commented on the corruption that is running rampant in Malawi and bringing the country to its knees. They have never commented on the cost the country is paying because of persistent and unprecedented blackouts, water shortages and drug shortages in hospitals.
From their boasts as they posted about Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump, one could be convinced that they are serious followers of current affairs and know a thing or two about leadership and the kind of leadership a country needs. Strange, though, that they are only courageous enough to stick their neck out on the kind of leadership America needs and yet are unable to say anything on the kind of leadership Malawi needs and what Malawians can do to make this kind of leadership a reality.
I know it takes courage to take a stand on Malawian political issues, whether in support or against the establishment. This is because taking a stand on pertinent issues regarding governance and abuse of power in Malawi, and the failures of Malawian leaders tend to have somewhat inconvenient consequences. On the other hand, taking a stand on international politics is abstract and impersonal and can easily make one seem intelligent.
But the Malawian social commentator we need today is one courageous enough to speak and mobilise the people on issues that have a direct impact on their own lives, not the coward who only feels comfortable talking about the politics of other lands.
Some of these things, surely, ought to be common sense, shouldn’t they?