According to institutions that examine democracies around the world, Malawi is on the list of a number of countries in which democracy is failing. It is difficult to argue with this assessment. The promise and the hope that we all had at the ousting of the MCP dictatorship and the ushering in of this beautiful new freedom seem to have been a mirage.
The economic independence we all hoped for has not come, and only a few have become rich at the expense of the sweat of the many. That is not to say, however that there have not been any gains with the arrival of the so-called multiparty dispensation. Its main contribution, in my view, is that at least every five years, the spirit of democracy provides the nation with free and unparalleled comedy. As elsewhere around the world, we two in Malawi can, at least once every five years, see people who cared about nothing and no one else but themselves come down from their high horses and start joining locals at funeral ceremonies, eat food from roadside hawkers, and even dance with the local Masquerades and “Zinyau” all in a bid to impress the voter that they are one with the people after all.
In the final analysis though, if a democracy fails the really important tests, no amount of political gamesmanship can save it from failure. The biggest test that may be thrown at a democracy is not just for it to give the mob a chance to rule, but rather that there must be a way to hold those who ride to power by it accountable and true to their promises. Fail this accountability test, and you do not have a democracy.
Pure, plain and simple.
Campaign time is always a time for promises, but when the elections have come and gone, the electorate’s only respite cannot and should not be simply to hope and pray that their new leaders will be faithful to their calling and make themselves accountable.
Because the voter has no way of predicting who amongst the candidates he has in front of him will fulfill their promises, he or she must look to history or his or her common sense to learn from and be guided. Some candidates will have a history of a litany of lies and broken promises while some candidates, like good salesmen will be selling glorious wet dreams that may never materialize. It is all there to see.
And speaking of campaign promises, President Peter Mutharika is currently on what might be considered a noble drive warning unsuspecting Malawians not to be duped by unrealistic promises by some politicians. At a “development rally” (ironic, huh?) in Nkhotakota, the other day, With a suspicious crowd waiting in anticipation for him to tell him something of substance, Mutharika looked this way and that, racked his brain and finding not much in it went on to make probably the one statement that every Malawian should take very seriously of anything that Mutharika has ever said. Effectively, Mutharika warned Malawians about himself as a presidential candidate. This is how he did it. Mutharika declared that the promise of a bullet train, for instance is unrealistic and so is the promise of a million jobs in 6 months or one year. On bullet trains Mutharika says that Malawi does not have the required energy supply needed to run such trains (I sincerely hope the President was not trying to tell us, contrary to what he has been preaching, that our energy supply potential cannot be developed).
It is the duty of every citizen to do small acts of civic-education as far as they can. I do my bit, too. In this regard I applaud the President for taking up this noblest civic-education cause. And I think he is actually the best person too for this cause because the President has enough experience on what is and is not a realistic promise. His presidency is an epitome of failure and is replete with unrealistic promises.
Clearly, for instance, President Mutharika has now realised that the DPP’s 2014 campaign promises of reduced Presidential powers and Independent ACB were unrealistic, just as the promise of Mombera University in Mzimba was unrealistic, the promise of a Judicial Complex in Lilongwe was unrealistic, and that of an airport at Mangochi was unrealistic.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I hereby move that we must make the State President our 2019 Realistic Campaign Promises Ambassador!
There is a saying that those who say something cannot be done should step aside and not stand in the way of those doing it. Mutharika would do well to listen to these words of wisdom.
But beyond the obvious hypocrisy in the President’s attack on other people’s ‘unrealistic’ campaign promises, we really need as citizens to take look critically at any promises made by politicians. We must think judiciously about them and ask questions now during the campaign period. This is where we must show our power as the kingmakers. We are within our rights to ask how Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima will create 1 million jobs in one year or is it 6 months, and demand that he gives us some convincing reasoning on the issue – as he has recently done. We must ask how the incumbent President Mutharika can be making promises to build universities when he has already defaulted on numerous previous promises. It is our duty to ask Dr Lazarus Chakwera how he intends to fund, for instance, for the improved pay for civil servants. And asking such questions is not a sign of hatred or opposition to particular individuals, it is actually a sign that in spite of the signs that our democracy is on a deathbed, we are mature enough to resuscitate it and keep it not only alive but to help it grow and create a country where the people are actively taking part in the very important stages of the process.
Supporters of any particular candidates must also be allowed to actually engage with their leaders to familiarize themselves with their manifestos so that they may provide handy responses to questions on implementation and viability of their promises instead of spewing hate and vitriol.
Ultimately, we must all realize that without a transparent and honest campaign period where everyone from the candidate to the voter is actively engaged, we might as well just stick to our usual realistic promises like cronyism, corruption and plunder, and pothole filing in town roads. Oh and borrowing from international banks to build stadiums! Throw in there somewhere promotion of culture too.
Bad governance and corruption are symptoms of leadership and institutional failure. Our leaders are happy to make fools of themselves during the campaign period, eat Kanyenya and dance Zinyau dances if that will help, knowing that later they will govern in an environment where institutions are very weak or do not exist. This ensures that they will not be accountable for their promises or their corruption and abuse of office. We have enough evidence before our eyes that in the absence of effective checks and balances, corruption in Malawi continues unabated.
What Malawi needs now, therefore, is a leader who can promise to make an enforceable deal with the nation that the moment he refuses to fulfil any of his promises, especially that of transforming the Malawian Governance framework, the people will be within their rights as citizens to rise up against him or her and throw him out of office even if his term of office has not yet come to an end.
Note: Written with the esteemed assistance of Wanangwa Kalua, Attorney at Law
Allan Ntata’s Column can be read every Sunday on the Maravi Post