Malawi president Mutharika

It was George Santayana who astutely observed that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat their mistakes, and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.It is amazing that in spite of the clear and blatant historical lessons that have unfolded right before his own eyes, President Peter Mutharika has failed to show any evidence of either remembering or learning from them. In his blindness, heiscommittingthe two mistakes that could spell the beginning of the end for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The first mistake that Peter Mutharika is making is, unfortunately,a very common one. It is an unkind indictment of his political acumen that he has fallen into a trap that discerning and perceptive minds are able to avoid.Most Malawians think partisan politics is the answer to Malawi’s problems. Discerning and perceptive Malawians know that it is not, and and should never be the first item on the agenda for any serious politician. Malawi’s problems are governance problems that can in fact be solved without political shenanigans, and yet which, if dealt with decisively, can make even an average politician look like a god-sent saviour.

Peter Mutharika’s late brother, Bingu is the obvious case in point. In his first term, Bingu was a political pariah, and to most Malawian, a serious Muluzi mistake.  Bingu had no political game to serve to Malawians. Instead he rolled up his sleeves and set about working on real governance solutions for the country: food security, infrastructure, investment and revenue generation.

It is a common mistake to believe that once in the state house, it is political machinations that will keep one there. Political machinations did not give BinguwaMutharika a landslide victory in 2009. It was his governance and leadership record; real work, with real solutions and real results. Malawians do not eat politics. Politics does not put medicine in hospitals.

With a country reeling from serious governance challenges exposed during the Joyce Banda administration, instead of focusing first on getting down to truly deal with those challenges, President Peter Mutharika entered the state house and surrounded himself with individuals who because of academic and intellectual challenges, can only think politics, and not governance.

 

Instead of dealing with the country’s problems, the likes of Nicholas Dausi and Francis Mphepo, Mutharika’s most trusted confidants, have been advising him of how to deal with political opponents and how to deal with the opposition. Meanwhile, the corruption has continued, the administrative isolation of the State House from the civil service has not been cured, and economic problems have not been addressed. Focusing on petty politicking- on dealing with Dr Chakwera or Joyce Banda, has left Mutharika exposed as a non-leader who is unable to deal with governance problems, unable to make decisions to address shortage of drugs in hospitals and late salaries for civil servants; and all the executive failures that are probably too many to mention.

 

Yes, Peter Mutharika’s first mistake can lead to the death of the DPP because no amount of political manoeuvring will ever be able to present Peter Mutharika as an able leader and the kind of leader that Malawi needs for the future. Only a solid governing record can do that.

In allowing himself to be side-tracked by people consumed and obsessed with petty politicking because of having nothing else of note to offer, Mutharika now is running the serious risk of failing to convince Malawians that he should be given a second term. I am inclined to believe that once out of government, should the current DPP popularity downslide continue, the party will never be able to survive in opposition. It will be the end. Unless Mutharika can correct this mistake in the next two years and demonstrate visibly that he has the courage and the mettle to lead decisively, the DPP is on its way to a certain death.

But if Peter Mutharika’s first mistake is one that has already been made and needs desperately to be corrected, the second mistake is a potential one, which can be easily avoided. Yet this second mistake has an even bigger potential to kill the DPP than the failure to address the first mistake.

Last week I spoke here about the political rape and violation of AtupeleMuluzi and the path to oblivion taken by the UDF. For all the disasters now engulfing the UDF, one thing is clear. The UDF’s fate was sealed when on the question of succession in 2004,BakiliMuluzi decided to handpick BinguwaMutharika as UDF presidential candidate at the end of his second term. As an outsider, BinguwaMutharika did not have any UDF loyalties and it was therefore easy for him to abandon Muluzi and the UDF when things in the UDF begun to take a turn he did not like. Turning from a ruling party to an opposition party overnight set the UDF on a path to ruin. But for sheer luck and dogged perseverance that can never come its way again, that same fate almost also befell the DPP in 2013 when BinguwaMutharika died.

Now though, the DPP stands on the brink of making the same mistake. The infighting in the DPP about who will run or be the running mate in 2019 is stemming from Peter Mutharika’s indecisiveness on the matter. I believe the indecisivenessstems from the fact that for one reason or another, either Peter or some people around him do not want the DPP simply to continue with the ticketthat is already there- that of Peter with the running mate he already has now, his vice president. Or it may well be that Peter Mutharika himself does not want to run in 2019 for whatever reason.

Be that as it may, the decision on who will bear the torch for the DPP in 2019 if it is not Peter Mutharika himself, or of who will be his running mate if Peter decides to run is probably the most crucial decision Peter Mutharika will ever made for his legacy and the future of the DPP. With age catching up with him, Mutharika must make sure that he prepares the DPP to face the future without him. His time in leading the party and in mainstream politics is coming to an end. I do not think he wants the party to die once he retires. But if he gets the succession question wrong, and go for some outsider with untested loyalty to take the party into the future, that could be the mistake of his life; one that could probably haunt him to infinity.

Additionally, it is as important to accept that soon the DPP must continue life without Peter Mutharika, and decide on the right people to take it into that great beyond; as it is to make sure that once that decision is made, it is publicly known so that the whispering campaign can stop and the party can move forward with boldness and enthusiasm.

I believe the time has come for Peter Mutharika to face these two issues head on.

It is time to focus on governance and demonstrate solid leadership without worrying about the politics too much. It is also time to settle the succession question so that the DPP infighting and backbiting can stop. Petty politicking, whether that of constantly worrying about the opposition or that of listening to the gossipers about who is gunning for 2019 candidacy and who is undermining the presidency within the party, is side-tracking Peter Mutharika, making him commit mistakes that, I am afraid, could kill the DPP as party especially after 2019.

 

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