Only in Malawi and only on MBC Tv can information that a president, i.e. Peter Mutharika is returning home from an inconsequential trip abroad be classified as “breaking news”.While we all expect such mediocrity from MBC Tv, this is unprecedented.
A presidential return from an ordinary trip can never be classified as breaking news unless of course the president, for one reason or another, was not expected to return at all.
This takes me back to the last couple weeks, where the state broadcaster, which is always too happy to remind Malawians of what the president is up to on his various travels in a program called “Presidential Diary” seemed confused.
There was no mention of the president in their news bulletins in spite of government spokesperson trying so hard to explain to a nation in suspense where the president was and what he was doing.
The silence was very loud on MBC.
And may be that is why, when they were finally ungagged, this was something to celebrate and not the heart-breaking news they may have been foreboding.
If you are a governance specialist however, what has happened in Malawi in the last couple weeks is a manifestation of the mess and sheer stupidity in our governance framework.
It is unjustifiable that Malawians should be taken for granted and, like kindergarten children, be made to believe that a state president never gets ill.
Now I do not want to be caught in the misguided threat from the ministry of information, who tried to gag everyone else – not only his MBC – from speculating about the president’s health.
But I do feel it is important to remind Malawians about the constitutional provisions regarding the health of our president. There is no need for our constitution to cease operating every time the president is ill or strongly believed or feared to be such.
When the president is ill, or believed to be ill, the constitutional thing to do is to inform the vice president and with the Vice President in charge of things, the president should be examined by independent doctors.
This process has to be fully transparent. If he is deemed to be medically incapacitated, the nation needs not to panic because when voting for the president, the nation also voted for a vice president whom they considered good enough to perform the duties and responsibilities of the presidency.
On the other hand, when rumours of presidential illness start reaching boiling point and the government decides to do something about them, it is not acceptable for the government in such circumstances to start threatening and intimidating people who through their own intelligence, cunning and resourcefulness, attempt to fill the information vacuum.
It is important to understand that in a democracy, the president is an employee of the people, elected to serve the people, not to lord over them.
Hence it is not acceptable in a democratic society for a president to be absent from his country without the public knowing where he is, what he is doing, and the state of his health.
The solution for overzealous and perturbed government officials is very simple.
Show the people a video recording of the president, holding a newspaper of the day the recording is made. In this day and age where the president has a social media presence, he can go live there if he is really in good spirits and enjoying himself, and leave a message for his citizens.
We have constantly seen pictures and videos of presidents of other countries enjoying their holidays. Our president can do the same. One strategic picture, one video, and tall rumours and gossip would immediately stop.
Intimidation is not the answer.
So, against this undesirable and truly despicable behavior from your government over your disappearance – holiday or illness or whatever; welcome back, Mr. President!
While you were away, blackouts and water problems got worse. Please try and explain to the nation what your administration is doing to address these very important issues.
Oh yes, and also while you were out, there was heavy speculation that you were ill, and not fit and well as your hand-clappers claimed.
In light of these speculations, is it possible for you to allow for a medical checkup to put the nation’s fears to rest? I am sure the doctors will give you a clean bill of health, sir.
Moving forward, though, as Malawians, we wish you could implement a governance framework that ensures that your vice, not your minister of agriculture or your head of security or your special assistants, take care of your responsibilities while you are away.
Keeping your vice president in the dark is against the constitution.