According to a recent press release from the State House, president Peter Mutharika does not see anything wrong whatsoever in the suspiciously corrupt disbursement of MK4 billion to MPs by Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe.
Just as he never saw anything wrong in the actions of George Chaponda’s Maizegate until his eyes were brutally opened by a commission of inquiry, and just as he has never seen anything wrong in any of MACRA’s corrupt deals, nor any of his cronies’ actions that are even now being investigated by the ACB, president Peter Mutharika’s head and eyes are firmly buried in the sand regarding any corruption in his administration.
In fact, he even has the temerity to speak about a commitment to fighting corruption in his speeches. Incredible!
This clearly means then that if we are expecting Goodall and his friends to be disciplined, we better look elsewhere, folks. Peter just isn’t up to the task.
The question then becomes this: Who will discipline these wantonly corrupt sacred cows?
There was a time when Malawian civil society and political activism was vibrant, honest and genuinely effective. In the fight for multiparty democracy in 1992, it was Malawian civil society and political activism that was in the forefront.
Fearless Malawian activists in the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and Religious groupings, for example, agitated for change and put pressure on Dr Kamuzu Banda and Malawi Congress Party to stop human rights abuses, autocracy and repression.
When Bakili Muluzi pressed to run for a third presidential term, Malawian civil society could have none of it. And when Bingu wa Mutharika departed from the path of economic development into a path of antagonism, confrontation and authoritarianism that threatened to implode into economic chaos and political pandemonium, Malawian political activists stepped up to the challenge of drawing the line.
It is a very curious question indeed therefore that at a time when Malawi needs her activists the most, at a time when rampant corruption threatens to totally consume and obliterate Malawian society as we know it, Malawian activism has allowed itself to be sabotaged, compromised and incapacitated by what can only be greed and selfishness.
It is against this background that the edicts of Malawian activism must necessarily be considered and reminders made that will rouse our once intrepid civil society into the formidable army it once was, and to once again take a stand on integrity and affirmative action.
Could it be that the blame lies in the fact that to our Malawian activists, the fundamental role of corruption in shaping our economic development and even human rights, although sometimes recognized, has not received the attention they deserve?Or could it be that there is a lack of appreciation for the best framework for addressing corruption and instituting administrative accountability and transparency?
The prevailing theory of accountability is a traditional one, which can be said to be a top-to bottom approach to strengthening accountability structures and calling leaders into account. In developing societies, however, such as Malawi, where culture and tradition are quite important influences to the governance systems, there is clearly a need for a bottom-to-top approach. The World Bank has recognised this approach as effective and necessary in addressing accountability in weak democracies under the concept of “social accountability”.
But in order to be effective, social accountability as an initiative relies on civic engagement, whereby ordinary citizens participate directly or indirectly in holding power-holders to account. Because leaders most often engage in corruption with no regard to the concerns or the interests of the citizenry, such an approach must first address the cultural challenges of having a population that largely feels disinterested in calling their leaders to account to appreciate its natural responsibility.
It is in this regard that Malawian political activism is failing, for instead of focusing on the necessary civic education of the masses, Malawian Civil society has concentrated on competing to be the most outspoken against the system. All we see now are press releases and press conferences, often with the aim that after being noticed by the administration as a nuisance, they will be approached with tokens to buy their silence and support.
Civil Society action is virtually dead. PAC only recently recoiled and betrayed Malawian hopes in their retreat regarding the 50+1 bill protests. And now, with MACRA, Parliament and various other institutions embroiled in corruption allegations, all we have are hollow press releases instead of a call to action.
It is clear then, that the first challenge of accountability should be the accountability of the Civil Society and the political activists themselves to their own sense of patriotism and morality- an understanding that they are accountable to their own nation regarding how they represent the “people” and help and guide those people to hold their leaders to account when there is the prevailing of corruption and impunity.
Malawian political and civil activists need to remember that they have a responsibility not to use the system to enrich themselves, as we have seen in recent times, but to use existing social dynamics, political realities and administrative deficiency contexts to establish an understanding of social accountability within Malawian societies that effectively will inform and enable the common citizens to call upon public officials to justify their behaviour, actions and results.
A robust civil society may be Malawi’s last line on defense; the country’s only hope for wayward public officials to be sanctioned accordingly. In this regard, Malawian civil society needs to go back to its roots of integrity and engage the “bottom-to-top” approach, or the social accountability approach to the fight against corruption by engaging social movements that demand accountability through mechanisms other than traditional vertical channels (elections) and horizontal channels (legislatures and institutional checks and balances) of formal political accountability. Furthermore, press releases just wont work anymore now. The Malawian political conscious is seared with a corruption hot iron and only severe measures will shock it into action for change.
At its heart, activism by its nature connotes conflict. Thus those who really consider themselves Malawian activists today cannot simply talk and post comments on their social media walls. In order to truly effect change against a government bent on perpetuating corruption with impunity, activities of Malawian activists of today must range from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, to political campaigning; from economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing businesses, to rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, and hunger strikes.
The state of our nation, the rampant corruption and social injustices that are ravaging the country, call for the resurrection of the old spirit of Malawian activism. In order to bring back that old patriotic spirit, and for Malawian activism to re-take its rightful place as a real stakeholder in Malawian development, Malawian activists need urgently to realize that these are times that call for sincere self-examination about their principles and what they stand fore.
With the Malawi going through the darkest period of its economic development, while ironically we celebrate 50 years of independence, it probably is the duty of every Malawian to be an activist.
The place to begin, if there has ever been a need for one, is the organization of activities that force president Peter Mutharika to wake up from his slumber, stop protecting his cronies and discipline Goodall and all his friends.