Thank you Counsel Ntata for sharing the Malawi Reform to Transform (Malawi R2T) ideology with us.
Having read it, our view is that while this document lays the rationale for the need for genuine reform if Malawi is to transform, it leaves the general public in suspense on how they fit in, in the broader scheme of things.
During this 2015 Year End interview, we hope you will clarify this and more. By the way, welcome to Dip in die Berg, Pretoria, RSA, the base of Karvei Exclusive Publications.
Garvey Karvei (GK): To set the ball rolling, what exactly is the mission of Malawi R2T?
Z Allan Ntata (ZAN): As stated in the declaration of the Malawi Reform to Transform (R2T) Philosophy, this movement is a revolutionary initiative.
Its goal is to overthrow Malawi’s dysfunctional political framework that continues to fail in delivering the promises of independence and democracy, only succeeds in enslaving our people in chronic poverty and hardships through economic and social injustices.
GK: To be honest with you Counsel, an average Malawian reading this will be tempted to think “we have heard this before” and they could be right.
Let me give you solid examples. When Malawi was embracing plural politics, Malawians were promised the moon, yet nothing has since materialised. In fact, some people say the civil service went to the dogs, and has never returned.
A few years ago, at the height of the government of late Bingu wa Mutharika – in which you served as Presidential Advisor -Malawians were being harangued about a “Hope Alliance” and “Agenda for Change”, initiatives that sounded very much like this Malawi R2T but which died when their architects were appointed Cabinet Ministers. Why should Malawians think Malawi R2T is any different?
ZAN: The main difference between the examples you have cited and Malawi R2T is in the DNA. People behind those initiatives, with due respect, were simply seeking to ride on Malawians bent backs on their way to ministerial positions and power. Full stop.
Malawi R2T, on the other hand, is not about Ntata or any single person or family for that matter; it is about the millions feeling the pinch of corruption, bad politics and poor governance; all which are conspiring to entrench poverty and suffering for the millions amidst obscene opulence and extravagance for a couple of hundreds or so.
Rather than seeking to replace current crop of oppressors with new oppressors, Malawi R2T movement is championing radical reforms, designed to address not the symptoms of our problems but the underlying causes of our lack of progress, which are cronyism at the expense of merit and unacceptably high tolerance levels of institutionalised corruption by successive leaders.
GK: And how do you hope to even start doing that given Malawians general lack of interest in things that really matter?
ZAN: As we speak Mr Karvei, Malawi R2T is making inroads, forging partnerships with key media institutions and practitioners, professionals from different disciplines, and naturally Youths willing to think outside political cocoons.
We have deliberately opted for diverse inclusivity because a revolutionary agenda of this kind requires a wide network to form a solid platform for advocacy, mass communication, and civic education that can deliver even when powers that be throw everything at their disposal to frustrate the patriotic drive.
GK: You have singled out the media but have been a bit vague on other professions, is that by design or by accident?
ZAN: Let me admit that you have quite a keen ear. The answer is this is by design for two reasons.
First of all, with politics of vengeance still the norm (one area acutely suffering from lack of reform), many Malawi R2T agitators and sympathisers in the various professions and even private sector want to be anonymous.
Secondly, the media – as the Fourth Estate – is as close as Malawi has to an independent watchdog, which can play fair and allow us to be heard if we are to sway public opinion among the urban and rural populations. This why we can mention the media without prejudicing it or endangering anyone.
GK: What about mainstream politicians from across the political divide? Do you have any as members of Malawi R2T and if yes, how do you hope to collaborate with them without losing your non-partisanship?
ZAN: Politicians who really want to serve people pursue the interests and deliver up the expectations of the people that voted them into parliament or government.
If they truly represent the people, are loyal to the people and love the people who entrust them with the representative powers to advance interests and aspirations of our society; even without formally joining this movement, they are already doing their part.
Unfortunately, such politicians with a genuine passion to serve are not that many to attain the critical mass needed, to drive the genuine reform Malawi needs.
GK: You want to elaborate?
ZAN: Happily so Mr Karvei. Fact is during the 21 years of multiparty politics, our democracy has simply been a vehicle for self-interest and the self-enrichment of politicians, whether in government or in opposition.
Politicians have ignored the people and traded their loyalty to their parties and party leaders to advance personal interests. This has entrenched the practice of hero-worshiping and political patronage; the twin devils that continue to derail our leaders from committing to the ideals of democracy.
GK: As you are aware, some – in fact many if we are to call a spade by its name – of Malawian politicians are simply not up to it. Can you therefore simplify the Malawi R2T call to action for Members of Parliament (MP) and other political office holders?
ZAN: I am more than glad to do that. Malawi R2T hereby invites politicians across all Parties represented in Parliament and outside Parliament to embrace this movement, not to fight it. This is because, if they truly represent Malawians, then we should be pooling our efforts to ensure the emancipation of our people. If on the other hand, they refuse to reform, they will be changed.
GK: Malawi R2T philosophy seems to demand for radical constitutional reforms (e.g. curbing presidential power, a pledge in DPP manifesto which the current presidency has conveniently set aside going by the recent intrusion in the selection of CoP, among other things).
Are you planning to team up with enterprising MPs to push Private Member Bills given that the Executive is likely to do nothing about this or are you happy to talk and talk till kingdom come?
ZAN: Yes, you are right that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) deceived Malawians on this very fundamental issue which demands immediate and radical reform. Much of the rot in our political framework since independence has to do with the messy administrative mandate as presented in the constitution.
The constitution unnecessarily piles up too much power on the Presidency. Hence, even after promising changes in their Manifesto, the ruling DPP continues to ignore these necessary constitutional reforms and curbing of presidential powers.
This is not surprising because we know that it is Malawi’s politically rotten framework that enables presidents dodge initiative changes which can result in more transparency and accountability.
The fear of true reform is evident even in the current Public Sector Reforms drive being led by the Vice President. This was doomed to fail from the start because approval of the reforms lies in the hands of the same president whose office and mandate, badly needs reform.
This effectively makes the VP’s committee and the whole reform process subject to the discretion of the president, hence defeating the whole idea of independent reforms.
It also explains why the real reforms that affect the presidency and the fight against executive corruption are not being touched in the so-called public service reforms.
The Malawi Reform To Transform movement pledges to do anything within the legal mandated channels and our democratic rights to team up with the media, CSOs, and the general public to exert effective pressure on government for true reforms that can lead to the transformation of the country.
GK: “Corruption” has been mentioned eight times in your philosophy. SDG 16 especially 16.5 requires UN member states to: “Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms”.
Given the lethargy in enacting the ATI bill and given that whistle-blowers are not protected in Malawi, how do you intend to escalate the fight against corruption and win?
ZAN: The Malawi R2T movement is not for cowards who believe in appeasement, no. Fighting corruption is not easy but, with patriotism, persistence and perseverance; we will win.
We will win because the Malawi R2T movement has the zeal of freedom and civil rights fighters that fought even bigger battles. Locally, we are inspired by Rev John Chilembwe and his handful of followers that stood against the exploitation of their people by armed colonialists.
We look up to late Masauko Chipembere, Dunduzu Chisiza, Orton Chirwa and others of our nationalistic pioneers that fought and bled for our independence, and of course, the spirit of those whose bravery and sacrifice gave us democracy.
GK: Now that you have opened the subject, how safe are Malawi R2T movement members in Malawi? How safe are you Mr Ntata in Malawi especially given the unavenged death of late Robert Chasowa and recently late Issa Njauju?
ZAN: To be frank with you, in a country where a senior official of the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) is murdered and the murderers are allowed to be walking scot-free by the Government, no-one is safe.
But then again, the increasing insecurity is exactly why we need to fight for reform. Without genuine reform, we will all continue living in fear. If we can harness and take control of our fear and use it to fight for genuine reform, we will – in the long run – live in a Malawi that is safe and where everyone is guaranteed security.
GK: All Malawi leaders have waxed lyrical about fighting corruption since Malawi embraced plural politics. Save for Yusuf Mwawa’s arrest and conviction in 2004/5, no big fish – in a serving government – has been seen the inside of a prison.
Since corruption cannot be curbed by selectively tackling historical cases and by protecting “holy cows”, what is the value adding role of Malawi R2T?
ZAN: The failure of previous regimes, and even the current DPP government to arrest and convict the big fish in corruption, especially those serving in government, is one of the main reasons this movement was formed.
Malawi R2T has new and innovative methods of fighting corruption including measures to ensure that the protection afforded to so-called sacred cows is no longer available. iCAT, a truly independent anti-corruption institution, has been working on this particular aspect. We are, as we speak, digging deep into the genesis of cash-gate which all Malawians know started before 2012. We are, am happy to report, making very good progress too.
GK: To conclude this interview, what mechanism do you have in place to ensure that Malawi R2T remains a popular initiative and does not evolve into a personal vehicle to your appointment into a government position as was the case with Moses Kunkuyu’s Hope Alliance and Hon Atupele Muluzi’s Agenda for Change?
ZAN: This movement is already a very popular initiative on the social media and even on the ground, in all regions. Our membership, has surged within the past three months, and peaked even higher the past three weeks. And we have physically interacted with most of our members across the regions.
Our nonpartisan philosophy, message and proactiveness will ensure that the movement remains popular because people already believe in our message and the ideals we stand for.
On using this Movement to hoodwink Malawians like others have done before, I have this to say: the Malawi REFORM TO TRANSFORM movement is not a political party. Its members and I have neither political motives and ambitions, nor do we fantasise leadership of Malawi.
People should therefore not join Malawi R2T in the hope that the movement will serve as a shortcut to a ministerial position. They will be disappointed.
Secondly and more conclusively, Malawi R2T is bigger than any one in the movement. Therefore, should any misguided politician think that by appointing anyone from the movement they will kill the movement, they will be surprised.
Malawi R2T will not be swallowed by any political behemoth as was the case with the Hope Alliance or the Agenda for Change.
GK: Thank you Counsel. On behalf of Maravi Post, Karvei Exclusive Publications and our network of corrrespondents, wish you and your membership a safe and secure festive season and productive year 2016.
Interview conducted by Garvey Karvei, Karvei Exclusive Publications, for Maravi Post.