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Malawians don’t know the type of leader they want, need, or respect

President Chakwera

Why are you doing this? We are humans just like you. Please give up all this foolishness. Turn to the living God, who made the sky, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. – Act 14:15

All manner of Malawians, male or female, young or old, educated or not, black or non-black, do not know what kind of leadership they should want, need, or can respect for any length of time. The country has been an independent nation for fifty-seven years and lived through 27 years under democratic rule and gone through five presidents and a sixth is in power.

In close to 60 years of independent rule, the mix of the six leaders have produced an interesting love-hate relationship between the governor and the governed, and Chakwera’s off the page retort highlights for the first time, a leader’s exasperation of an extremely heavily unenlightened citizenry. And if the presence of the free press, social media, and the variety of media environments have helped in the democratic processes of other countries, the Malawian experience is a mixed bag of the record going round and round and round.

During Kamuzu Day commemoration, President Chakwera, doing his usual special (Chichewa version) lamented at length, if a lister caught it in the middle, the speech was in the same well-crafted style, but in Chichewa. The gist of the lament was that he is not the panacea to Malawi’s problems, nor is he meant to be. He has various structures within the government that are mandated to perform a variety of functions.

Chakwera’s bafflement with Malawians drove him during the ceremony to go off script and drew a chapter from Kamuzu’s style of posing questions to the crowd and drawing responses and laughter. He then threw some stingers “Malawians must take corporate responsibility. Leaders make mistakes, but the citizens also make mistakes.” “Leaders become what they are because of the people.” “There are some people that say ‘things will not be possible unless there’s a certain type of dictatorship,” and “if you want me to be of this nature (a dictator), you should never curse my name.”

As an oldtimer, I enjoyed the Chakwera May 14 bantering; this was the kind of leader and audience exchanges that Malawians experienced with Kamuzu at his public meetings and political rallies. Malawians communicated with Kamuzu in this fashion, this repertoire for 30 years.

Did Malawians get melded into the Kamuzu brand of autocratic leadership? Taking what Chakwera said and shone the light on Kamuzu, it could hold water, if truth be told. Kamuzu came at the invitation of the Nyasaland African Congress leaders; by the height of the MCP government in 1975, none of the leaders were in the country, Kamuzu became the sole voice, with a piece of well-orchestrated ruling machinery that did not tolerate dissent, had tentacles of control from Nsanje to Chitipa.

Then came Muluzi, and while he may not have personally voiced it, but certainly, his cabinet and followers did not tolerate dissent either. In fact, anyone who voiced opposition to anything Atcheya said, was labeled as“an MCP stooge.” The same flattery the masses poured on Kamuzu, Malawians removed it from the MCP cup and placed it in the yellow UDF cup. While it was once great to be a Chewa, card-carrying, Kamuzu Day gift-giving patriot, Malawians bought yellow outfits, painted their cars yellow, even government buildings enjoyed a yellow tint. All part of the “zinthu zasintha.” Again, truth be told, nothing had changed, Malawians just transferred their worshiping from Kamuzu to Muluzi.

Many Malawians learned Yao, others converted to Islam. The idea for the bid to a third term gained momentum, with none present to prevent the Bill being tabled in Parliament. The fact that the Bill narrowly failed to pass, shows how Malawians have an appetite to love and support despots. This is so entrenched in their blood, that when one is voted in and is not a despot, they will embark on rebranding him or her.

The desire to create the despot was true of the Mutharika brothers, with a break in between for the two-year term of Dr. Joyce Banda. Like swarms of bees, Malawians, with varied personal agendas, surrounded the leaders and remade them. Many times the surrounding agents, prevented other Malawians from getting close to the presidents. As they did with Kamuzu and Muluzi, Malawians laid on heaps of layers of powers on the president, mostly achieved through flattery, of course mostly for self-preservation and promotion.

While they ran with the vision of the leaders, once out of power, however, the Malawians almost, always immediately launched missiles attacks of the previous leaders; the leaders they had helped to remake; the leaders some officials placed shields to keep other Malawians away.

Chakwera’s quick and keen eye on the Malawians’ shortcomings in not knowing the type of leader they want or need, and indeed the type they can respect beyond State House, gives him the opportunity to hone in again and again what the social contract exists between him and the people of Malawi.

The servant-leader is just one month shy of being in office for one year; he is in a great position to determine the leadership brand he brings to the Malawi table. He is in the seat carving the relationship between the governed and the governor.

He is in good standing to elucidate to the Malawian, young and old, male and female, educated and not educated, village-based and urban-based the look of democratic governance. Briefly put, Chakwera is in a position to clarify the appropriate relationship between him and his employer who is the citizenry.

Governance, after all, is a give and take through structures laid out in the constitution. The remakes Malawians have been busy creating have been outside the ambits of the constitution.

One might ask, should we trust Chakwera on this new-look type of leadership? The response is resounding yes because his speeches, heavily spiced with prayers, mention of God, are about the people and not himself.

Long live genuine democracy!

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