“To lose one parent
may be regarded
as a misfortune;
to lose both looks like carelessness.”
So what does one make out of the unprecedented quitting of senior officials from the governing People’s Party (PP) less than five months to an important election? Greed or crisis of leadership?
Let us come back to this question a little later. But first, this is my take on the PP as a party. PP has always been an experimental grouping from the beginning. Joyce Banda did not plan to found it. It was forced upon her by circumstances. Because some people wanted to maintain a dynasty in the latter days of Bingu wa Mutharika’s Democratic Progress Party (DPP) regime she was deemed a stumbling block, hence she was shoved out.
So PP was born out of convenience, no wonder it is made up of a motley crew of journeymen who themselves had issues from whence they came. You found one Brown Mpinganjira whose presidential ambitions were ship-wrecked working with one George Zulu who had to leave the Malawi Congress Party for his own reasons.
Of course pure greed forced most people to join PP after events during those three mad days of that April catapulted Joyce Banda to power. There are some political types who cannot fathom the idea of being in the opposition. They follow where power is, that is why they have been in all governments from the MCP, through the United Democratic Front (UDF) to the DPP and now PP.
Mayi Chiponda was apt when she famously, if not shamelessly, put it on record that she does not know how to be out of the echelons of power.
Save for the UDF, the two other governing parties we have had so far had been experimental. The UDF won a genuine election in 1994 to become a governing party but the DPP became one by default. (By the way, I am advisedly avoiding the word ‘ruling party’ for there is no such term in our laws).
Bingu, as we all know, cheated his way to power. He sold the UDF a dummy by meekly playing second fiddle to one Bakili Muluzi as the self-styled ‘political engineer’ sold him as ‘economic engineer’. After safely attaining keys to Plot Number 1 he called Muluzi his bluff and eloped with the presidency to the nascent DPP. If our laws were fair Bingu should have called for snap elections to regularise his mandate the day he quit the UDF.
Joyce Banda’s case was slightly different. She was forced out of the DPP because Bingu wanted to ‘keep it in the family’.
Nobody forced Bingu to settle for Joyce Banda as his choice of vice president during the 2009 elections. But the ringing endorsement he got during the elections blinded him. He thought he could play God. He toyed with the idea of elongating his tenure of office but he did not want to suffer the Muluzi ‘third term’ ‘open term’ embarrassment.
So to sustain himself in power he drafted in his reluctant younger brother, Peter, to take over from him. If it were not for his Big Brother, Peter would not have nursed any presidential ambitions. He has always been a reluctant presidential candidate, that is why he is not sure whether he is 100 percent Malawian.
But as vice president Joyce Banda had a legitimate expectation to take over from her boss when he was scheduled to retire after the May 20 polls. So she became a stumbling block to the filial succession plan. That was why she was sacrificed at the alter of pure greed and eventually became ostracised from the DPP.
But having tasted power Abiti could not go down without a fight. She cobbled together a rag tag assemblage of disgruntled politicians into PP. As fate would have it, PP suddenly ended up in government.
So PP was an experimental party from the word go. Ama formed it out of frustrations and never planned for it to be in government any time soon until fate thrust power unto her.
Now, do you remember Third World’s chart-topping song ‘Now That We Found Love What Are We Gonna Do With It’? That was exactly the scenario Joyce Banda and her experimental PP found themselves in. They suddenly had power in front of them, what were they going to do with it?
That explains the flip-flopping in policy directions we noticed once Mrs. Joyce Banda became Her Excellency the President of the Republic of Malawi. One day she is all for a review of our homophobic laws, the next she wants a referendum over the same after a backlash from the conservative society. One day she sells the infamous presidential jet and gets kudos from Western capitals for that bold decision, the next her ‘friends’ charter for her the same jet she sold. You cannot beat that!
Indeed you can also not beat her bold decision to sell the gas guzzling fleet of Mercedes Benz for her cabinet. A British minister actually praised her to the moon, saying it was unfathomable for an African leader to give up such luxury. But the next day her office confirms she was actually joking about selling the Mercs. “We are SADC chair, you know,” her spokesman reminds us. Apparently visiting African leaders love to travel in the comfort of Mercs on our rugged roads which became the butt of jokes for one cheeky Jacob Zuma.
Did our president not know she would take the rotational SADC chair one day when she told the world she was boarding off the Mercs?
But, like I said, let us be fair with her, hers has always been an experimental, if not accidental, presidency, so the flip flopping in policy direction was inevitable. An experiment and an accident are what they are – experiment and accident, one does not plan for their outcome.