So far more than a hundred days have elapsed with Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika as president of the Republic of Malawi. I tried to talk to several people, especially those who – like me – are without political party affiliation. The reaction was of the on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand type.
Has he started well? Well, they said, it depends on what you mean by “well”. If you want to mean sense of direction as to where we are headed, then you would be hard-pressed to point out what is “well” about the professor’s rule.
On the podium, whenever he addresses rallies, it’s all about his arrest for treason; it’s all about conspiracies to assassinate him.
And in the civil service or statutory corporation offices, people are losing jobs at the speed of light, despite all that empty talk about no reprisals.
“And then blatant tribalism !”
One hundred days have been enough to cement Prof. Mutharika’s legacy as the most nepotistic president Malawi has ever had.
And that’s frightening because one would have thought that his brother, Bingu, was worse. Yet you have to come from a certain region and a certain tribe to be appointed to some position under this president.
It seems, also, that there will be no mercy when it comes to the misuse of our lean economic resources, especially when our presidency is spending on the obscenely opulent Mercedes Benz of the Maybach type. More than K40 million for one car, as though there was a need for one in the first place.
Sometimes our presidents spend just because they can. They do not have to think of the suffering poor, or the lack of medicine in hospitals. There is money, so let’s spend it, that’s the thinking. We’re the lords of the earth; it’s our time.
As we speak, there is a trip to America, where the president is sleeping in a room that costs $17,000 a night, or K7.65 million in local currency. That is according to undisputed media reports. One night of financing Professor Mutharika’s luxurious life means a salary for 250 teachers, or medicine for seven district hospitals. And he will stay for how long, ten nights? With 68 delegates, the bill will come to K400 million. He absolutely doesn’t care about Malawi’s poverty! He cares only about himself.
“then federalism is probably a good idea”
If you are too emotional, you might think the talk of federalism is nonsense. But when you cannot be appointed or promoted to some positions because of your tribe, when the little resources we have as a nation are being wasted on Maybach Benzes and on luxurious Waldorf Astoria hotel rooms, instead of developing the road to Manyamula, then federalism is probably a good idea. We need to manage our own fate.
And so, under Mutharika, calls for the balkanisation of the already tiny Malawi are getting louder and louder, some under the guise of federalism, while others want outright secession.
For the record, I, personally, am for one Malawi – indivisible until the second coming of Jesus Christ!
But I have to put myself in the shoes of the suffering many who find it heartless that a president should be wasting financial resources on the procurement of luxury cars, such as the Maybach, instead of making their lives better.
And all this recklessness is happening at a time when donors have refused to finance the shortfall in our national budget, and one ambassador is on record as having said that donors are not an auto-teller machine.
But they, the donors, have every right to refuse funding the abyss in our national budget. I would do the same if the recipients of aid splashed it on luxuries instead of prioritising pro-poor programmes.
And one other thing that does not make sense in the last 100 days is the decision to include in the national budget the funds for iron sheets and cement, the subsidy that will only benefit the well-to-do few. In the villages, without meaningful income generating activities (tobacco farming is dying, by the way), even if cement were to come down to K500 per bag, very, very few could afford. In the end, the same people who afford building houses now are the ones who will benefit from this subsidy.
We are paying taxes to subsidise the rich, not the poor. It is a pointless political decision we can ill-afford under current circumstances.
So, to conclude, the people I spoke to say that if we were to mark Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika out of ten, he has scored three so far. It does not surprise some of us, given his dismal record when he was cabinet minister at the ministries of Justice, Education and Foreign Affairs. There was not a single thing he achieved at any of these ministries.
Anyway, this situation is what Malawians wanted, and there is no choice but to live with it. Five more years will be wasted, just when we needed to turn the corner.