By Cedrick Ngalande, PHD
There is a new phenomenon often spoken in racial discussions these days. It is called “unconscious bias”.
There was a time when people chose to be racist. They would gladly accept that they do not like people of a particular race and did not want to deal with them. Those days are gone now. Today, people have been so much sensitized to issues of racism that they do not often consciously choose to be racist. Unfortunately, though, racism still exists. Today, most racist practices are done through ‘unconscious bias’.
Unconscious bias is when good people conduct themselves in a racist manner without knowing. For instance, a boss may believe that John (who is white) can perform a certain task better than James (who is black) even though there is no evidence of that. The boss is convinced of his conviction that he assumes that every other reasonable person will see it the same way too. Yet, every other person does not see it that way.
Over the past few years, we have seen unconscious bias at work in Malawi. I have written before that tribalism is Malawi’s original sin. Tribalism is to Malawi what racism has become in some western countries.
When former president Peter Mutharika (APM) and his DPP party were in power, a segment of the people was very angry or furious at APM for what they claimed was tribalism and corruption. Theirs, they claimed, was righteous indignation; they could not be silent when APM was appointing people from Thyolo, his home district, or from the so called Lomwe Belt.
These accusations were so strong that the DPP government was forced to publish a list of districts of origin for cabinet ministers and top government officials. This move, however, did not stop the accusations. Critics even used NGO – human rights organizations – to organize massive demonstrations to try and topple the government. Some of the country’s top clergy used the sacred pulpit to accuse the DPP government because, as they said, “that was what God wanted them to do – speak up”.
Oh, how a year can change the character of men!
A few months ago, the Lazarus Chakwera government celebrated its first year in office. Over the past year, we have seen a government that has taken nepotism and corruption to the most disturbing levels ever! The president appointed his own son-in-law to be his presidential spokesman. He also went ahead and appoint a cabinet heavily patronized by people from his region, even his district. As if all that was not enough, there are now credible media reports that he has appointed his own daughter to be a diplomat in Europe. The Vice President’s own mother-in-law has been appointed as the new ambassador to Zambia.
On corruption, the government almost acts without impunity. Billions of kwachas meant for Covid were lost. The government almost handwaved the incident. When pressed, they formed an inquiry whose report has now been thrown into the wastebasket. In the midst of a pandemic, and among fears of new Covid variants coming, the government spent millions of kwachas in the so-called Independence Day celebrations. This money should have been used to purchase vaccines and hospital equipment in readiness for the next wave of Covid. Apparently, nobody in cabinet had that vision. In fact, a significant fraction of the money meant for the celebrations was used to buy ruling party cloth for decorations. The decorations, themselves, were so amateurish and awful that it does not take brain surgery to know that the money was actually embezzled.
The president’s credibility is now hovering somewhere below zero. He promised to review his cabinet by December 2020 – he never did. He then asked his VP to review the ministers and give him a report. He promised to announce a new cabinet within a month. That was nearly 6 months ago… He commissioned a report to review how contracts in government were awarded; he has since shelved the report without revealing its content.
Reading through this Tonse Alliance’s record, you would think that the people who were accusing APM of corruption and nepotism would now be screaming. They are not! You would think that the clergy would by now have torn their clothes and put on sackcloth. They have not! You would think that the human rights organizations would now be organizing million-man marches; they are not! In fact, some human rights officials have just accepted cozy diplomatic appointments.
As for those citizens who were constantly bashing APM for corruption and nepotism, they are now awfully quiet. If you go to their Facebook walls now, you will find them discussing soccer, music, and basketball – not politics anymore.
APM was never the most corrupt president. The DPP government with its base in the Lomwe belt was never the most nepotistic government. These accusations were mostly a result of unconscious bias. Unconscious resentment of the DPP base made some good people make very outrageous claims about that government.
It is now clear that the intense hatred of the DPP was not about corruption or nepotism …