“The wise ones
with their thought,
sifting it as grain
is sifted through a sieve”
President Peter Mutharika has this, for want of a better word, annoying – if not boring – habit of rushing through his speeches, jumping over whole chunks of it and then telling us to go figure it out for our ourselves on the Internet or in newspapers.
I have some news for my dear President; only 4 percent of your people have access to the Internet, Sir. Besides, Your Excellency, not all of us know how to read. Pay a visit to your National Statistics Office in Zomba, you will be shocked to learn that even if you made available computers in Chilumba, Sharp Vale or, indeed, Goliati, and printed your speeches in newspapers in any available languages, up to 40 percent of your people will not make heads or tails of it even if Kondwani Nankhumwa distributes the newspapers for free.
Besides, Mr. President, a speech is not the end in itself. A speech begins at its conceptualisation, formulation, writing and then, crucially, delivery. The passion with which you deliver your speech, including the body language, drives the point home.
Mr. President, an eloquent speech, as William Jennings Bryan puts it, “is not from lip to ear, but rather from heart to heart.” How then will we get the feel of how impassioned you were in your speech delivery when we were to read it all by ourselves?
Hillary Clinton, Mr. President, hammered home the message when she said, “You can’t just give a speech and expect people to fall down and agree with you.”
I must say whenever I have had the time to do as you advise I find your speeches mostly rich and well-thought through. I, therefore, feel cheated as a citizen to realise that you denied me the chance to witness you delivering it.
I will give you an example, Mr. President. The take-home message from your inaugural speech was your unfortunate – if not misplaced – Yasser Arafat “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun” quote. Your well-written speech was reconciliatory to Joyce Banda; it did not contain that needless veiled threat to your predecessor.
Mr. President, some of your apologists may lie to you that great speeches are nothing, action is. But, if truth be told, you are in politics, Sir, where speeches and actions need each other as the brain needs the heart for the body to function properly.
Mr. President, Barack Obama moved mountains in his first dash for the White House not because he was decidedly the best. He moved mountains and lakes because of the passion with which he delivered his speeches and the sincerity in his body language.
Sir, a story is told of a global news network that found some young women in tears after an Obama speech. A reporter asked the young ladies why they were in tears.
“We’re so touched by Mr. Obama’s speech!” The reporter asked: “What did the candidate say?” The women unabashedly said, “We don’t remember but whatever he said was great!”
So, you see, Mr. President, in politics you need the best of both worlds. I am not saying you have to be an orator extraordinaire like Barack Obama, no; the dude is in a league of his own.
But, even if you have natural challenges in oratory, you do not have to run away from your own speeches. I know you have your own team of experts that researches and writes your speeches, Your Excellency, Sir, but – at the end of the day – it remains your speech.
You have to, therefore, sit with your team of speech-writers and run through your speeches, take out any words or phrases you are not naturally comfortable with. Every language is rich, Sir; it has alternatives for each and every word.
For example, most of us, Malawians, have the ‘l’ and ‘r’ problem. If you have a similar problem, work with your speech-writers how to pronounce which letter if you cannot avoid it.
…Or avoid it altogether if you can!
You will not be the first, Sir; ask Ken Lipenga how he worked on Bakili Muluzi. The first multiparty president struggled with his speeches at the beginning, but – thanks to Mapwiya and Co. – Atcheya became an orator in both English and Chichewa within months.
But I should not be telling you this, Mr. President; unlike Muluzi, you are a university don with 40 years experience to boot. You should appreciate how, even for an 80-year-old veteran professor, learning does not end.
So, Mr. President, next time you give us an important speech, do not insult us, your people, with instructions to read the rest of it on our own on the Internet or in newspapers. We pay you millions to tell us your vision yourself.
If running affairs of state was that easy, Mr. President, then we needed not have Atcheya, Mose wa Lero, Ama or yourself blowing our millions in State House. We would have needed only Timpunza Mvula, Ken Lipenga or Bright Mollande to write our State of the Nation addresses and we go figure it out for ourselves on the Internet or in newspapers!
An inaugural speech and a State of the Nation address, Mr. President, Sir, are pointers as to where a president is planning to take the country to. Ditto your Big Brother.
Like you, close to two-thirds of Malawians rejected Bingu. But when he delivered his powerful inaugural speech to a half-empty stadium, the nearly 70 percent of Malawian voters that rejected him at the polls embraced him.
Imagine if he had told us to go figure it out for ourselves on the Internet or in newspapers. I am sure Lucius Banda’s impeachment procedures could have kicked him out of the New State House in no time at all!
So, Mr. President, do not be lazy; read out your speeches in full; the nation wants to hear from their father once in a while.
Of course, you have demonstrated that, unlike your predecessors, you will not be boring us with your tired old face daily on the national television. But, whenever the occasion implores you to address us, we want you to address us in full. You may fluff one or two words, or get one or two names wrong – like you did with that lady at the Judiciary, but you are just as mortal like the rest of us. Please do not let these little gaffes and snafus scare you off the national microphone.
To err, my dear President, is human, so they say; so do not be afraid to make an occasional mistake here and there. Please, always talk to us in full when the occasion demands you to do so.
After all, it is you speech; do not get scared of it!