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Talking Blues: Lazarus Chakwera’s first year, the making of yet another inconsequential presidency

Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera is sworn in in Lilongwe, Malawi, July 6, 2020. REUTERS/Eldson Chagara

By Mapwiya Muulupale

“Under-promise and over-deliver. People will be pleasantly surprised when you do more than they expected. And remember that there is always room for us to be better and do better.” – Luvvie Ajayi

We will soon clock a year after the Fresh Presidential Election of 23 June 2020, which ushered in President Lazarus Chakwera’s presidency under the auguries of the Tonse Alliance.

On his inauguration, expectations of a better Malawi for all were sky-high, and if truth be told, no president has ever enjoyed the goodwill that Pres Chakwera had upon taking office.

A religious background, stinging criticism of his predecessors and a promise of “transformation”; all combined and misled Malawians into believing that finally, they had pressed the systems-reset button.

Partnering with Vice President Saulos Chilima was the icing on the cake. This created anticipation that the two top dog’s diverse skills, temperaments, and backgrounds would seamlessly blend into a hybrid leadership, amplifying their best qualities while suppressing their vices.

Where do things stand now?

The highlight of this past week was the indaba of sober and somber Tonse Alliance leaders in Mangochi. Talks, according to reports, focused on wrangles among the partners and the serious socio-economic challenges hounding Malawians despite promises to the contrary.

As per People’s Transformation (Petra) Party president Kamuzu Chibambo, the indaba’s designated media spokesperson, the meeting noted the many socio-economic challenges facing Malawians and the public’s concerns that the Tonse alliance is disintegrating.

He further reported that the nine political-party Alliance is working to address these issues, saying:

“There is so much at stake in the country with Covid-19 ravaging the country, scarcity of jobs, businesses collapsing, and life being exceedingly difficult for the majority of our people. These are things concerning us.

“The talk about 2025 [the election year], of course, they are things that cannot be totally ignored, but the focus now is on how to deal with socio-economic challenges the country is facing.”

Chibambo tried to assuage concerns that the Alliance is falling apart because partners have stopped governing and delivering but are instead busy building up for 2025.

According to Chibambo, a road map is being drawn to ensure that matters do not get out of hand.

He said: “This other day, the Vice-President [Chilima] addressed the same issue in Karonga. So, efforts are underway to address that issue thoroughly and adequately. Things will be sorted out.

“Certain things will arise, but it’s just a question of how we manage this process so that things don’t get out of control. There is a broader angle on it that is being investigated. For now, the important thing is for leaders to continue working together and then also ensure that concerns of supporters are addressed.”

Whatever the Alliance leaders discussed, agreed and/or agreed to disagree on, one thing is for sure: in its Global Economic Prospects Report for June 2021, the World Bank has revised Malawi’s growth rate downwards to 2.8 per cent, from the 3.8 per cent projection made previously.

In six words = the worst is yet to come.

This, of course, is not what the Tonse Alliance promised.

Now, before some slick spin doctor tries to scapegoat Covid19 for the worsening socio-economic challenges, we should remember that Election 2020 Campaign promises came after Covid19 had already been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Covid19 existed even as the promises were being made. Hence, no one should blame their failure to deliver on the Covid19 crisis.

The question then is: what has gone wrong?

I can list several things.

Presidential indecisiveness exhaustively discussed, written about and opined on by many; corruption happening as before if not with more impunity; incompetence and a business as usual approach at the highest level of the Civil Service as a result of hiring a tried, tired and failed maestro to man an office that needs an energetic innovator /change driver; presidential vanity and addiction to showmanship under the misconception that a president can govern Malawi in a hands-off manner and the well-documented mistrust and rivalry in the Alliance.

Among other things, intra-alliance mistrust and rivalry create an environment where alliance partners are setting each other up to fail. I have observed a worrisome adoption of Napoleon’s strategy of not interrupting your enemy when they are making a mistake.

Case authority? Some characters appointed as ambassadors lack the moral discipline to hold such high posts. Hence, while we are still smarting from the disgrace of Malawian diplomats in South Africa operating illegal shebeens, we could in future be disgraced again when an official residence is turned into a bordello.

What can we, therefore, say on this first anniversary of the historic 23 June 2020 FPE?

My first take is that perhaps because of the hunger for power and the pressure to out-promise Peter Mutharika, the Tonse Alliance as a group and President Chakwera as a person failed to appreciate the wisdom of under-promising but over-delivering.

However, this would not be an issue if Chakwera’s leadership and government were demonstrably taking Malawi from a business as usual to a business unusual mode.

Unfortunately, like his predecessors, Chakwera is wholly entangled in trappings of power. He looks on cloud nine when carrying out mundane non-value-adding ceremonial chores where microphones and cameramen are in abundance.

You know what?

• All his predecessors posed for thousands of photogenic stunts.

• All his predecessors delivered volumes and volumes of prepared speeches.

• All his predecessors enjoyed the intoxicating pomp and honour accorded to presidents during public functions.

These, however, did not translate into positive change in terms of improving the livelihood of ordinary Malawians.

You know why?

It is because the hard work of transforming a country happens in the president’s office where:

• he reads and reviews boring but essential data and reports and quickly makes decisions.

• decisions which are swiftly implemented by a change-minded energetic Secretary to President and Cabinet with deviations and variances followed up, investigated, and fixed and

• lessons learned factored in other sectors and processes.

And as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the wheels of transformation irreversibly grind forward, and tangible improvements slowly but surely become visible.

But as things are, the alluring speeches, the powerful Television moments, and the picturesque stunts in gowns or camouflage captured on film have not changed a thing.

To conclude, without radical change(s), the year 23 June 2020 to date will go down in history as Chakwera’s first year in the making of yet another inconsequential presidency in Malawi.

What a waste!

Talking Blues- Weekly serious Analysis of Malawi Events. Weekly Sunday Column by Mapwiya Muulupale: Malawi’s Famous Political provocateur

Mapwiya Muulupale
Mapwiya Muulupale
Talking Blues– Weekly serious Analysis of Malawi Events. Weekly Sunday Column by Mapwiya Muulupale: Malawi’s Famous Political provocateur
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