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Talking Blues: Malawi’s lost quintuple is President Peter Mutharika’s legacy

Talking Blues
Talking Blues- Weekly seriuos Analysis of Malawi Events

Late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was sworn in as President of the Republic of Malawi on 6 July 1966. He served as such for 27 years, 324 days until 24 May 1994.

Mr Eleson Bakili Muluzi, Dr Banda’s immediate successor, served from 24 May 1994 to 24 May 2004.

He was succeeded by Dr Bingu wa Mutharika on 24 May 2004. Bingu presided for 7 years, 317 days. He died in office on 5 April 2012.

Mrs Joyce Banda, the Vice President finished off that term, taking over from 7 April 2012 to 31 May 2014. She served for 2 years, 54 days before losing the election to the incumbent Prof Peter Mutharika who assumed office on 31 May 2014.

Due to the nullification of the May 2019 Presidential Election on top of the constitutional 5 years, he has had 363 days “extra time”.

“Never waste your time with stupid people. They will never change and yet they will do everything they can to change you. . . stupidity loves company.”  Dr Banda told his biographer, Dr Brody.

Kamuzu Banda
Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda (centre) at Lancaster House with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Copyright GETTY IMAGES

True to this belief, Kamuzu never suffered fools gladly. Sadly, he did not tolerate dissent either and this led to the suffering of those who attracted his ire.

“For the first time since I left Kasungu so many years ago, tears came to my eyes, but these were tears of happiness at the prospects of someday soon being a physician. I knew that I still faced years of much, much hard work to achieve that goal. But Kamuzu was always good at hard work.” Dr Banda, reminiscing the day he got accepted to study medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

Hard work. Hard work in the fields (farming), hard work in offices, hard work on sports fields is how he set about laying the foundation of the Malawi he handed over to Bakili Muluzi.

A functional railway line running from Mchinji to Nsanje, the University of Malawi under the various constituent colleges, the College of Medicine project, Kamuzu Central Hospital, Chikangawa Forest Reserve, road networks and practically the entire Lilongwe City which did not exist before 1970.

Several teachers’ training colleges, district secondary schools and hospitals and rural health centres where one – during Kamuzu’s time – was able to get even crystapen.

Crystapen or Benzylpenicillin, also known as penicillin G, is an antibiotic used to treat several bacterial infections. Today, when doctors at Malawi’s referral hospitals prescribe crystapen, you must dig onto your pockets to buy from pharmacies. Under Kamuzu, a dictator, that drug – among others – was available at the most rural of health centres.

What happened? Bakili Muluzi happened.

For discerning readers who want to learn what exactly transpired during Bakili’s lost decade, the book “Malawi’s Lost Decade: 1994-2004” co-authored by Professor Adamson Muula and Mrs Emmie Chanika is a must-read.

I will not waste precious space retelling the visionless opportunism that Bakili engendered whose fruits are the corruption, laziness, and a penchant for a quick buck plus dubious elections we are reaping today.

“You don’t necessarily need atomic bombs to destroy a nation. Politicians who value their pockets than the life of citizens always do that every day,” said Israelmore Ayivor.

Nothing could be more apt.

By the end of Bakili’s tenure, no one wanted anything to do with him.

No one.

Who would want a person who has wrecked a whole nation’s foundations without launching a single grenade?

The one person who knew that Malawians wanted Bakili no more was late Dr Bingu wa Mutharika. Upon assuming office, he quickly disentangled himself from Bakili and his United Democratic Front (UDF).

He went further. He refused to be bribed by the tobacco cartel. After setting minimum tobacco prices, some buyers resisted. Bingu deported them.

“For a long time, I’ve been warning these exploitative colonialists to pay fair prices to farmers, I will not except for my people to be exploited,” said Bingu, then also serving as the Minister of Agriculture.

To resolve a protracted standoff over the National Budget, as a compromise to Malawi Congress Party (MCP)’s insistence on universal subsidy for fertilizer, Bingu conceded to implement a partial subsidy via FISP.

It was a resounding success and it made Bingu a household name among Nsima-addicted Malawians.

This plus the fact that his “boys” viz. Ishmael Wadi, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Gustav Kaliwo, the then Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), were not ‘distributing candy’ to the big fish but rather arresting them as befits any lowlife; Bingu progressed from a household name to a darling.

Mr Yusuf Mwawa made history as the first serving minister to be arrested and convicted on corruption charges.

“Hon Mwawa was arrested this morning in Lilongwe following the conclusion of our investigations into his alleged fraud and corruption,” Egrita Mdala, ACB public relations officer, told the BBC in May 2005.

Mwawa, who denied the charges, allegedly used a cheque meant to be spent on a cancelled official meeting to pay for the $1,700 (£925) wedding reception at a hotel in Blantyre. His wife, journalist Diana Nkhulembe, was the then estranged Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha’s press officer.

Bingu’s zero tolerance on corruption is chronicled in song by Malawi’s legendary Mlaka Maliro. His non-selective anti-corruption crusade in fact made Bakili to apologise to Malawians for what he said had been “a wrong choice”.

No one agreed with Bakili. He, Bakili, was the wrong choice in 1994, they said.

Come election 2009, Bingu won and managing succession plus the corrupting nature of absolute power heralded his downfall.

A people ‘darling in his first term, thousands are reported to have sighed with relief when he died.

What happened? Peter Mutharika had happened.

He returned home and succession wars led to the expulsion of Mrs Joyce Banda from DPP. Mrs Banda’s being a caretaker, we will skip her time and jump to Peter Mutharika’s quintuple i.e. five years.

To name a few of Peter Mutharika’s contributions to the mess we are in:

• Empty promise of 5 New Universities: Not even one has been built. What Mutharika has achieved is to split UNIMA, which Malawians have Kamuzu to thank.

• Pledge to complete Bingu’s work on Shire-Zambezi Waterway. You want to see what progress has been achieved? Go and see the eyesore in Nsanje.

• Making Wanderers and Bullets stadia a priority instead of improving Energy, Education and Health services.

• Leading by example in corruption and kickbacks. Remember he was paid MK145 million by Zameer Karim directly from a corrupt deal?

• Revival of rail transportation. As we speak, not a centimetre of our neglected rail lines has been rehabilitated.

Blues’ Orators, all these and more are why people wondering:

• Between Bakili’s lost decade and Mutharika’s quintuple, which is worse?

• Given the duo’s disastrous leadership, should anyone believe that out of the blue they are now wise men from the east who have come bearing a precious gift for Malawians in the name of the DPP/UDF Alliance?

Now, I have a question for you reading this article: is there any wisdom in sticking a leech to a bleeding man’s vein? Mind you, stupidity does love company!

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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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