By Cedrick Ngalande
Over the past few weeks, three powerful headlines have dominated the news in Malawi. The Malawi National Football Team (aka the Flames) got a hero’s welcome and profuse praise after dropping out of the Africa Cup of Nations competition; the Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi (ESCOM) got praised for restoring electricity following a dark week in which the commission failed to provide the country with any power; and the state president praised Martha Chizuma’s commitment to justice, law and order following the discovery of an audio recording that, the president himself said was enough cause for her firing.
These three stories, seemingly unrelated, have the same roots and together they signify the malaise paralyzing Malawi.
The primary objective of going to any cup at all, is to win the cup. The Africa Cup of Nations is no exception. For almost all of its 58 years of independence, Malawi has been going to the Africa Cup of Nations. Most, if not all of those times, the Malawi team has performed poorly. Yet every time the team gets booted out of the competition, Malawians praise the players for simply showing up:
“Zangovuta, koma ndiyetu anyamata anayesesa!”
The bar for the national team has been set so low that when the team qualified for knockout rounds of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, the country celebrated like the French did on the Champs-Élysées in 2018. And, indeed, when the Flames eventually got knockout in the knockout round (pun intended – absolutely), fans poured into the Chileka Airport premises to welcome the players home as heroes.
Keep in mind that, of the four games the Flames played in Cameroon, they won only one against the national team of the sanction-impoverished and broken country, Zimbabwe.
ESCOM has survived in one version or another for decades. It is as old as the country itself. ESCOM is charged with generating and distributing electricity to the whole country. For most part, it generates the electricity using waterpower.
For all those decades of its existence, ESCOM has had one problem – it is helpless in rainy seasons, not able to generate adequate electricity. ESCOM has often cited “mud in the Shire River” as the main reason for these power interruptions. Somehow, in spite of the fact that this problem has been there for decades, ESCOM cannot point to one innovative solution it developed to solve the problem.
So, when heavier than normal rains came this rainy season, it was expected that ESCOM would fold; and it did. For a week, most people had no power at all. Even though the rains were heavier than normal, they were still not of a magnitude that should have paralyzed a well-organized power supply company. That ESCOM was incapacitated, is a testament to its incompetency. Yet, when power came back after a week of these persistent blackouts, people praised ESCOM as if the company has done something heroic.
Martha Chizuma, the boss of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), held on to her job but not before the state president gave her a stern warning for unethical behavior following an audio recording in which she discusses ACB business with an ordinary member of the public.
Martha has been controversial from the beginning. A parliamentary committee charged with vetting appointments had rejected her appointment to the ACB director position, after she failed to convince them that she was the right person for the job. At that time, however, a lot of her supporters – quite a few of whom were folks from her village – intimidated the parliamentary committee into changing its decision.
Now, given the audio recording and the reports that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is dissatisfied with the bureau’s work, is it possible that the parliamentary committee actually got its first decision, right?
In spite of the audio recording, the state president – after pointing out that his legal advisers believe that the audio recording was a fileable offense – went ahead and praised her for her commitment to justice, law and order. Of course, the judges and the accused, she slandered, would beg to differ.
Is your head spinning yet? The prognosis is simple: The reason Malawi has not yet won the Africa Cup of Nations, and has not yet become a developed nation, and has not yet defeated corruption, is because the bar has been set so low.