No politician will admit and accept that had they been less greedy, less selfish, less egotistical or just a bit more humble, 2019 would have been the year that Malawi turned a corner and joined the road to economic prosperity being travelled upon by its neighbours. For politicians, it is easier, and indeed a requirement of the profession it seems, to point the finger of blame elsewhere other than at self.
Thus in taking stock on 2019, President Mutharika has decided to blame Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) for the country’s failures. It is rather cheeky, isn’t it, that a president whose very electoral victory has been demonstrated to have been riddled with massive irregularities, irregularities which he decided not to defend or explain in the courts as the case was heard, can claim that those that were demonstrating about such an election were the terrorists? Is not the greatest terrorism of all the terrorism of robbing an entire nation of its right to vote? And for someone who has been in the presidential seat for nearly 6 years now, how can he believe that we will buy into the idea that his failures as president are simply a matter of what has transpired over the past 8 months?
I would have expected Mutharika’s stocktaking of 2019 to contain statements about his administration’s position on the police perpetrated rapes and sexual attacks that took place in Msundwe. I expected Mutharika to speak about the land-grabbing matters that have implicated his very wife, and his close aides and top party brass. Surely he needed to say something about these serious matters and what his administration is doing about them even if at the present time, he is standing on shaky ground as far as his continued presence as leader is concerned. Furthermore, how can a presidential stocktaking of 2019 not include explanations and statements on the corruption that is rampant in his administration- especially when he, the president himself, is implicated in it?
Is it not his own police service that has become a terrorist group when there are reports that the police go into villages to rape and sexually assault women? Surely this is the behaviour more associated with terrorist groups than staging demonstrations against elections that even the president himself admits were marred with irregularities?
If you think that the problem of pointing fingers is only a Mutharika problem, however, then you need to think again. Of the opposition politicians, Dr Lazarus Chakwera of MCP has been quick to give his own stocktaking statement for 2019. I imagine Chakwera feels obliged to do this as he sees himself as president in waiting and given that his party members already address him as “your excellency”. In his statement, you will not find any introspection or self-examination. You will not find any admission that much of the reasons the country lies in quandary as it is today are because they, the politicians, have let the country down.
There are fingers of blame pointed at opposition politicians and promises that 2020 will be a better year- apparently because he, Chakwera, will be our president according to his thinking.
I would like to submit, however that had the politicians really had the good of the country in their hearts, we would hear confessions and admissions of blame. Way back in 2018, those of us observing, analysing and commentating on the political situation in Malawi pointed out that it was important for the political opposition to unite and form a grand coalition for this was the surest way of toppling Mutharika and the DPP from power.
We all know that this did not happen. We all know that what happened was a divided opposition that allowed for narrow enough electoral margins that could be easily manipulated by the correction fluid known as tippex. The question that boggles the mind is, what was it that so huge a disagreement point between the opposition political leaders to make them sacrifice certain electoral victory and indeed to sacrifice Malawi’s future?
There are those that claim that the main opposition parties are so ideologically different that a merger between them would simply betray the greed and selfishness to grab power at any cost. What ideology, I say? I took the time to read the manifestoes of the parties in the run up to the 2019 elections and my impression was that if there really are any ideological differences between MCP, UTM and UDF, then they are minimal and essentially irrelevant as these were not clear in the manifestoes.
Some say an alliance was not possible because some parties in the opposition represent the old older while other parties represent the new order of doing politics in Malawi. As far as I am concerned, the problem was probably that of having to deal with the various egos of the party leaders as each of them believed and still believe that they are more entitled to the presidential seat than their peers.
Is it on the shoulders of the politicians upon which we should law the blame for the Malawian woes then? I would not be so quick to draw that conclusion.
I am inclined to believe that our politicians behave as selfishly as they do because we, the people, allow them to do so. It is our own self interest as a people that encouraged Atupele Muluzi to still run for president when we all knew that he had lost national trust because of his childish shenanigans, and that there was no way he was ever going to amount to much as a presidential candidate. It was the selfish interests of those hoping to take the lion’s share of influence that ended up blocking any talks of a grand alliance and insisted that their so-called candidate should contest alone, fearing that an alliance meant shared influence in the case of an eventual victory.
Its is essentially us, the people that have nurtured and encouraged greed and selfishness in our leaders by holding them up as infallible of worshipping them as heroes when there is so far no evidence of any heroism. We have massaged their ego, making it grow to uncontrollable sizes by our words of flattery and praise instead of reminding them that one of the main qualifications of leadership is humility.
As easy as it may be to blame the politicians for the plight of this country, and its lot is 2019, the truth of the matter is that the failure to redeem Malawi in 2019 was the result of we, the people putting our own interests above that of the country. We did so by promoting and supporting leaders and political parties in the wrong way- the way we support football teams, instead of supporting ideas that would save this nation.
In 2020, it will be useful to remember, as Greek philosopher Plato stated, that the most important qualification for leadership is not desiring to be leader in the first place. Humility. Not ego.