While President Peter Mutharika wallows in self-glory about his administration and myopically claims he is presiding over a nation in progress, a growing majority of Malawians, including even senior DPP members, are expressing concern about the country’s future under the rule of a president clearly without direction. Rumblings of dissatisfaction in leadership echo the hallways while the party scrambles to identify new leadership, or pinpoint the tectonics required to shift it back onto the correct course. The issues facing the DPP are fundamental, and unfortunately it is now worse than the theme that was seen when the party was at its least popular in 2012.
These fundamental issues tie back to core elements of governance that are key to the quality and effective performance of the government (or any healthy organization)
Malawi President Peter Mutharika and Personel AID Ben Phiri
The DPP has been plagued with an indecisive leader that simply relinquishes his decision-making powers to individuals with a different agenda than his own. The result is an ocean of corruption allegations. Strong governance has failed for this ruling party, and this has weakened the trust that the already very marginal majority in Malawi had for the DPP. Leadership has been lacking at key times in this DPP’s short history (e.g. MSB, Public Service Reforms, Natural resources policy, Electricity shortages), and when a strong confident voice is needed, the President has not exactly delivered a convincing performance. The voices we hear are of assistants, advisors, and brainless praise-singers.
The DPP has demonstrated a very primitive performance feedback system that has been based on reactionary methods, a system usually avoided by any organization that is looking for continuous improvement. Dubious statements are being made and being allowed to become unnecessary talking points without properly being explained. With the clock ticking towards the end of his first term in office, President Peter Mutharika is so desperate to show the nation his achievements for the past 3 years that some of the things that his is touting as achievements are outright falsehoods.
In his 2017 end of year message Mutharika claims, “more than ever, I am seeing new cars on our roads – and Malawians have a high sense of taste. More and more Malawians can now afford to buy a car.” Firstly, how many times does the president go out of his comfort in state house to see new cars on the roads? Let’s say he truly goes out often and sees new cars, is seeing new cars on the roads, an indicator that a whole President with all the qualifications imaginable can use to conclude that an economy is doing well and its citizens now have more disposable income than even before? Aren’t the “many” cars he is talking about simply the result of congestions caused by his motorcade?
He goes further to say, “As a result, new filling stations employing our young men and women are rising everywhere. These are signs of a growing economy.” How many filling stations have been built for the past three years? What number of new filling stations can equate to ‘signs of a growing economy’?
These statements should be very embarrassing for the DPP as they show poor grasp of the national mood and expose the party’s inability to calibrate its efforts and initiatives to accommodate feedback or changing perceptions.
The President is not a good communicator and relies heavily on his more articulate ministers to be his crutch at key times. This lack of engagement with the majority of Malawians and even his own supporters does not provide a secure sense of wellbeing. This has steadily become more apparent and is eroding support within key members of the party. The President needs to connect more closely with his people, especially those who are questioning his presence in major decisions, and his leadership style that seems to defer everything to his assistants.
In addition, the president’s favorite tactic of bullying critics will only serve to further undermine his presidency. The President needs to spend more time talking to the people he represents, not sending his assistants. He needs to re-connect with his cabinet and the people he is serving as this may at least instill a greater sense of reliable leadership and direction.
There has always been a lack of an articulated long-term vision with the DPP ever since Mutharika took the reigns of leadership, especially in terms of succession of leadership and how the country’s cavernous deficiencies are being addressed. The country is experiencing serious economic challenges. Instead of acknowledging this and adequately explaining how the country is addressing the situation, the President speaks of a country apparently making progress. There are loud claims that the economy has grown by 6 per cent!
As Stanley Kenani has Observes, “despite manufacturing companies being hit by a crippling lack of electric power, despite companies winding up at the rate of two per month, despite remaining a net-importing nation, despite tobacco floundering, despite everything, we are supposed to believe that the economy grew by 6 per cent. Last year, it [apparently] grew by less than 3 per cent, [and] ditto the year before that. What has changed? Well, what has changed is the way figures are cooked. We will now have lots of talking heads praising the “wise and dynamic leadership” of the president. They will point to the drop in inflation to single digits, and to the economy that is growing only in their minds. 2019 is fast approaching. If the president has achieved nothing, it is best to create achievements by cooking figures.”
Malawi’s economic challenges during Peter Mutharika’s presidency have been exacerbated by the “scaring away” of large corporations from investing in the country due to corruption, political overreach and the levels of political patronage confounding the commercial process.
Never before has there been a greater need for a visionary to grab the reigns and ensure that reason and common sense prevail.
What the country is looking for is economic stability driven by industry combined with an improved administrative framework that will create the pathway to a new future for all, and not politics. Amazingly, virtually none of the DPP leaders can properly explain how this is going to be achieved.
Someone needs to tell president Mutharika that economic development cannot be determined by the number of cars he sees blocked by the police as his motorcade passes by, nor by the number of filling stations being built especially when those building them are only people connected to the ruling party.
The fact of people getting constipated and farting fouling the air all over the place does not necessarily mean food security or a good healthy diet!
Not until this president and this administration provides Malawians with the confidence that he is in charge and not his assistants, and that he has a clear direction of where he wants Malawi to be at the end of his five-year term, can we say that his leadership is inspiring or that his leadership of the DPP administration has been a success.
Otherwise, we will continue to speak different languages, and for Uncommon Sense, that language will be to point out the fact that what Mutharika left the United States and came to Malawi for was simply to lead the DPP to eat our money and our labour, fart and then leave.
Allan Ntata’s Column is posted Every Sunday on The Maravi Post