Obviously, I was delighted to see that our President, Arthur Peter Mutharika brought home some love from Russia. After all, wasn’t it I, “yours truly”, that declared two weeks ago that what Malawi really needs desperately is love? Mutharika seems to have brought home some love by the truckload, from Putin handshakes to sweet romantic overtures to the opposition.
It took me a while to figure it out. For some time, I was one of those scratching their heads wondering what exactly he had gone to Russia for, considering that other African countries, upon meeting Russian leader Vladimir Putin, took home deals and agreements for nuclear energy plants, military equipment and other substantial investment promises. For Malawi, it seems the trip was worthwhile for our president because on his return, he was suddenly waxing lyrical with canticles of love.
Apparently, it had to take Mutharika a trip all the way to Russia and back to realize that when you rig an election using tip-ex, disgruntlement and riots are likely to follow, which may lead to protests that may or may not become violent. Additionally, someone also had to enlighten Mutharika on the fact that when your country is going through riots that see no end in sight, investors and development partners of goodwill are likely to be put off, making your country a pariah to the point of sending a township deputy mayor to welcome you when you go on international visits.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for love, dialogue and reconciliation. Considering what our country is going through at the moment, it is very clear that the country could do with some serious loving and hugging. I mean what with pupils killing each other over bullying, and schools being closed down because students are fighting against teachers; what with riots escalating into violence over a district’s decision to insist that alcohol sales be banned in that district for religious reasons!
It is important however, that certain elements of logic be well considered before one stand on a podium to declare oneself Malawi’s greatest lover- be it ‘Muhlakho gondolosi’ or Russian powered.
The problem that Mutharika wants to gloss over with words of love is one to do with alleged rigging of elections: a crime of fraud and dishonesty tantamount to theft. As such, it is important for one talking about dialogue, moving on and healing the nation to come across as having full appreciation of the issues and having a full grasp of the principle of restitution. The principle of restitution is an integral part of virtually every formal system of criminal justice, of every culture and every time. It holds that, whatever else the sanctioning power of society does to punish its wrongdoers, it should also insure that the wrongdoer is required to the degree possible to restore the victim to his or her prior state of well-being.
Of course, in modern criminal law, restitution is often limited to giving a victim of crime monetary compensation for the losses the victim suffered as a result of the criminal activity perpetrated by the prisoner. Nevertheless, the basic principle here is that crime should not pay, and more importantly, it should not put the person victimized by it at a disadvantage in spite of the confession of guilt or the conviction of the criminal.
When you bring this principle into the context of Mutharika’s love ejaculations, then you must immediately ask the question how Mutharika’s offer of an olive branch to the opposition leaders can be taken seriously. You see, Mutharika essentially admitted on his arrival from Russia that some criminal activity, which benefitted him and disadvantaged his fellow contestants, took place during the elections. He then said in essence, “we know that happened, but we need to put it all behind us and move forward in a spirit of reconciliation so that we can heal the nation and make our country attractive to investors”.
Besides the fact that it has taken Mutharika so long to finally appreciate the effect of rigging an election, I have two serious problems with his seemingly commendable overtures.
First of all, if Mutharika has admitted guilt for the election rigging, then according to principles of criminal law, he should not benefit from his crime, and those he robbed must be restituted. Any offer of negotiations, dialogue and reconciliation therefore is deemed automatically disingenuous if it is not accompanied by a clarification, and indeed a clear explanation of how this problem of being in in the presidential palace via a rigged vote will be addressed in those negotiations.
Secondly, healing the nation and making it attractive to investors and development partners is not simply a matter of the politicians sharing power equally or in a manner that makes them happy. At its heart, healing the nation is a matter of addressing the issues that are making it unattractive to investors and choking its economic growth. The rigged election along with its violent aftermath is just one of the factors. Corruption is another huge reason why investors and development partners are disappointed with Malawi and are staying as far away as they can. Consider for example the recent allegations that the First Lady – Mutharika’s wife- is the co-owner, together with her son, of a company that was awarded a MK8.7 Billion-kwacha energy deal that essentially doesn’t exist. According to the story, a part payment of several billions has already been paid to the company. This story reeks of nepotism and patronage of the highest order and requires some serious comments from the president, his wife and all concerned so that the nation and those interested in it can understand what really happened. It is an issue that requires full and committed investigation from the investigating authorities so that its bottom is known. Yet president Mutharika believes he can speak of healing the nation without addressing the corruption being perpetrated by his own wife (allegedly).
If you follow this column, you will recall that last week I wrote about corruption at the ministry of lands and the ministry of local government. You will recall that I wrote about governance travesties in the police service and Mutharika’s general reluctance to discipline his ministers, his bodyguards and others around him that are running amok, rampaging and ravaging the country with impunity.
Bringing love of country from Russia is a good thing, but only if it is genuine enough to truly seek to address all the issues that are wrong both with the country, and more importantly with one’s own leadership. Charity begins at home. The meaning of this age-old proverb is that to heal the country, Mutharika must begin with self-examination, and then an even fuller examination of his inner circle- including his wife- and what they are up to.
True love of country must also be willing to accept that one may be on the throne illegally and be willing to give up such illegally procured power for the sake of reconciliation and healing. Otherwise, the disingenuous nature of the offer of love might easily be seen for what it is: Prostitution.