What is difficult to understand is how it can be possible that for all the electricity blackouts that the country is facing, the shortage of drugs in hospitals, the total collapse of public services delivery in the country and all the governance failures propagated by the Peter Mutharika administration, the one thing that can provoke the public to act in unison, to march and demonstrate, and sing with voices stentorian is the call for the passage of the electoral reform bill in parliament.
The coordination of efforts and the garnering of support for the proposed demonstrations has been faultless. There are special documents being read in churches and being released in the media. There are special press releases being thrown about from various respectable and influential institutions telling all Malawians of how ardently and fervently they support the electoral reform bill demonstrations proposed for December 13.
From political parties to non-governmental organisations, from church organisations to political pressure groups, all are determined to let the government know that they support the electoral reform bill, and that they will not allow the Mutharika administration to get away with its attempts to sabotage this important legislation.
The attention this legislation is receiving would tempt one into thinking that it is the magic wand whose waving will bring back 24/7 electricity, transform the Malawian social life, end all Malawian poverty and put Malawi back on track to economic development.
The reality of it however, if you analyse the issue deeply and dispassionately, is exactly the opposite. All we have here are the same old tricks our unscrupulous politicians have used to manipulate Malawians through the years. They have invoked the frenzy of urgency over a spurious matter, and are now using the powerful collective voices of the Malawian public to create legislation that will help put them in power so that they too can enjoy the same looting and plundering privileges that their opponents are now enjoying.
Meanwhile, once the legislation is passed and the politicians get their wish to gain and stay in power using the new laws, the poor ordinary Malawians that now are at the forefront campaigning hard for these electoral reforms will soon find that they have once again been used like a condom and forgotten, and the reality of the poverty will return. All they will have achieved is to ensure that a new set of oppressors and looters have been given an opportunity to abuse state funds and exploit them.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe we do need electoral reforms. I am in support of protests and demonstrations and all efforts that seek to ensure that legislation aimed at improving our political framework is put in place for the betterment of the country.
What bothers me is the timing. The prioritisation. You see, in my Uncommon Sense, I tend to think that in the currently dire state of the nation, it is more important to demonstrate about blackouts and energy problems and the lack of medicines in hospitals than it is to worry about how to ensure that our favourite politicians get into power. What good is electoral legislation when people are in darkness four days out of seven, or are dying of curable diseases because of shortages of medicine?
Let’s imagine a politician comes and asks you a question: What is more important to you? Option (a): 24/7 electricity and medicines in hospitals, a good public service delivery where you know you will be served efficiently and without having to bribe anyone; and, option (b): the passing of an electoral reform bill whose crowning theme is how a president is elected- whether using simple majority or the qualified majority of 50+1. What would your answer be?
Personally, I would opt for option (a). For those who follow this column, it is probably becoming a broken record by now, but I do not believe that with the currently rotten and awful political framework, changing the way we elect our politicians will somehow magically transform the way they behave when they get into office. Any thinking person will tell you that it wont. Primarily a bad elections law is not the main reason for Malawi’s misery. Malawi’s problems are a result of a bad governance framework that allows for patronage, nepotism, corruption and the abuse of public resources with impunity by those we elect into office.
It seems to me that as a nation, we keeping allowing ourselves to be led down a garden path and have somehow again found ourselves hapless victims of the greedy who want to remain in power and enrich themselves at our expense on the one hand, and the selfish who want to use our collective people power to help them wrestle the power away from the greedy for their own selfish ends.
Unfortunately, Neither of the two groups is really interested in solving the problems that Malawians are facing every day. If they were interested in our problems they would know that we care more about having 24/7 electricity and medicine in hospitals. Not electoral squabbles. Nobody wants to die due to the fact that when they went to hospital, there was a blackout and there was no medicine. See now why it beats me how our priority in terms of protests and demonstrations can be the electoral reforms bill?
Think about it. The other day, the whole nation- mark that- the whole Malawi experienced a blackout for a couple of hours. Is it possible for the whole country from Nsanje to Chitipa to be without any electricity for hours? It happened. Even the National assembly had to suspend its deliberations. Can you just imagine what might have happened at some of our hospitals that do not have backup electricity?
Somehow though, it has pleased the influential voices in this country not to march and demonstrate the general national displeasure at the Mutharika administration’s failure to address a crucial yet elementary problem of electricity shortage.
Our benevolent representatives have garnered support for demonstrations that will tell the Mutharika administration that it can mess with the country and fail to provide electricity, no problem. It can engage in corruption and loot public funds so that hospitals are without medicines and equipment, no problem. It can practice nepotism and allow clearly corrupt and fraudulent characters to remain in top government positions, no problem. But to try and sabotage an electoral reform bill that gives them a better chance of getting into power themselves so that they can do these very same things? No sir, they will not allow that and will whip up the whole nation to protest and demonstrate against such injustice!
If the electricity shortage problems were being adequately addressed and poor Malawians that need medical care were not dying or being turned away at hospitals for lack of drugs and medical equipment; if investors were not turning their noses up at the idea of investing in Malawi because of energy, infrastructure and service delivery problems, I would have readily rendered my full support to demonstrations that aim at the pushing forward of an electoral reform bill that will improve our political framework. At the moment though, I feel disillusioned. Surely demonstrations should be aimed at making the Mutharika administration govern effectively and take care of the immediate needs of poor Malawians. The electoral reforms bill, unfortunately, will not address that- not in the short term anyway.
There is much ado about this matter, but in my uncommon sense, this is a fight between the greedy and the selfish. There are more urgent and more important matters against which to protest and demonstrate.
Good luck though, to you all, demonstrators! Next time, demonstrate about blackouts and electricity shortages.