What happened to late Bingu wa Mutharika in the closing stages of his presidency? Upon a quiet reflection, the parallels between what happened to Bingu in the late stages of his second term, and what is happening to Peter his brother now are frightening.
The fear of losing power and the attitude and advice of those who were close to Bingu and had more to lose as the exit door beckoned conspired, perhaps inadvertently, to give Bingu a Siege Mentality. Bingu’s lieutenants then maintained the mentality in him because it secured their positions and gave them some hope of continuity for the future
Exactly the same thing is happening to Peter. In the DPP’s response to political developments as we can see and hear from their attitude and their speeches at political rallies, it is clear that Peter Mutharika and his lieutenants believe they are unjustifiably under siege.
A siege mentality is that state of mind or perception of an individual or a group that convinces the said group that people or forces outside the group have intention to do wrong or inflict harm on the individual or on the group. In the case of Bingu in 2012, as early as the end of the first year of that second term, after he made it clear that he would retire and leave the political stage at the end of his term in 2014, those close to the him, particularly those that had acquired affluence and become powerful and influential because of the rise to prominence of the infamous Mulhako wa Alhomwe grouping, particularly that clique within it that had the acquisition of wealth at any cost as its agenda, began to give him the wrong advice; advice meant to perpetuate their affluence and influence, and not the advice he actually needed to be given—the advice that was good for the country. Bingu’s first term had been a success in a large part because he had closed his ears to gossip and rumour and listened only to professionals and technocrats that gave valuable advice on how to implement his economic and development policies.
Bingu wanted so much to perform and deliver results and was so determined that he knew exactly what he wanted to do and had no time for gossip, rumour or petty politicking. The result was progress and success.
After the resounding electoral victory in 2009, however, he started to relax. And instead of rousing him from his distraction and refocusing him once again on the things that had made him great, his Mulhako advisers found it personally expedient to keep him focussed on what he had achieved and endow him with praises so that Bingu began to lose focus. Instead of concentrating on the economic or development issues, he began to get concerned with the politics and started indulging rumour and gossip of succession plots and stories about those that were apparently jealous of his success. Since he was less experienced in that regard, Bingu started soliciting views and ideas of those that had been longer in the game. He began to give in to the influence of the advice he got from “old timers”. He was suddenly eager to please the opposition and engage in podium castigation of his critics, and keen to appear to be open-minded and taking advice from everybody instead of formulating a proper administrative structure to address the problem.
In the mess that most of these self-centred and avaricious advisors created was the beginning of his downfall.
Instead of forming a well-structured advising institution within the presidency, he took advice from many individuals who not only assisted with the political issues of which they knew little, and about which he was even less competent. They then started meddling with his economic and developmental agenda. When he started making errors due to the bad advice he got from these advisors, the criticism against him grew worse and worse. The same media that had sang his praises began to discredit his administration. Being human, the once calm president believed his old-timer pals more and more and embraced the Siege Mentality. He began to respond to the accusations. He even believed that having been successful during the first term, and on account of his various achievements, Malawians ought to have been grateful. He began to despise criticism and started making more public appearances to dispute the claims made by the critics.
In the several political rallies held by Peter Mutharika recently, one cannot help but see the same mentality. DPP orators have been unanimous in their condemnation of critics, the opposition and civil society, all in the name of defending their dear president from the “unwarranted regime change” that they believe the majority of Malawians do not want.
The DPP has in recent times made a historical precedent in being the only party ever in the history of the country to march in protest against its own government. Party strongmen have called for the arrest of civil society members (and the Malawi Police have willingly obliged- inexplicably) and all DPP hands are essentially on deck to defend the party and the president from the siege that he is under.
Thus instead of listening to the voices of reason coming from international stakeholders such as Amnesty International, United Nations and others, President Peter Mutharika prefers to believe his party people and attack these institutions as being misinformed about the human rights situation in Malawi and about his administration’s intolerance.
This is history repeating itself. Just like Bingu in those last days closed his ears to all voices of reason and only listed to those that told him what he wanted to hear, the same is the case now with Peter. Technocrats are being ignored and pushed out of the advisory circle. In their place, Peter Mutharika has former corporals, valets, former minibus touts and secondary school dropouts. Somehow, the learned professor has come to believe that these brains are the ones best suited to help him protect the power that is quickly slipping away from him.
It is the Mutharika curse, our old friend “Siege Mentality”, coming back to haunt the DPP all over again, and this time grown fat beyond recognition.
If I thought Mutharika was listening, I would remind him of these things, slap him in the face and ask him to wake up and smell the coffee. There is still time to do the right thing: to respect human rights, to protect and defend the republican constitution, to leave the stage as someone who at the final stages of his run in the big time remembered who he was, where he came from, and what legacy he had always wanted to leave on the Malawian political arena.
Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda bowed out with dignity because he refused to succumb to the siege mentality.
Mutharika can do the same.