Thursday, May 15, 2008

Illusions of a coup plot

Call me naïve, but some things do not add up to this alleged new "coup plot" against the Mutharika presidency. Instead, it gives me a sense of déjà-vu: taking us back to the dark days of the Banda presidency.

First, we are meant to buy the argument that Senior Officers in the Malawi Defence Force were willing to jeopardize their positions to help Muluzi become president again. Yet, there is just no clear motivation for them to do so: they are already holding high ranking positions and a Muluzi presidency that short circuits the elections that are less than a year away would not change much in terms of their rank and status in the Armed Services. If the arrested active officers were in the middle or junior ranks, I could be persuaded they have had a motivation. But given their high ranking – a Brigadier General, and a Major General (the only rank higher being a Full General , the highest rank in the Malawi Defence Force, usually reserved for the Army Commander) – I cannot see what the motivation would be for these sons of Malawi.

Secondly, I am sceptical that Muluzi – notwithstanding his zeal and determination to get to the Presidency- would be so foolish as to think of a military route to the presidency when elections are only a year away. For starters, coups usually work only in instances where they are built upon widespread public disillusion with the government. Even the most ruthless dictators in the world have to rely on some public support for a coup to succeed. I doubt Muluzi has that public support behind him in the country. If anything, Malawians have proven time and time again to detest the military option. Ironically, if at all public support for military rule was at its highest, it was towards the end of Muluzi's own rule, with surveys showing up to 42 percent of Malawians in approving of military rule in the last year of his presidency. However, the recent economic upturn would have encouraged greater public satisfaction, and therefore, support, for democracy. Put simply, a coup at this time in Malawi would in all probability, not receive any significant levels of public support, even from within the UDF ranks or from any other opposition parties.

In any case, why would Muluzi have opted to spend so many millions of his own personal money to finance the recent UDF convention where he was formally endorsed as his party's flag carrier in the forthcoming elections? Some would respond that he is looking for an immediate payback, but I would need to be convinced as to why he cannot afford to wait until may 2009 – after all, he has already waited for more than three years to get back at Mutharika.

In an era when the entire world frowns on coups, anyone who would think they can carry out a coup and get away with it would have to be deluded. Pressure would not just come from Malawi's overseas friends, but from within Africa itself. For example, the African Union has taken strong positions that have even resulted in reversals of recent coups on the continent, for example, in Togo. In short, even if a coup were successful (God forbid), the beneficiaries would not be allowed to get away with it by the rest of the world (as well as by most good thinking Malawians).

So what? Well, I feel as a country, we seem to be increasingly guided by some illusions (or rather, hallucinations). In the process, we are making so many blunders that are sadly, taking us backwards to the dark days of one party rule.

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