Friday, May 23, 2008

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road in Malawi?

BAKILI MULUZI: Fotseki, I will not accept this nonsense. Anakuuzani ndani kuti ndiri ndi khola la nkhuku ine? The law is clear: Chickens cannot cross the road unless they pay the penalty. So how dare they cross the road? We will not allow our remaining chickens to discuss anything else until this chicken comes back, asaaa.

JOHN TEMBO: Tambala ameneyu ngwanga uyu. I cannot allow it to cross the road. The standing Orders of this House are very clear: no chicken can cross the road. The Constitution too says it clearly: any chicken that cross the road has to be to be eaten and we will not accept any injunctions to prevent us from consuming this stray chicken.

BINGU wa MUTHARIKA: The chicken crossed the road because he realised he cannot live among the animals on that side of the road. These people need to be shaken up, we will continue encouraging the chickens on their side to cross the road, no more Mr. Nice Guy. We have an open door policy on this side of the road, any chicken that wants development is welcome.

GOODAL GONDWE: whether the chickens from the other side decide to come or not, I will present the budget to the chickens that have already crossed the road.

ISHMAEL CHAFUKIRA: How dare the Chief chicken call us "Wild Animals"? We are scared and will not attend his functions.

LOVENESS GONDWE: pambere tindambe kudumba makani gha munyumba yino, SIPIKA wakwenera kuchimbizga nkhuku zose izo zambuka msewu kuluta silya linyakhe.

NIC HOLAS DAUSI: The Gallus domesticus navigated to this side of
highway because it is cognisant that the populace are bifurcated by bogus dogmas. As the presidential advisor on national unity, I say that these bilocurar divisons are not good for this country. This is why I myself decided to cross the highway and these new roosters are welcome to follow my lead

STEVE SHARRA: These roads are not legitimate anyway. They are an imperialist creation that hide the common u-nkhuku in us all. It is good this chicken has broken the yoke and crossed the road.

PATRICIA KALIYATI: @xy@^*!x@! Chamba eti? What chicken would not cross the road when that side is infested with chitopa? The chicken is running away kuopa kuphedwa. Mwaona kwatsala nkhuku iri yonse that side of the road? All that is left there ndi zilombo zokha-zokha. @$#!

JOSEPH NKASA: Nkhuku ya lero, nkhuku ya lero, ndi Mutharika…

GORGE NTAFU: This is not a chicken, ndi galu disguising itself as a chicken. It has to kicked out. We cannot have agalu in this House.

BONIFACE DULANI: what is worrisome is that the movement of chickens is in one direction. This is typical of Big Chicken type of politics. The Big Chicken on the other side is providing a lot of chicken feed to induce the chickens to cross the road.

*with acknowledgements to Wilson Ndovie for beefing up the entry. Yebo.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Personal Musings on the song "Mose wa Lero"

Mose walero-di?
The more I think about Joseph Nkasa's hit song Mose wa Lero, the more my thoughts drift towards the old adage that "Dictators are not born - they are made".

The thought of portraying any living being (particularly of the political kind) to the biblical Moses strikes me as bordering on the blasphemous. But it is not for me to be judgmental and assume that if I see no god-like qualities in Mutharika, then it should also follow that others should not. So If Nkasa and others out there feel Mutharika (or any of other Malawian political leaders - Bakili Muluzi, John Tembo, Aleke Banda etc) have assumed ethereal qualities, then they are entitled to their opinion.
I must confess I admire the sounds of the song, and particularly the pointed criticism of the Muluzi regime without ever mentioning the former President by name. While Muluzi himself has recently been critical of the Malawi public for having short memories, the lyrics of Mose wa Lero remind us that Muluzi should perhaps be grateful Malawians have such short memories- otherwise he would not even be contemplating to run for a further third term for the office of president in 2009. While Muluzi would like to portray his ten year reign as the golden age of politics in Malawi, Nkasa reminds us, in very short and concise language, of the many vices of that regime.

"Kumene tichokera mukudziwako…

Kodi kapena mufuna mukumbutsidwe

dziphinjo zomwe zinali muno

Kanthawi komweka mwaiwala……

Chachilendo ndichani tikaone

tikabwelera pambuyo ife…

Mafumu kumsonkhano kunyetsedwa...

azimayi kuvulidwa ma half panja……

Anthu akalira kuti zinthu zadula, umva ndilibe sitolo ine…

Tabwera ndichimanga tikugawilani

ndi K50 yogayisira....

Msonkhano usanathe kuitana shoveri,

usakhale pano zibanduka

Chimanga chomwechi nchomwe tikaonetse

ku Mzimba ku Hola uko…."

Thus far, Nkasa does a wonderful job of reminding us of the excesses and political opportunism that became the hallmark of the Muluzi era (all within a fine danceable beat!). It calls us all to be sceptical of promises made by self-seeking politicians.

However, having done such a brilliant job in exposing failings of the past regime, Nkasa embarks on a new politicking that seeks to portray Mutharika as the new Moses – Mose wa Lero. What follows is a glorification of Mutharika, that builds on what are essentially three themes: ending hunger, new infrastructure projects and foresighted leadership:

Mose walero Mose wa lero ndi Mutharika….

Waliphula dziko pamoto….

Nthaka yotembeleledwa ija yadalitsidwa

Nkhani ya njala ndi nyimbo yakale…

Ntchito za manja ake zikumuchitira umboni

Mdala wamasomphenya mtsogoleri

Nkasa is right that the Mutharika presidency has done a wonderful job in initiating several infrastructural projects. Although some road projects such as the Karonga-Chitipa road, the new Dowa road, the Nsanje road etc are yet to get off the ground, the new Ntchisi, Jali and Nkhoma roads, as well as maintenance works of urban roads, are signs in the right direction. This is an area that the Muluzi presidency failed miserably despite collecting millions of Kwachas through the road levies, money that often ended up lining the pockets of corrupt politicians.

However, given the recent reports of pockets of hunger in the country in a year when hundreds of thousands of tonnes of maize have been exported to Zimbabwe, Nkasa's argument that "nkhani ya njala ndi nyimbo yakale…"- hunger is a thing of the past- is an overstatement.

While thus far Nkasa has served as an apt commentator of Malawi politics, even if in some cases he overstates the Mutahrika achievements, he then moves into an arena that I find to be very presumptuous on his part. We are told that:

Mulungu walisekelera dziko…akukondwelera ndi utsogoleri wa Mutharika…

I find this to be an extraordinary revelation: not because Nkasa holds the opinion that Mutharika is doing a good, but the implication that the Almighty is equally approving and pleased with the Mutharika presidency. In stating that, Nkasa would have us all believe that he has the extraordinary ability to decipher who God is pleased with these days. It is one thing to state that Mutharika's works are all there to bear witness to his good deeds, but yet another to turn into an interpreter of divine thought. One assumes then that Nkasa's statement that he will soon be changing name to "Joseph Nkasa Mutharika" implies that he wants to become the son of this new deity.

While in Mose wa Lero, Nkasa has the history on his side to offer a sound criticism of the Muluzi era, I am afraid he does not have adequate comparable basis to make a sound judgement on Mutharika. Yes, I am aware that there is some tentative evidence to suggest we are going in the right direction on the economic front as well as in the creation of new infrastructure – but in acknowledging these achievements, we should not overlook the many failings in the current administration, especially on the political and rule of law front.

The increasing tendency to overlook constitutional provisions (in the appointment of government officers, treatment of legislators who abandon the platform on which they sold themselves to the electorate at election time, conventional traditions in the appointment of electoral officials), using government machinery to attack opponents and critics alike, using the public media to spin government propaganda that borders on inciting hatred of the worst kind are all examples of behaviour that to me does not come anywhere near the god-like image that is peddled in Mose wa Lero. Again, any review of our history would show that the Banda government made some commendable achievements in terms of economic performance (in the early years) as well as in term of infrastructure. Professor King's Phiri's recent essay in the Daily Times marking the re-introduction of Kamuzu Day offers a clear testament to this. However, notwithstanding all such achievements, Banda's presidency was marked by some of the worst cases of human rights abuses that to many, overshadowed the economic and infrastructural successes of his era.

It should be obvious that as much as I applaud Nkasa for doing a wonderful job in pointing out the numerous failures of the Muluzi leadership, I am disappointed with his "over praise" of Mutharika that brings to mind what Robert Rotberg (2001) in his introduction to the autobiography of Masauko Chipembere, as one of Chipembere's "fatal misjudgement" – overstating the leadership qualities of Kamuzu Banda by potraying him as a superhuman being with god-like characteristics. By overstating Kamuzu's personality, Chipembere inadvertently unleashed a personality cult that subsequently grew to the point where even Banda himself began to believe he was the superhuman he was said to be. The rest, as they say, is history. Banda assumed the presidency of the Malawi Congress Party in August of 1958 in Nkhatabay on his own terms. Not long afterwards he assumed the life presidency of the MCP, a position which made him the de-facto life president when Malawi assumed Republican status in July 1966 with the MCP as the sole legal party. This was effectively legalized with the constitutional amendment of 1971 making Banda formally Malawi's life president.

The long and short of this is that if people shout at an individual that he is god for long enough , it might eventually get to a point when the concerned individual might start believing that perhaps they are indeed a god, and therefore, infallible. I would venture that this is already being reflected in Mutharika's increasing levels of intolerance and dismissal of criticism, the increasing dictatorial tendencies that are becoming all too evident in the usage of uncompromising language. And listening to the words coming Cabinet Ministers and other DPP-party apparatchiks that embrace the theme of Mutharika as Mose wa Lero, one cannot help but think that we might be headed in the same old path to dictatorship.

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.