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.


Unknown said...

a paramount,

article ya professor kings phiri, inali pa daily times online, kapena munapata ya print? ndayang'anayang'ana pa website pawo, sindikuyiwona. imeneyi yandidutsa ndithu, koma ndingakonde nditayiwerenga. za mose mwakamba tchutchutchu.

Chatonda said...


a couple of things: first, i don't believe nkasa is neutral. so expecting a balanced view from him is like expecting karl rove to give a balanced view in a comparison between dubya's and clinton's presidencies. the second point is, artists (poets, especially) tend to take liberties with their imagery. i don't think nkasa believes that god is suddenly being nice to malawi because of bingu. the danger, of course, is when the public starts taken everything literary. incidentally, i like your views about the "coup". i have made a similar case on a different forum.