Monday, December 12, 2011

Dec 9th, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Zonse zimatha nkukambirana? even on fuel? Let us get serious!!!

The most hilarious joke I have heard about the ongoing fuel crisis in Malawi was not  the story that the heat from the bright sun on the new Malawi flag has been so intense that it has caused all the fuel to evaporate from the country.
Yes, while I have had a number of good chuckles at the depictions of the long fuel queues by Malawi's ever creative cartoonists, these laughs have been overshadowed by the recent ministerial statement by Natural Resources, Energy and Environment Minister, Goodal Gondwe, on how government proposes to address the crisis. According to the Nation of Friday, November 18th, Gondwe told Parliament that one of the options being pursued by the Malawi government is "discussing with suppliers the possibility of buying the fuel using the local currency, the Kwacha, instead of the US Dollar as is the case now."
For a man that has had an illustrious career in many an international financial institutions, Gondwe's suggestion is so laughable as it amounts to no solution at all. If paying for fuel imports using the Kwacha was ever an option, Malawi would not have had this crippling fuel shortage in the first place.
If I may ask, why would the suppliers accept to be paid in Malawi Kwacha? What would they do with those Kwachas? Already, Malawians are struggling to find basic commodities to buy even when they have pocket-fulls of Kwacha currency.
And talking to Zimbabwean colleagues, this is exactly what happened at the start of their own economic collapse a few years back - people having bucket-loads of a local currency that could not buy them anything. So what fuel supplier in their right mind will accept to be paid in a currency that cannot buy anything? If this is the best solution we can come up with, then we should simply brace of even more difficult times ahead. The government meanwhile should simply admit they have failed to find a solution to this crisis, caused in large part of course because of their own inept policies and gross incompetence.
Mr. Gondwe's proposal for discussion seems to be reflective of a wider approach to decision making in this government - thinking  we can solve our problems, most of our own making, by using the old-age Malawi adage that "zonse zimatha nkukambiriana" - everything can be resolved through discussions.
While a lot can be gained through discussions, we have to realize that mere talking without addressing the underlying concerns that led to some of the problematic relationships will not do. Going to the World Bank and the IMF with the sob-story that Malawi is hurting without addressing the concerns that led to the suspension of the Extended Credit Facility, ECF, in the first place is just wishful thinking. Merely meeting donors and asking them  to resume aid when we have taken zero steps in addressing the concerns that led to the suspension of aid in the first place reflects a mypoia of the highest order.
Let us act and address the challenges and concerns that got us into the current situation. We can then have something to discuss. Until then, Mr Gondwe and your likes, you are increasingly being revealed to be the jokers that you are.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

2011 COMESA Summit: a gathering of tyrants

Consider this: Four of the five Heads of state that attended the just ended COMESA heads of state summit come from countries that are ranked as NOT FREE by Freedom House, which asseses the democratic standing of countries on two composite indices of political rights and civil liberties (see Freedom House's 2011 "Freedom in the World 2011"). Here is the full list:
Burundi:     5 (Partly free)
Eritrea:      7 (Not free)
Sudan:       7 (Not free)
Swaziland: 6 (Not free)
Zimbabwe: 6 (Not free)

In other words, the Heads of states that bothered to come to to Malawi for the just ended COMESA summit trend towards dictators presiding over countries that have extremely low  political rights and civil liberties scores. As a matter of fact, two of the Presidents attending the Lilongwe meeting (Al Bashir and Isaias Afawerki) come from countries that have the lowest possible score on the Freedom House ranking of 7.  Both are cited in the 2011 report as being among the world's most unfree countries, with Eritrea described as an "increasingly repressive police state."
The only country with a presidential delegation at the Lilongwe summit that can claim to come from a somewhat tolerant society is Burundi, whose uninspiring score of 5 falls among the category of countries rated as "Partly Free".
And if anyone is interested to see where these countries rank on the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index, I suggest you start looking from the bottom of the list and go upwards - you will save a lot of time that way. Swaziland is the highest ranked country on the Index, at number 26 among 53 African countries. The rest are: Burundi (37), Eritrea (47), Sudan (48) and Zimbabwe (51).
Given how hard President Bingu wa Mutharika has worked hard to join the exclusive club of African dictators, I am tempted to opine that the 2011 Lilongwe COMESA summit serves as an endorsement of Mutharika's acceptance into this exclusive club of African dictators.  While the presidents that represent COMESA's more progressive democracies have shied away from getting their democratic credentials tainted by associating with Mutharika,  the dictators of the COMESA grouping have felt a natural attraction and have joined their Malawi colleague to cement his entry into the club..

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cry, my beloved Malawi

I spent a few weeks in Malawi in the month of September. It was great to be home and to see family and friends after an unusually lengthy break. It was also an opportunity to work on some outstanding projects at home before taking on some new work responsibilities.
I was impressed with how resolute Lecturers at Chancellor College remain in the struggle for Academic Freedom. On a couple of occasions, I walked in solidarity with my colleagues as they took part in their daily freedom walk around the Chirunga campus and sang the abridged version of the national anthem.
I also had the opportunity to watch the Malawi Flames take on Tunisia in an Africa Cup of Nations soccer qualifier game at the Kamuzu Stadium. It is perhaps a reflection of how far Malawi soccer has advanced (well, the national team version that is) that most people came home disappointed with a 0-0 result against one of the giants of African soccer.
Sadly, there were so many challenging encounters that made me somewhat happy to leave it all behind. Driving to Neno on one of the worst roads imaginable or to Nakhunda in Zomba on a road that has no right to be in a city (if one believes the bill board on the road side from Zomba to Nankhunda) made me wonder what stuff the President and his cronies are smoking when they say Malawi has made so much development progress.
The constant struggle for fuel - where the only reliable source of diesel  is Tsangano turn off-  or the frustrating lack of forex in the country,  just demonstrated how challenging life has become in my beloved Malawi. This is not even to mention the high and ever increasing price of commodities.
Now to hear of extra judicial killings of innocent demonstrators and student activists while the  defenders of the regime froth on their mouths with a lot of stupid diatribes; a clue-less civil society that appears to care more about preserving their jobs than standing up for the ordinary citizen, I dread to think where my beloved Malawi will be in a year's time.
A failed leadership, an apathetic public, an incompetent civil society can only translate into a failed state. That is what Malawi has become. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Questioning Vuwa Kaunda's understanding of patriotism

Vuwa Kaunda's response to the decision by the Hunger Project to withdraw the 2011 Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger from Bingu wa Mutharika was predictable - the guys currently entrusted with leading Malawi seem to have lost all sense of hearing.
But what I found laughable is Vuwa's argument that the Malawians who signed a petition urging the Hunger project to withdraw the award are unpatriotic.
From its Greek and Latin origins, the word patriotism represents a devotion to one's country. Loyalty and devotion to an individual do not count. Yet, the Vuwa Kaundas of this world have time and again demonstrated that their loyalty and devotion is to the person of Mutharika, a man who is single-handedly causing untold and unprecedented ruin on Malawi.  This is not patriotism Mr. Kaunda.  The true patriots are those Malawians that have shed their blood for the country, not those who have shed that blood on behalf of Mutharika. The true patriots are those Malawians who urged the Hunger Project to rescind their offer in fear that it will give the President more ammunition to govern the country as a personal estate and bring further ruin.

Thanks, but no thanks to another Muluzi or Mutharika

The recent manoeuvrings for the presidential candidature for the 2014 elections in Malawi by Peter Mutharika and Atupele Muluzi  have reminded me of one of my earliest blog posts where I endorsed the then Senator Barack Obama as my preferred candidate for the US presidency. In that post, I pointed out that:
"I am reluctant to lend my support to Hilary Clinton on one count and one count alone: in a country of nearly 300 million people, I cannot be convinced that there are only two households that can produce Presidents...."
 To hear that the DPP, as predicted, has endorsed Peter Mutharika as the party's candidate to succeed his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, while Atupele Muluzi, son to former President Bakili Muluzi, is seriously contemplating to contest for the state presidency, brings back to mind the same notion that made me reject Hilary Clinton's candidature. While I have nothing personal against Atupele Muluzi or Peter Mutharika, I refuse to accept the underlying perception that  out of the 13 million plus Malawians, only the Muluzis and Mutharikas are capable of producing presidential caliber individuals.
If truth be told, the Muluzi era, which was characterized by mismanagement, corruption and incompetency, will count among Malawi's lost years. As for the Bingu years, need I say more? As they say, the works of his hands speak for themselves - murder of innocent Malawians, long fuel queues, deprivation of academic freedom, forex shortages, arrogance and corruption of the grandest scale - are showing that he is not only out of touch with reality, but also that his style of leadership does not belong to a Malawi of the 21st century. And for some to claim they want Peter Mutharika to continue his brother's legacy is, in my considered opinion, pure lunacy.
The long and short of this post is that if Atupele and Peter- who admittedly have to be judged in their own merit, not by the performance of their fathers or brothers - stand for presidential office in 2014, I would, on principle, not vote for them. Malawi belongs to us all, not just for families of Kamuzu Banda, Bakili Muluzi or Bingu wa Mutharika. I would rather we looked elsewhere among the millions of my country-folk for a new leadership. This is no guarantee that we would get a better leader, but we would be giving others the opportunity to captain the ship. So, nothing personal about Atupele Muluzi or Peter Mutharika, but thanks, but no thanks.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bingu and his government have lost legitimacy

The recent callous and nonchalant way the Bingu government has handled itself over citizens frustrations, just goes to demonstrate how far removed the administration is from identifying with the struggles that ordinary Malawians are facing. It is so maddening to hear Bingu wa Mutharika talk about a Malawi as a success story when people are queuing for fuel; factories are remaining idle because they cannot import raw materials due to the forex shortages; hospitals cannot provide even the most basic medication because of a biting shortage of drugs; more people are turning to burning charcoal and wood because electricity is being rationed; streams have become the primary water sources because the water boards cannot provide adequate water; University students are remaining idle for months becuase the President and his Police feel it is right to place spies in lecture rooms; the list is longer. And yet the President and his sorry-group of  hand clappers appear so oblivious and think the suffering Malawians can buy his picture of a Malawi full of roses!
It is obvious Bingu and his cast of sycophants are living in an alternative dream world, a lala-land so far removed from reality.  To hear these syncomphats from the public media and the DPP (I now refuse to call the DPP the ruling party because it seems to have stopped governing - it has just been reduced to praise singing for Bingu) makes my blood boil. Simply put, Mutharika and his cronies can no longer claim to genuinely represent the people of Malawi.
Now, the cowardly attempts by the government and its agents to prevent Malawians from exercising their right to demonstrate (as provided for under Section 38 of the Malawi Constitution) has further demonstrated the widening gulf between those who are governing and the governed. Indeed, the spontaneous outbreak of violence across the country make Blessings Chinsinga's ill-fated lecture about how policy failures by government can cause extreme public disaffection sound prophetic. When governments fail to fulfill their side of the democratic bargain, the link between the governing and governed is irreparably broken. The only option for the people then is to take matters into their own hands.
A goverment that relies on force to frustrate the people's aspirations, to take away their constitutionally guranteed rights through dubious decisions handed in the middle of the night, has lost legitimacy and can no longer claim the right to govern. The authority to govern, as provided for under Section 6 of the Malawi Constitution  derives from the people and is to be used solely to protect and promote their interests, not the interests of one man or a particular ruling clique.  And because democracy is government pro-tempore, once the link between the rulers and the ruled has been broken, as it has in our present case, the country needs to move in a different direction. Malawi, as I wrote in my previous post, is bigger than Bingu and his cronies. It is indeed bigger than any of us. We will all die and be gone but Malawi will still be there. To provide that opportunity for Malawi to move on without being ruined, Bingu and his cronies need to go. now.

Friday, July 15, 2011

In Support of the demonstrations against bad governance in Malawi

Due to more pressing engagements, I have been unable to update this blog in the last month.
However, I would like to register my support for my countrymen planning to go out on the streets to demonstrate against the poor governance record of Bingu wa Mutharika, whose arrogance, myopia and incompetence are bringing untold miseries on the innocent Malawi folk.
Mutharika is but one man. The thirteen million other Malawians deserve a better leadership that can work in their interests. Down with this dictatorship.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ranking the Performance of African Presidents - The Evidence from recent Afrobarometer Surveys

I have been meaning to post this article for while but never got down to doing it.The piece was motivated by the drama at the start of the year that followed the release of the East African Magazine's rankings of the performance ratings of African Presidents. Malawi's President, Bingu wa Mutharika, came a respectable 17th position out of 52 presidents that were ranked. Personally, I thought the  grade "C" rating accorded to Mutharika was most generous.
That said, the East African Magazine article had a number of flaws. The one that jumped out the most was the mixing of both ceremonial and full executive presidents in the rankings, despite the fact that the former wield very little power. In some cases, such as Morocco and Swaziland, the rankings rated the performance of monarchs. Surprisingly, in the Kingdom of Lesotho, the ranking was for Prime Minister Bethuel Mosisili instead of King Letsie III. In a nutshell, the East African rankings were a mixed bag of apples, oranges and even peaches that were being passed off as one and the same thing. 
An alternative way to rate the performance of African leaders is to ask the ordinary people themselves on how they assess the performance of their leaders. Granted such ratings would differ depending on country-specific circumstances, but to the extent that such assessments are what influence decisions during elections, they can serve as more objective pointers than the subjective ratings of 'experts' that are far removed from the reality on the ground. 
Fortunately, the availability of Afrobarometer Survey data makes it possible for us to start to track and compare popular assessments of the performance of African presidents. So I went back and looked at the data from the most recent Afrobarometer Surveys (conducted in 20 countries between 2008 and 2009) to compare responses to the following question:
"Do you approve or disapprove of the way the following people have performed their jobs over the past twelve months, or haven't you heard enough about them to say: President (name)"?
The 2008 surveys covered a total of 20 countries, 19 of whom have executive presidents. In the following table, I combine the responses for strongly approve and approve to gauge the proportion of respondents that expressed approval for the performance of the leaders in the 19 presidential-regime countries.
Name of President
Approval Rating (%) 
1 Jakaya KikweteTanzania 
2=Ian KhamaBotswana 
2=Hifikepunye PohambaNamibia 
4Bingu wa MutharikaMalawi 
5 Armando GuebuzaMozambique 
6= John Kufuor Ghana 
6= Marc Ravalomanana. Madagascar 
8 Marc Yayi BoniBenin 
9 Blaisé Compaore Burkina Faso 
10 Musa Yar' Adua Nigeria 
11= Mwai Kibaki Kenya 
11= Yoweri Museveni Uganda 
13 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Liberia 
14 Amadou Toumani Touré Mali 
15 Thabo Mbeki South Africa 
16 Pedro Pires Cape Verde 
17 Rupiah Banda Zambia 
18 Abdoulaye Wade Senegal 
19 Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe 
  *These rankings do not imply that highly rated presidents are more democratic than those ranked at the bottom end of the list, although it is tempting to make such a case when looking at the countries at the top and the bottom of the rankings (there is actually a strong correlation between the two).
*It is also important to note that the Afrobarometer Surveys were conducted between 2008 and 2009. The approval ratings should be looked at from this time specificity as it is highly likely that the figures have changed in response to changing circumstances. In some cases, some of the leaders have left office (Mbeki, Kufour) while Nigeria's Yar'Adua has since passed.
Kikwete: first among 19
*It is interesting to note that Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete is atop the Afrobarometer rankings when he only scores a modest B- ranking in the East African Magazine rankings, where he comes 10th. Meanwhile, Cape Verde's Pedro Pires only gets a 50% approval rating in the Afrobarometer Surveys, coming number 16 of 19. This is in sharp contrast to the love he receives from the expert rankings used in the East African Magazine, where he was rated as Africa's number 2 leader.

*Malawi's Bingu wa Mutharika was rated as the fourth best president in the list of 19 in 2008. This was translated into Mutharika's landslide victory in the elections of 2009. Whether he continues to enjoy these high approval ratings in 2011 remains to be seen (Afrobarometer will be conducting another survey in Malawi sometime in 2012).

Not much home love for Mugabe
*Rupiah Banda in Zambia (37% approval In 2008) faces a major battle to win over the approval of more of his country-folk as he seeks a second term of office in elections scheduled for later this year. Hopefully he has used the last three years meaningfully!
*Robert Mugabe's approval rating of 24%  is the lowest among the 19 presidents. His fellow Octogenarian, Abdulaye Wade did not fare much better either, with a 28% approval rating.

*Next time, I will look at this data more closely and look at other issues such as popular trust of presidents and perceptions of corruption by the presidency and officials in his/her office.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Re: Revisiting the issue of Maximum age limit for the presidency

Regular readers of the blog will recall this article that I posted in August of last year.  The recent decision by the  government of Bingu wa Mutharika to expel the British High Commissioner from the country makes it worth re-posting this article in its entirety, with an addendum at the end - Boni

Let us revisit the issue of Maximum age limit for the presidency 
Examining initially the gross changes which occur in the brain with ageing, it can be observed that the normal volume and weight of the adult brain begins to decrease from about 50 years of age. This is due to a reduction in the number of cells in a wide area of the brain: the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus, the substantia nigra, and the cerebellum....". - Martin Blanchard

Some years back, I presented a paper at the Constitutional Review Conference a comparative assessment on the Presidency in Malawi (the paper can be accessed at this link). One of the topics I touched on in that presentation was whether Malawi should consider introducing a maximum age limit for the office of President. Although there were many issues that I touched on (and a few that I would like want to take back), the topic of a maximum age limit elicited the most comments and discussion during the conference. I found it interesting that while many justified the retention of the minimum age limit of 35 on account that one's mental faculties are not fully developed to be President before this age, the proposal for a maximum age limit was resoundingly shot down (although in a later anonymous survey of key political leaders, there was overwhelming support for such a limit).
Anyway, why bring this issue up again now? Much as I respect our traditions and value the wisdom that comes with old age, I am sorry to say, a series of decisions and pronouncements by our President has started to make me wonder if he is not losing it.
During the period 2004 and 2009, the president made a number of rather wacky decisions that we thought could be explained by the pressure of working in a political environment dominated by a very pesky opposition (which by the way, he rubbished on numerous occasions).
Some groups of people were accused of plotting a coup against him, while yet others, including the presidents' predecessor, Bakili Muluzi and his one-time deputy, Cassim Chilumpha, among others, were accused and charged with treason for allegedly planning to assassinate him. Civil society leaders, the media, the judiciary, among others, have all been accused of one thing or another and publicly chastised by the President. Those of us in academia were similarly dressed down, warned by the man that he could replace us all on a count of three. Business leaders have also not been spared (remember how some CEOs of tobacco companies were deported from the country for disobeying the President's unilateral price fixations?)

Despite getting a commanding legislative majority after the 2009 general elections, Mutharika's eccentric behaviour seems to get from bad to worse. Perhaps we should have seen the warning signs earlier when he embraced the establishment of the Mulhako wa Alhomwe to champion the course of one ethnic group instead of becoming a champion of the all-inclusive ethnicity of 'Malawi'. A few months back he not only ordered the re-introduction of the quota system for university selection, but he offered a rather bizarre justification for this policy by making unsubstantiated allegations about some corner of the Chancellor College campus!
In recent times, he has spearheaded the change of the national flag under the false illusion that Malawi has transited from the dawn of development to a full blown developed nation deserving of a full sun. Those of us who have been critical of the flag change have meanwhile been ridiculed as drunkards - talk of irony!

The President is also not content with silencing critics and trumping on the already weak opposition. Instead, he has gone further to embarrass its leadership by ordering a significant reduction in the salary of the Leader of Opposition. This was followed by the decision to bring his wife into cabinet  (despite the initial protestations, the recent discolure that she's getting paid millions of tax-payers Kwachas for doing charity work just underscores the fact that her inclusion on the cabinet list was not an error in the first place).
In between, he has tried to incite mob action by not only calling for the deportation of the couple whose dog bit the family's long-serving guard, but he has also tried to frame the matter within the context of race (never mind that dogs are almost colour blind!). Malawi's traditional donors too have borne the blunt of the President's hallucinations. Oh, and by the way, his current deputy - handpicked by none other than the president himself - seems to be falling out of favour (and her predecessor too suffered a similar fate)
Given that there is now no opposition to worry about, why does our President continue to see ghosts where there are none? Why can't a man in his final term of office not seek to build a legacy of a unifier instead of the increasingly divisive character he has become?

Add to the list I compiled in August last year to even more bizarre decisions by the President in recent times:
  •  Building and opening a 'port' in Nsanje before  carrying out a feasibility study and without liaising properly with Mozambique, where a significant proportion of the water way lies
  • Ordering his supporters to 'deal' with his critics
  • Decreeing K2m deposits for demonstrators
  • Ordering the Inspector General of Police not to apologize to University of Malawi academics (could we speculate that he must have ordered the IG to summon Chinsinga in the first place?)
  • Ordering University Lecturers to get back to work, even if he has no legal powers to do so
  • Paying his wife millions of tax-payers Kwachas to his wife for doing charity work
  • Ordering the deportation of the British High Commissioner, despite widespread condemnation and advice of many not to do so.
  • We could add several issues to this list, such as the decision to withhold funding for his predecessors' medical bills; the recent scam at Malawi Housing Corporation where the president's brother got a house for a song; the decision to relocate the University of Science and technology from Lilongwe to the President's farm at Ndata...I am sure there are many other similar wacky decisions that I have forgotten
As we all get older, sadly, we all begin to lose our mental capacities. This is a fact of science. It is perhaps high time we considered bringing back the maximum age limit. But then, as someone once said, every mad man thinks that everyone else is mad. It is perhaps my own madness that makes me think that our country's politics is being led by mad people.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reflections from reading William Kamkwamba's Story

For a change, I read something with very little political content this past week- William Kamkwamba's "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind". (There is some politics in the book, as William freely shows his admiration for the Banda and Mutharika governments while showing his open disdain for the Muluzi regime, but that is a minor part of the overall story).

I have to say it has been very heartwarming to read William's story instead of the usual depressing stories about Malawi politics and the self-centred individuals who populate the Malawi political stage.
William's is a moving story and one that has received commentary in far more influential sites than this humble blog. But it is a moving read, a story that serves as a demonstration of what is possible despite the great obstacles that many of Malawian peoples encounter every day. In William's case, he shows great determination and overcame great obstacles in the quest to realize his dreams...drought and the subsequent hunger and starvation visited on his family and community in Wimbe, Kasungu; being forced to drop out of school because of lack of school fees; an un-supportive community who took his explorations on creating a windmill as a sign of madness. Against all these odds, here was William, a young boy that could hardly read or speak English and certainly not schooled in the physics of electricity generation, who still demonstrated his natural brilliance to come up with his invention and generate light for his home by simply looking at pictures from a library book .
In a country where very few have access to electricity from an unreliable power grid, William's ingenuity offers an important lesson in that there are many Malawian geniuses of his calibre that are capable of coming up with local solutions to Malawi's myriad development challenges. Just imagining what is possible if all the William Kamkwambas of Malawi could be given support to unleash their more unsafe drinking water; no more reliance on imported fertilizers; maybe some car designers that can build new cars locally and turn us into an exporting nation....some coming up with new medicines to cure us from disease and share with others outside Malawi the fruits of their discovery...the possibilities are infinite.
Sadly, the limited opportunities in our education system which prevents many William Kwamkwambas from emerging and nurturing their potential means that many inventors are out there that are not afforded the opportunities to invent. Yet, William's story teaches us more than the potential that Malawi has: it also tells us that despite countless obstacles, it is still possible to dream and translate those dreams into reality. Though belated, William, I salute you and am proud to count myself as your fellow Malawian.