Every storm, no matter how strong, is temporary. This political turbulence—Section 65 and its associates—shall pass away, not long fro, now.
The political climate seems hopeless, and for good reasons. The opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) want Section 65 invoked. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) thinks otherwise.
Some Malawians are sad, really sad. They think the political impasse is a blow to the economic growth gained in the past three years. It is clear from conversations in public places: minibuses, markets, churches and funerals. It’s a gloom picture.
This country, some say, is doomed. This country, they suggest, will never develop. This country, say prophets of doom—and they are thousands—is on the road to destination Zimbabwe.
But the facts on the ground—the arrest of UDF national chair Bakili Muluzi, opposition boycott of Parliament, Section 65 deadlock, arrest of treason suspects, growing perception of corruption—are simply not dire enough to explain the hopelessness.
This lack of hope comes from two things: ignorance of history and the effects of the media on society.
Sadly, history is a subject that most of us do not cherish at school. Once in Form Three, more than half the students stop reading history—it’s the study of the past, they say: what has it to do with the present? And most parents agree.
This, though, is a mere symptom. The real disease is that Malawi does not care about the past. But can there be a present without a past? Indeed, can there be a future, a vision, without a sense of history—where we are coming from—and a knowledge of the present?
Is the turmoil facing Malawi the worst this country has ever had? Is this more than the September 1964 Cabinet crisis? That was a real test of the country’s existence. But Malawi did not break up. Can Section 65 and the arrest of Muluzi slow down the economic growth—whatever it is—registered in the past few years? Is our country beyond repair?
The European world after World War I was hopeless. Thomas Eliot captured it in his poem, The Hollow Men. The first few lines capture all the hopelessness of the time. In fact, there has never been a better description of the world after the war than Eliot’s poem.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
This was, by all standards, a hopeless world showing man in his inability to make sense of his own creation: the devastation caused by the invention of weapons and war. The final stanza may be the most quoted of all Eliot’s poetry:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
The world of Eliot did not think of a better place after the world war and, indeed, a second world war came and destroyed in unimaginable levels. But after that came modernity in the sense globalisation has imposed the term on the world.
The First World War was followed by a depression. Yet this economic downfall was followed by growth and the United States emerged a superpower. Europe was assisted by America and rose out of poverty. The aid package was called the Marshall Plan after George Marshall who was US President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State.
It was not aid with conditions as is the case today. Marshall announced details of the Marshall Plan or the European Recovery Programme (ERP), offering American financial aid for a programme of European economic recovery.
Those who understand history know that Ernest Bevin, the British foreign secretary, supported the scheme. Now, western Europe is a different story. The Europe we know today came out of turbulence.
Isn’t what we are going through less than the aftermath of the world wars? That is at world level. Isn’t the current political turmoil a lot less than the Cabinet crisis and the Masauko Chipembere uprising? Why, then, are we such terrified? The answer is in ignorance of history and the second area of discussion.
We live in a world that has been invaded by the media, especially radio and television. Internet is getting an upper hand as well among urban dwellers.
We listen to deliberations in the National Assembly and follow every bit of the chaos in the House. Now we can be disappointed by the noise and lack of ideas in the House. The live broadcast has its own advantages. But the disadvantages can be huge. The MPs know they are being listened to and everyone wants to be heard, to make the loudest sound and be heard.
Road accidents, for example, have been happening in Malawi for years. The reason we talk about them in sad terms is partly, perhaps mainly, that the media is able to show us the extent of damage of life and property.
The Phalombe flood was a big disaster. But we have forgotten about it all. The reason is that the media then was not as vibrant as at is today. Imagine there was television in 1990 and we had motion pictures in our houses, the grim picture would have been more powerful than it was in the heavily controlled print media then.
There has been crime all along but the picture was not as grim as it is today. We are all living in fear of being robbed or experiencing some burglary. There has been rape all along but it seems now the situation is getting out of hand. Have we become more evil than before?
The main part of the answer is that Police have decentralised information and every station has a public relations officer (PRO) who compete to be in the media everyday and the way is to report bizarre events.
So, we hear rape, theft and crime everyday. This, for the media, is breaking news and it’s an easy way of filling up the pages and airtime. The information revolution which everyone is championing is good but we must be prepared to make sense of the information that is filling our waves and pages everyday.
This making sense, or analysis, is lacking and the result is unfounded fear in people, even those who were supposed to have insights.
The greater challenge is that Malawi does not have think-tanks—individuals or groups. Our civil society leaders do not act on ideas. They act on the now. They don’t look at the past to contextualise issues, events and ideas. The common example is the political problems between the DPP and the UDF and MCP. Every civil society leader and every analyst claims the source of the feud is that Mutharika left the UDF to form the DPP.
This is shallow reasoning. Mutharika’s departure from the UDF was not a problem, it was a symptom of a problem that was in the UDF. Detecting that is work of analysis which our analysts refuse to do either for lack of knowledge or political bias.
The problem is that those of us in the media continue to quote people who do not analyse issues. They just sweep with words without looking at each grain of dirt on the political ground. Such statements are creating a sense of instability in people.
Section 65, in its current form, has been with us for years. Let this not cause sleepless nights. The good thing is that out of the Section 65 turbulence Malawians have got one benefit: the separation of leadership from leaders.
What has Section 65 got to do with voters? Muluzi and MCP leader John Tembo want Section 65 because it is a constitutional matter. They forget that in terms of elections, Section 65 is not politically viable as at now.
This is time for preparing next year’s elections and Section 65 is not a language of a person who wants to go into power through the ballot. When Muluzi says President Bingu wa Mutharika will rule one term, it seems to mean the incumbent will lose next year’s elections.
Does Muluzi really want to win next year’s elections? Why, then, is he talking about Section 65 instead of preparing for the polls?
Muluzi and Tembo are right to say that Section 65 is a constitutional matter. But they are wrong in the sense that they have not said what they want to do with Malawi when over 60 MPs are expelled from Parliament. Can they tell us now? Law is not an end. Law is supposed to be a vehicle to good things and, in Africa, a good thing is that which benefits society.
Have we seriously thought about people’s benefit out of the expulsion of over 60 MPs? What would a House filled with opposition MPs only—our opposition of Muluzi and JZU—do to a President they have accused of duping the party that sponsored him?
Muluzi and Tembo want Section 65 implemented but they are not telling us what they want to do after DPP MPs are expelled .
Will the country enjoy peace and economic growth? Will Mutharika remain President? If the Malawi after the implementation of Section 65 will be more chaotic than now, why not preserve peace? Any law that causes chaos is not good at all. (In any case, as I said last year, the grammar in Section 65 applies to those elected in by-elections because Parliament stands dissolved on March 20 of an election year and there is no party represented in Parliament on election day. This means the Section does not apply to anyone in the House.)
The question of Malawi after Section 65 deserves a careful thought. It takes thousands of people and years to make a country productive but it takes a day and one person to destroy.
Regardless of which side of the political divide we are, we must all carefully think about Malawi after Section 65. One challenge facing Malawi is that we are divided on political, tribal and religious lines. This is evident even in official forms where we are asked tribe, religion and never nationality.
Why is this so? The Police, especially, are culprits on this. They identify suspects by name, tribe and district of origin.
Whichever side you are, the aftermath of expelling MPs from Parliament shall be worse than the current chaos. We have laws that don’t make sense, sometimes. Section 65 is one. The illegality of matola is another. This is a country without a state bus company, meaning no effective public transport to Phalombe, Karonga, Dowa and everywhere.
Yet in our wisdom we copied laws from Britain and pasted them into our books that matola is illegal. Isn’t a solution on matola a more urgent, more welfare issue than Section 65? Malawians would vote for someone who works to ease transport problems in the country.
There are those who think Malawi is unstable and needs international mediators. One of such people is former president Justin Malewezi. He says we have failed to resolve our problems.
This, too, is a challenge. Do we really need mediation? Isn’t this a job for some civil society and religious leaders who want to have something to do at national level? Those who look at issues critically know that Mutharika and Muluzi are like two spirits that cannot live in one tomb.
The two have different philosophies and cannot compromise. Can Mutharika, Muluzi and Tembo really come together and talk peace? Yes, this is possible. What would be the price? Every dialogue results into some sort of compromise. What would be the price of Mutharika reaching a compromise with Muluzi? Would that compromise be for the good of Malawi?
It does not appear so. One good thing out of this turbulence is leadership as opposed to leaders. Malawi needs leadership.
The opposition UDF and MCP are right to stick to Section 65. But does that win them the support of the people? Do Tembo and Muluzi think Section 65 will really make them popular? Do they really want to win next year’s elections when they are doing things that cost them support?
Tembo and Muluzi have got everything about Section 65 wrong. Mutharika has got everything about Section 65 wrong, too. But he is at an advantage because he is in the Executive arm of power. He has the support of the majority who depend on MBC Radio One.
Out of Mutharika’s troubled presidency has come a future. He has had trouble from day one. The late Dumbo Lemani formed a task force. Those who worked with Mutharika were deemed anti-UDF. Mutharika had a sick wife and he knew she was dying.
Yet out of all this trouble, Malawi has prospered in real ways. The economy has grown at levels never experienced in recent past.
This growth is not a miracle, though. It is part of a world economic growth. All countries are developing. All countries, yes, except Zimbabwe and Burma. Imagine if Mutharika had a smooth presidency! He would have relaxed as Muluzi did.
The challenge with Muluzi was that he did not have any meaningful opposition. That made him a passive President. He did not think critically.
By opposing Mutharika powerfully, Muluzi and Tembo have helped the President to strive to be seen to deliver. Mutharika shall win next year’s elections partly because of Muluzi and Tembo. The two opposition leaders’ actions have campaigned for Mutharika.
Finally, the greatest achievement of this political wrangle is that it has shown who is patriotic and who is not. Now Malawians know who belongs to the political dust bin. People know Gerald Mponda is doing his last days in Parliament because instead of solving the matola issue he is busy with Section 65. People know the reason Muluzi and Tembo are insisting on Section 65 is not for the good of the country but for their personal political rise.
Otherwise there are so many constitutional issues that need to be corrected and priority should have gone to the reversal of the ban on matola not Section 65. It’s just the way it is. Section 65 is not people-centred and those championing it know this pretty well.
But Malawi does not need to worry. This turmoil shall come to pass, not long from now. Malawi, then, not now, but then, shall emerge smart with a leadership. We shall look back and see a chain of leaders led by Muluzi, followed by JZU, Mponda and others admiring a Malawi that will be rising on the ladder of development process.
That will be a wonderful experience.