Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Space for Interaction

It was still morning, just about nine and members of the Malawi Law Society, lawyers to be precise, had taken seats in Mount Soche Hotel’s Njamba Room on July 16, not necessarily to make money—although some would by presenting papers—but to dialogue on matters law.

They were united by their profession, and left aside things that divide them—religion, politics, special interests, clients.

Of course some lawyers were at the High Court, others at the Supreme Court while others were representing clients to magistrates. Which is why the hall was not full and judges, especially, were yet to take their seats. But the gathering was refreshing, a reminder that lawyers have cares beyond personal interests.

“There is much more to law than [the] pursuit of self interest,” said Edge Kanyongolo of the Faculty of Law at Chancellor College in his refreshing introductory remarks.

Do lawyers have time to reflect on society and focus on national and not personal interests? The perception, what some lawyers may call misconception, is that lawyers are after money, always, and that they don’t put national interests first which might be true or untrue in some sense.

One reason is that some laws don’t reflect Malawi’s economic status. An example is lack of effective public transport.

Malawi does not have a national bus company, one is yet to be formed. Even so, it will not service all routes, at least not Chididi, Nayuchi and most parts of the country. Yet matola is illegal, meaning, it is a crime for a person with a pick-up to help people where there are no buses.

This doesn’t paint a good picture of lawyers, although they are not necessarily law makers, a duty reserved for Parliament. But their picture grows worse when they represent people society knows as thugs and thieves. The argument being that even thugs deserve justice, which is true.
But there is a lot of lawyering outside courtrooms. The conference in Blantyre was just a small example; the journal that was launched was a big one.

“Law is being called upon to interact with other disciplines,” said Kanyongolo. He was right and the conference reflected the call because it was opened by a nurse, Dorothy Nyasulu, who until July 14 was chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Commission.

It was a soothing sight: a nurse opening a meeting of lawyers. It was also a sign that lawyers are willing to listen to other voices, which is what life is all about: listening, not only to oneself but to others. Not only that. The journal discusses issues that are for the benefit of all people.

Just a copy and one has access to justice, in a way, for almost free because it costs a lot less than a junior practitioner would charge per hour.

But the other advantage is that the journal will, according to its editor-in-chief, Danwood Chirwa, cure some of the gaps in existing law texts for the benefit of law students and practitioners.

“People must write about Malawian law more,” said Chirwa, who is an associate professor of law at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, at the conference.

This was collaborated by Malawi Law Society vice-president Kalekeni Kaphale who gave an impromptu speech. He was asked to speak at just about time and he had to compose something and spoke with ease. “I am used to addressing six [or so] people in the Supreme Court,” he said. “This gathering is different.”

Kaphale recalled his student days, about 20 years ago when academic staff in the Faculty of Law at Chancellor College referred to journals from the West: Harvard Law Journal, Oxford Law Journal, and so on; nothing from Malawi.

Such days are over. Of course, students will still read journals from outside. But they will also have the opportunity to read a law journal from Malawi. Academic staff have a space for publication, so they can rise professionally.

Lack of journals is cited as one reason academic staff don’t publish a lot. In fact, the meeting itself told the story, that academic staff outside Malawi rise faster than their colleagues in Malawi. Chirwa, the editor-in-chief, was at Chanco not long ago. He was taught by people who are now senior lecturers yet he is associate professor at Cape Town University.

Part of the reason is that outside Malawi, an academic culture of research and publishing is strong. Part of the reason is that Polytechnic, for example, has no established academic journal. The Malawi Law Journal, is therefore, a space of interaction where lawyers and people interested in law can dialogue; a space where law speak and listen to other voices.

Further, the journal is a space of interaction for issues of national importance. One article in the first edition (June 2007) confirms this claim. It is titled ‘Limits of criminal punishment in preventing HIV [and] Aids’ by Grace Malera.

The article examines whether or not criminal punishment can be used to prevent the spread of HIV. It also discusses the necessity (or lack of it) of a law to check the spread of HIV. Such articles are necessary now when some human rights activists argue for laws that would prevent the spread of HIV.

“A punishment approach may produce an environment of fear and lack of trust in the public health system, which in turn, would undermine preventive and treatment measures,” concludes Malera.

This is just one example. There are more articles of national importance in the November, 2007, and June, 2008, editions.

Issues about environment and bank conduct, for example, are discussed and these are not for the personal interest of the authors but the country—all of us—and this is evidence that lawyers are not simply in pursuit of personal interests but also the national good.

Yet law students and others will find the journals useful, meaning the journal is one step on the ladder to improving education standards in the country. This is so despite wild claims that education is going down in this country, partly because graduates cannot speak good English as if spoken English is a universal tool of testing education standards.

The journal will also improve on the performance of the Judiciary because judgements will be evaluated constructively, of course.

Which is why Kaphale said the journal is serving as a tool for legal development and that the journal is a forum for evaluating established legal trends, an engine for change and an interaction forum. He, therefore, called on lawyers to write for the journal.

“If we can’t write, let us buy the journal and support it,” said Kaphale.

The journal was launched by the Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo on July 17. It was a show that the Judiciary has welcomed the publication. The Attorney-General, Jane Ansah, graced the opening of the conference and she relived her graduate days when there was no journal from Malawi as a reference for students outside Africa. She has a doctorate in law and one would have expected that she stopped reading.

But as PhDs like to say, getting a doctorate is the beginning of learning because a PhD means one is able to study on their own and form independent opinion.

“There is no end to learning,” concurred Kanyongolo, a respected LLD himself.

These are gracious words from a gracious mind who rightfully noted that lawyers are doing a lot more than pursuit of self interest. The meeting in Blantyre and the launch of the Malawi Law Journal were two testimonies that law is more than money.

Law is for people, even the poor.

Life After Politics

One quality of leadership is knowing when to abandon a failed idea, move or attempt. Finally, it’s about knowing when to quit.

Time Magazine managing editor Richard Stengel is brilliant, a fine writer, too; his insights into world issues, events and ideas offer explanations that satisfy millions of readers worldwide.

In the 1990s, Stengel worked with Nelson Mandela for almost two years on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Two weeks ago, Stengel wrote a cover story for Time in which he outlined eight lessons of leadership taught by Mandela’s life both in prison and in State House.

"After all that time spent in his company, I felt a terrible sense of withdrawal when the book was done; it was like the sun going out of one’s life," writes Stengel. "We have seen each other occasionally over the years, but I wanted to make what might be a final visit and have my sons meet him one more time" because "Mandela is the closest thing the world has to a secular saint."

One of the lessons, number eight actually, is that quitting is leading, too. "Knowing how to abandon a failed idea, task or relationship is often the most difficult kind of decision a leader has to make. In many ways, Mandela’s greatest legacy as President of South Africa is the way he chose to leave it. When he was elected in 1994, Mandela probably could have pressed to be President for life—and there were many who felt that in return for his years in prison, that was the least South Africa could do," says Stengel.

This, says Stengel, was possible. But Mandela chose to leave the presidency at a time he was the most popular person in South Africa and when both law and mood allowed him a second term.
"[Mandela] knows that leaders lead as much by what they choose not to do as what they do," concludes Stengel.

During the years they worked on Long Walk to Freedom, Stengel often asked Mandela how the man who emerged from prison where he spent 27 years differed from the wilful young man who had entered it. Mandela hated this question, recalls Stengel. Finally, in exasperation one day, Mandela said, "I came out mature."

"There is nothing so rare—or so valuable—as a mature man," says Stengel. "Happy birthday, Madiba."

Happy birthday indeed. The month of July has been the Mandela month, honestly. He was all across the globe. His 90th birthday anniversary celebration in London was a global event. The British and all convinced Mandela who has chosen to spend life at his home in South Africa to travel to London for a party.

Time magazine, the world’s most circulated publication, dedicated all its four editions—US, Europe, Asia, South Pacific—to the story of Mandela and it was written by no less than the managing editor himself, a man in-charge of Time US, the world’s highest circulated magazine selling over four million every week.

This alone shows the place of Mandela on the world stage. And, as Stengel says, this is mainly because Mandela chose to leave the presidency when he could have remained in State House.
What has leaving office done to Mandela? It has made him a statesman and the world’s only greatest man living now, according to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister for Britain. Leaving office makes people understand that we are human beings, after all. People tend to forget our failures and concentrate on the good things done while in office.

Now Mandela is seen as a saint, a man without fault yet he is the first to accept that he is not perfect. In a country that is witnessing crime and political uncertainty in the ruling ANC party, Mandela is regarded as the centre holding South Africa.

"You are the glue that holds us together as a nation," said ANC president Jacob Zuma in a speech at Mandela’s rural home at Qunu in the Eastern Cape province on Saturday. "You provide eternal hope in our people and the world that South Africa can only be a better place each day."

Zuma, reported Reuters, joined 500 guests, including President Thabo Mbeki and former Zambian leader Kenneth Kaunda, in birthday celebrations for Mandela at Qunu on Saturday.
Mandela, says Zuma, is a symbol of unity between black and white South Africans. Some people say that although Mandela retired from active politics, he still provides a force of unity in a country where divisions between black and white, as well as rich and poor, are resurfacing as a largely black majority stays in poverty.

The unifying power of Mandela is both at party and national levels. His birthday party attracted people from all races in a country that skin colour still matters although not at official level. The ANC was united, too. President Mbeki and Zuma shared the joy of the anniversary, forgetting divisions that commentators say have rocked the ANC after Mbeki lost party leadership to Zuma.

A Reuters report quoted Financial Mail editor Barney Mthombothi as writing in a tribute to Mandela on Friday: "We’re approaching a future without his commanding presence with some trepidation.... We won’t see the likes of him again."

This is why everyone wants to associate with Mandela. US presidential candidate Barack Obama sent his usual poetic words to Mandela.

"Celebrations and simple words of admiration are not enough ... to honour a man who’s brought hope to a world often filled with despair; who’s brought so much love to a world so filled with hate and who’s shown us how much we can achieve when we have the courage to be our better selves," Obama said in a message.

"No, the way to truly honour you, Nelson Mandela, is to act each and every day in our own lives to do our part for our fellow human beings and to live up to the example you continue to set each and every day," he added.

These are gracious words, from a gracious US presidential hopeful, that marry well with Stengel’s observation on quitting, especially on a continent where some leaders regard the presidency as a life office from which death only can take them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Death of an artist

Here is a piece I did months ago, when artist Brian Hara died. I remembered him this week because a collection of his cartoons is out and he is making news, yet gone.

He was the most experienced cartoonist, the most popular and most famous yet the most humble. That is what makes him the greatest.

The news was unexpected last Friday morning; nothing like it would make anyone happy. But we had to receive the news that our cartoonist Brian Hara had died at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH).

Everyone was lost for words. But a story had to be done, anyway, because duty called us to do so, otherwise were all mourning.

It was not just any other artist gone. It was the country’s best cartoonist. It was the country’s oldest cartoonist. (The rest, from James Kazembe to Haswell Kunyenje are young people who were drinking from the deep well of Hara’s artistic work.) It was Malawi’s most popular cartoonist.

We are talking about Hara, the 63-year-old cartoonist behind Town and Country Rat, Zabweka, Eagle’s Eye View (on Political Index where we worked closely) and Pewani.

If you have read books under the Malawi Writers Series and Werengani Series, you know the illustrations were done by Hara. If you read Sibo and Dingase, you know the illustrations were the work of Hara. If you follow our history, then you know the illustrated face of John Chilembwe we use in the newspapers was done by Hara. The list is long.

On a personal note, I know how professional he was because we worked together on several projects under Nation Publications Limited.

One project comes to mind. The 2005 Father’s Day initial story had illustrations that depicted a kind, loving father with his children. I told Hara the crude idea of the story. We spoke for a minute and it was over. "I will do that for you," he said. What came was marvelous. Illustrations we cherish until now.

But this is not the only reason we mourn the artist. Brian Hara was a human being first. And he was a humble man. He did not have a label of the country’s greatest artist at his back. He wore a label of a humble citizen, one who paid tax and walked the streets, brushed shoulders with all of us.

Here, at Nation, he was a friend. His day started at about 9 in the morning when he usually came in to do cartoons.

First he would sit at a corner, read the day’s newspapers, do crossword puzzles and talk about cartoon ideas for Town and Country Rat and everything else. As he did his cartoons, he did not wear a serious face. He would do his work with utmost ease, raising his head to greet those passing by. Even then, his hand was listening to his mind, still drawing with precision. He lived like all of us yet he was different. He was great. That he managed to combine the traits of a great artist and a humble citizen is rare resilience. That is why we mourn him even more.

His death also raises the question of artists in our society. Hara was an artist who took part in the fight for multiparty in early 1990s. His works mocking one party system sent a message, a message more powerful than what politicians said.

Yet when multiparty was achieved, the artist was forgotten. History seems to suggest it was politicians who fought for multiparty.

Hara did not struggle to refute that. He did his work and it is well illustrated that he captured situations with precision. Once it was noted that our Constitution had grammatical errors, he did a cartoon that remains one of his best.

He was, in a nut shell, a cartoonist whose eccentric comic visions of life played a formidable role in making The Nation and Weekend Nation number one newspapers until last Friday.

That Friday morning when life seemed to be leaving the artist, Malawi did not notice a great man was dying. That Friday morning, the sun did not stop to honour the artist. That Friday morning, no market was closed to honour Hara. That Friday morning, life moved on as if nothing had happened. Yet a great man was dying. That is life’s most powerful lesson: that we are equal at birth and death and that is the lesson Hara was teaching in his art work and life, a call to humility.

Our love and appreciation go with Brian Hara, a great cartoonist yet gentle, humble human being. Our sympathies go to his family.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Who interviews Hetherwick Ntaba?

There is a secretary-general of a certain political party in a certain country that adopted multiparty democracy last month, 15 years ago. There is also a certain public broadcaster that carries what it calls interviews of that certain secretary-general.

Well, let me use names. Dr Hetherwick Ntaba, the secretary-general of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is still a powerful speaker although not as powerful as years ago. One United Democratic Front (UDF) official once described Ntaba as "amuna omwe amati akaima mu Parliament, if tonse mmimba chururururu" meaning Ntaba was an eloquent opposition MP who shook the government side in Parliament.

That Ntaba is different from the one we have today. It seems Ntaba is better at attacking than defending. And it seems true of Nicholas Dausi.

But the matter today is on radio interviews Ntaba gives state broadcaster MBC. This is a familiar situation because it goes like this, almost always: "The Democratic Progressive Party has dismissed/refuted/denied/described the opposition parties as..... The DPP’s secretary-general spoke with MBC."

Next comes Ntaba speaking. He still uses long, complex sentences and the punctuation can be heard. He has maintained his eloquence on sentence construction. What he has lost is the ability to attack tactfully as he did years ago.

He refutes and attacks the opposition as long as he can. No question, no journalist. Who interviews Ntaba? Is there a journalist at all? I don’t know. If there was one there would have been one or two questions. Or am I being unnecessarily inquisitive?

In the absence of a concrete answer, Ntaba leaves people to assume that he has a recorder at home and records himself at home or office. So, imagine this: The secretary-general is enjoying a well-deserved siesta on a Sunday afternoon. He has just had a three course meal. Then his phone rings. The DPP Treasurer-general calls, saying there is some bad news from opposition parties on some radio stations. Immediately Ntaba wakes up, tunes in to the radio and by chance, he listens to the item.

He thinks for a few minutes and gets his recorder and speaks into it as much as he can and calls some MBC boss to send a reporter to collect the tape for broadcast. Now in that situation how does MBC put across the news item?

The practical way is to say Ntaba spoke with MBC. But honestly, this is a professional dilemma and I sympathise with friends at MBC. But what can they do?

Or picture this one: Ntaba does not have a recorder at home but when he has an issue to refute/deny/attack and all that he calls MBC and a reporter rushes to Ntaba’s office. "Sit here," says Ntaba. "Thank you, Sir," responds the reporter from MBC. The youngman or woman from MBC sets his machine and Ntaba is recorded. He speaks for as long as he can and once through asks the reporter to play the tape or real or whatever so that he listens. Satisfied, he dismisses the reporter in peace.

If not any of the two assumptions, then I don’t know. These are just assumptions out of curiosity. Perhaps Ntaba may wish to change tactics, to speak and be asked questions since that makes communication complete. Language is by nature a two-person business. There should be a speaker and listener, one should speak and another listen. In a moment, there should be an exchange of roles. The speaker should pause to listen. Some free lesson here for Ntaba and some of his colleagues who believe their system is working.

My plain view is that the DPP’s secretary-general has some work to do as far as persuasive communication is concerned. Communication is two way process, Sir, and from your medical background, you should understand this rule. Make it sound like someone is asking you questions, just to give people an illusion that there is some communication going on.

Monday, July 14, 2008

State of Journalism in Malawi

Dear Visitors,

I am working on a comprehensive academic paper on the State of Print Journalism in Malawi and I would like to hear from you what you desire included in the article. Anything to do with journalism (and communication), I will discuss, so long I am intellectually able to do so.

One issue is that the media in Malawi is rising but still far away from satisfying people’s media needs. I believe there are over a 100,000 people who can afford a daily newspaper in Malawi. Why is it that The Nation and The Daily Times combined don’t sell more than 35,000 copies in a day at most?

Why are young graduates who can afford a paper not buying any? It is easy to blame Malawians as lacking a reading culture. But the reasons go beyond this and they are largely in us journalists, not necessarily our readers.

So, if you have any areas you want discussed in the paper, send suggestions to me.
Alternatively you can email

Thanks in advance of your thought.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Envy Is Our Most Dangerous Enemy

It is one of our three enemies, the others being hunger and disease, but the least fought. What damage is jealous doing to Malawi?

Michael Fred Sauka, the composer of our national anthem, was brilliant. He was also visionary, a kind of a seer whose sayings take time to be appreciated.

A little over four decades ago, he composed our national anthem, God Bless Our Land of Malawi, a powerful three-stanza song that is a symbol of freedom from colonial masters who disturbed our systems in the 19th Century.

The first stanza, with eight lines, is a prayer—God bless Malawi, keep it a land of peace—and, immediately, mentions our three enemies in the third line: hunger, disease, envy.

Put down each and every enemy,
Hunger, disease, envy.

These are real enemies. All Malawi’s three administrations have been fighting hunger and disease. First president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda wanted Malawians to have food and he inspected crops every year as a show of his seriousness with agriculture.

Kamuzu fought disease as well. The most memorable symbol is how he established the College of Medicine, offering his own house in Mount Pleasant as the first hostel and called back the likes of Dr Adamson Muula and Dr Rodney Kalanda from outside Malawi to finish their studies here, so that they could stay and work in Malawi.

Second president Bakili Muluzi also fought hunger and disease. He distributed free fertiliser and maize seed to achieve food security in a programme called staterpack. He also started the Bakili Muluzi Health Initiative to bring health facilities to every village. It seems the programme died soon after being launched.

President Bingu wa Mutharika has made hunger his enemy and talks highly of his government’s subsidised fertiliser programme.

He also praises himself for making drugs available in hospitals.

All these are wonderful initiatives that aim at making our country prosperous and a regional giant economically. Economic growth starts with food. A country cannot talk of manufacturing when people have no food, so too, when people are sick and spend time in hospitals.

But no administration has ever tackled envy, which the Oxford dictionary defines as “the feeling of wanting to be in the same situation as somebody else; the feeling of wanting something that somebody else has.”

Feeling of wanting to be like others? This is nothing evil. Envy should, therefore, be seen as a catalyst for self-development, a desire for people to achieve great things that some have achieved. It means a boy or a girl working hard to become a doctor because he or she is envious of his or her aunt, for example.

In fact, envy is part of ambition which is part of life. Why, then, did Michael Fred Sauka list envy as one of Malawi’s enemies at independence? Why did the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), with Kamuzu at the helm, accept Sauka’s piece with envy as our enemy? Why haven’t we thought of changing that part of the song, to remove envy?

The reason is that envy remains our enemy, perhaps more devastating than disease and hunger because envy is pulling down our country.

“This subject is very interesting,” says Dr Pierson Ntata, a sociologist at Chancellor College in Zomba. “Envy becomes a problem when it is bad envy, when it means covet.”

This, then, brings us to negative envy. The word envy has synonyms in jealous, greed, resentment, spite and covet. “When envy goes this far,” says Ntata, “it becomes a problem.

The quest for recognition, to become the most important [human] being, drives people into negative envy.”

Man is, by nature, selfish which is not bad in all senses because preventing oneself from catching HIV is part of selfishness. But when selfishness drives people to shoot others down, so that “if I can’t be like him [or her],” says Ntata, “he [or she] should be like me”. This is a challenge for our country.


Some of the politics in Malawi is not politics as such, but envy. It’s been like this for years, since the first multiparty democracy government came into place in 1994.

Once he came into power, the then opposition politicians—some are still in opposition—said Muluzi’s government would not last six months, then a year. But there were thousands of people who wished him well and he survived two terms.

The opposition boycotted Parliament for close to a year and talk was that this was just envy. They wanted to be where Muluzi was even before elections in 1999.

Any main opposition party, since 1994, has never attended public functions, not even the Republic Day celebrations. Malawians may be used to this but it is dangerous. It means the opposition can only attend the celebration when they are in government.

Why? Part of the answer is envy; part of the answer is the behaviour of ruling parties to politicise state functions, which is an understandable reason.

But parties see the politicisation of public functions when they are in opposition. Once they go into power, they do what they were preaching against not long ago. It’s a problem we have to solve, we have to deal with slowly, perhaps, but still deal with it, anyway.

What has changed? Nothing, it seems, except the party that is in government. It seems the concept of envy is taking root: wanting to be where someone is even before the appropriate time.

Impeachment is just one sign of envy. The recall provision was another and, luckily, it was removed from the Constitution. Envy was cited as the reason for amending the recall provision because losers, it was feared, would have found a way of pulling those who beat them out of Parliament.

Politics is so strong in us that we don’t see ideas in people’s activities; instead, we see party colours. If he is not for us, he is for our enemies. This is partly because we lack something as a nation, something that would make us feel proud to be Malawians.


Lack of patriotism breeds envy of the worst type. Patriotism is simple: love of country.

But a person does not love physical features, no matter how attractive these may be. Love of country is love of people first.

“A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle,” says George William, a thinker on social issues.

Perhaps the question should be: What is the principle of Malawi? What idea does Malawi thrive on? Elsewhere, countries have ideas.

The self-acclaimed model of prosperity, the United States, claims that there is an opportunity for everyone, and that meritocracy is the people’s way of life.

This drives people to the US. In fact, some of the professionals prospering in the US are immigrants. So, all Americans love their country because it offers opportunities, so long a person is brilliant and everybody is made to believe they are brilliant. They call it American Dream.

China, a country that is developing tremendously since 1980, believes in confucianism, which is said to be at the heart of the nation’s psyche, and it is this tradition of discipline, learning and devotion to elders that explains China’s extraordinary success.

“But confucianism has been around for centuries during much of which China was poor, backward and stagnant,” says Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International. “China began growing in the early 1980s not because of its culture, which has been relatively unchanging, but because of its policies, which went through a dramatic transformation.”

This is true, of course. But what is it that united the Chinese to support the policies. It is the idea of China, that they are the centre of the world.

The results have been wonderful, as Gracian Tukula (a colleague who returned from China last week). China’s economy has grown around 10 percent a year for more than 25 years, the fastest growth rate for a major economy in recorded history.

In that same period, China has moved 300 million people out of poverty and quadrupled the average person’s income.

Not so much like that here in Malawi. We are busy arguing whether or not there is hunger in Malawi. What does hunger mean? Does food security mean there is food in every house?

We are busy bashing each other in terms of who is better than the other. We don’t look at ideas but individuals.

We see ourselves as from different parties: PPM, UDF, MCP, DPP, MDP, Code and others. We see ourselves as Catholics, Adventists, Muslims, Presbyterians and other religions.

We see ourselves as Yao, Tonga, Chewa or any other tribe. But we don’t see ourselves as Malawians.

The result is envy, the kind that goes with jealous. If it does not belong to me or our tribe or church, there is no reason to render support.

Next comes jealousy and we have allowed our politicians to incite jealous in all of us, to hate those of other tribes and parties.

One explanation is lack of a national idea, a national principle. What is it that can bring us together? Patriotism should start with a search for an idea of Malawi. What does Malawi stand for? The beginning of patriotism will also be the beginning of the end of envy, an enemy that is devastating Malawi.

People, the right people to do right jobs, are pulled down by the envious, the jealous, who cannot do any better yet they don’t want to let others do their best.

This is true in all fields, even in politics. Former UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu knows this well. The worst enemies, he said earlier this year, are those in your side because they want your position. The result is envy that is synonymous with jealousy.

Love of people to let them prosper is patriotism because people’s prosperity results into a country’s development. But when people don’t wish each other well for political, tribal, religious or any other reason, the ultimate loser is the country, meaning the people.


President Mutharika says we should put our hand on the heart as we sing our national anthem. This, he says, is a symbol of patriotism.

Yet patriotism is more than putting a hand on the heart when singing the national anthem. Patriotism is love of country, Malawi, in our case; not a politician, not a religion, not a tribe, but a nation that is based on an idea.

The President should go beyond putting a hand on the heart and demonstrate patriotism by putting Malawi first and his party, the DPP second.

If he brings the idea of Malawi that will make all of us feel proud to be Malawians, if he teaches his party leaders to put Malawi first and DPP second, he will have initiated a sense of patriotism in Malawians and he will go in history as the first President to fight envy which the rest failed to fight.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Logs, specks in the eyes of politicians

It is common for politicians to point at the mistakes of others. But two wrongs don’t make a right. Malawi needs solutions that benefit all.

They were bashing President Bingu wa Mutharika for, as they put it, violating the Constitution and laws of Malawi. Former president Bakili Muluzi, who addressed rallies in Blantyre on Sunday, claimed political sainthood and branded Mutharika a law breaker.

Yet, for 45 minutes, Muluzi and his entourage were violating the rights of travellers in Machinjiri. The first meeting addressed by Muluzi was at Chirimba Primary School grounds, away from the main road. But at Luwanda in Machinjiri, the former president’s Land Rover, from where he was speaking, was parked less than five metres from the road. The pick-up that carried a generator for power was on the main road, thus being the first vehicle to block travellers.

Then followed vehicles that were part of the former president’s convoy. They parked right on the road and, from 2:45 pm until 3:30 pm, traffic came to a standstill. Minibus operators and passengers lost time and, as we say, time is money. Even pedestrians were inconvenienced.
People had to walk for a distance because minibuses could not pass through the crowd and the vehicles. "This is really bad," says one woman, a suitcase in her hand. "Why are they blocking the road?" The rest of what she said is unpublishable but it spoke of her anger.

The blocking of the road spoke a lot about hypocrisy: how people see a speck in another’s eye and miss their own log. This is typical of politicians—all politicians from Mutharika to opposition leaders—and all of us. Politicians, especially, accuse others without offering national solutions that would benefit all.

Two wrongs do not make a right and this a philosophy the UDF is failing to adopt. Muluzi is not supposed to simply accuse Mutharika and his administration without offering practical solutions that would benefit Malawians. This, too, is what our politicians from all sides have failed to do throughout the years.

Muluzi is able to see Mutharika violating human rights but was unable to see his own failure. His team is even against a common understanding about Muluzi’s eligibility to contest next year’s elections. His coalition partners dismissed talk that the Constitution bars their presidential candidate from contesting because he already served his two terms from 1999 to 2004.

This became clear from the meetings Muluzi addressed in Blantyre.


Muluzi’s first stop at Chirimba was mainly a meeting of children and women, old women and young girls who had probably been sleeping and had nothing else to do on a Sunday afternoon.
What else would people do after church? It was a meeting of a couple of thousands, just a couple, nothing more than that. Isn’t Muluzi a politician who claims that thousands come to his rallies?
Where do those pictures come from?

For months Muluzi has been placing pictures of his rallies in the press, describing them as part of the mammoth crowd. It might be interesting to study the faces and determine whether or not some do not appear on every picture.

His speech was as usual. In fact, it was surprising that the former president, who is also UDF national chairman, who is also UDF presidential candidate in next year’s elections (what titles?) is addressing rallies in different places. His speech was about change, but this is change he is not explaining in detail. What change? As he spoke, eloquently as he does, he engaged the audience by asking questions:

Zinthu zitani? As some women responded zisintha, a small boy, about 10 years, shouted, "Sizitheka". A few people laughed. But it was no laughing matter.

It showed that while there may be hundreds at Muluzi’s rallies, not all come because they support the UDF leader. This is true of all politicians. Some people come just to while away time, to run away from the boredom of small houses that are filled with children and adults—boys and girls, young and old.

The small boy’s response also showed that Muluzi is operating in the past; that he is using slogans that have lost meaning with time.

The change-slogan was powerful in 1993, when all Malawians agreed there was need for change. The slogan was powerful not because Muluzi gave it strength but because it reflected the hopes of the majority and the majority in any democracy have power.

Muluzi and the UDF have failed to come up with new ways of engaging people. In 1993, the UDF reflected the wishes of people. Now—and this is a remarkable difference—the party is reflecting its own agenda, to get back into power at every cost. Yet this is not the wish of the majority of Malawians. They have not forgotten the UDF decade.

This, too, is a visible sign that the UDF, as a political product, has failed to manage its life-span. It was born, it grew up and now has reached maturity. In a life-span of a product, the UDF was supposed to rebrand itself, to be involved in a kind of rebirth, lest it goes down into decline.

That time was 2004 when the party had Mutharika as its winning candidate. That was when Muluzi was supposed to let the party live beyond himself.

But that is not what the UDF did. Instead, Mutharika, as he says often, was forced to leave and form his own party, the Democratic Progressive (DPP). Now the UDF is on decline, falling faster than it rose to popularity.

The most important aspect of politics is popularity, not power; which is what the UDF did in 1993. Now it wants to get power without getting popular.


The second stop for Muluzi and his entourage was at Luwanda in Machinjiri where a road was blocked for about one hour.

Maravi Peoples Party (MPP) president Uladi Mussa was the first to speak before Muluzi addressed a crowd of a couple of thousands. Again the crowd was not as big as people are told. Perhaps because these were not platform rallies.

But they were reflective of the situation, anyway. Children started to run after the convoy at Area 1 in Machinjiri. They were barefoot children without any programme on a Sunday afternoon; there were women chatting up each other while selling small things at the market; there were men drinking at pubs at Luwanda; and there were those who came to see the man: the UDF candidate.

"There are 22 reasons Bingu [wa Mutharika] shall lose next year’s election," said Mussa. "But because of time, I will not tell you all."

But he went on to list two reasons: that Mutharika is stingy and does not appreciate what people do to him and, secondly, that he cherishes people’s arrests. Stingy? Is the President supposed to be throwing bank notes on the roads for people to collect? The second accusation is difficult to prove and ends there, almost.

The truth of the matter is that the UDF is failing to sell an ideology to people which is sad because the country needs the UDF just as we need the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and other parties. Perhaps the UDF was meant to be a transition party, as one biased analyst says, that after ruling for 10 years it should die and be forgotten, except in history texts.


The first to speak at Nkolokoti, the final place for the rallies, was Congress for Development (Code) president Ralph Kasambara.

He spoke about Section 83 (3): "The President, the First Vice-President and the Second Vice-President may serve in their respective capacities a maximum of two consecutive terms..."

This, says Kasambara, does not stop Muluzi from contesting next year’s election. Kasambara should have added that he is a brilliant lawyer; that he is the only Malawian to get almost a distinction in the Faculty of Law at Chancellor College.

The faculty has never produced a distinction since its establishment in late 1960s. Kasambara got an average of 69.5 percent, just about a distinction which starts at 70. Such a brilliant lawyer has spoken and Malawi must listen: Section 83 (3) does not bar Muluzi from contesting next year.

Other voices

Still, it is important to listen to other voices. The relevant authorities have spoken, too, on Section 83 that taking the matter to court is overstretching the Judiciary. The Law Commission is of the view that the framers of the Constitution meant to restrict consecutive presidential terms to a maximum of two.

Some prominent lawyers have said so, too. Everybody else says Section 83 prevents Muluzi from contesting. It is only those in UDF whose reading of Section 83 is different from the rest.

Edge Kanyongolo is perhaps the country’s most respected lawyer. He told the BBC in a recent interview that his reading of Section 83 is that it prevents a former president who served two consecutive terms from running for the office again. This is the ordinary reading of the Constitution and it makes sense because the Constitution is a document for people, ordinary people, hence the language is for them.

One trick the UDF has to live with is that judges presiding over cases of constitutional matters consult academics from Chancellor College. This was made clear by former High Court judge Dunstain Mwaungulu in a My Turn column article in defence of his 1997 ruling in a case involving the late Fred Nseula who was accused of crossing the floor in Parliament.

Mwaungulu ruled that Nseula ceased to be an MP when he was sworn in as deputy minister because the law does not allow a person to hold two public offices. This ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal which held that a person can be an MP and a Cabinet minister.

Mwaungulu, in the My Turn which he wrote to respond to criticism, said he consulted Chancellor College academics in the Faculty of Law and they agreed with his reading of the law. This shows how much trust the judges have in academics.

Now that Kanyongolo has spoken on Section 83, it is doubtful any judge would want to go against legal views of an internationally acclaimed scholar. This is where the UDF has fallen into a pit, partly because in their quest for power they want to gain favours of law, not people; they want to be popular with the law which does not vote.

The UDF has got its tactics wrong, mostly. The party missed a re-branding opportunity. It is now in a crisis of identity that comes with decline.

All popular products from Coca Cola to Lifebouy go through rebranding of somekind. This is necessary to keep the products on the market. This is what the MCP did in the 1990s. Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda brought in Gwanda Chakuamba.

The party’s ideology also changed to adopt multiparty democracy. The party which opposed multiparty vehemently, was able to win more seats in Parliament in 2004 than any other party.
The country did not take time to study why the MCP emerged the strongest after the last elections. One reason—this is just one of the factors—is that the MCP has been rebranding itself over the years with leadership changing from Chakuamba to John Tembo until the former left to form his own party.

The majority of voters now are the youth, those aged between 18 and 35 years. These do not often go to rallies. They have ways of spending time. Parties should, therefore, find ways of courting this group of voters.


The UDF and its allies are in danger of fielding a candidate who might not be allowed to contest in next year’s elections.

This should worry all Malawians because the party needs to take an active role in the elections and the party needs to prepare well, not to be caught unawares at last minute, just about time for elections. This will be sad and the UDF must save Malawi from such political tragedy.
The UDF should concentrate its energies on preparing its own house and not pointing fingers at Mutharika and the DPP.

One way to do that is to offer a concrete plan of its participation in next year’s elections which should come with rebranding. People want to see something new, something never seen before. It pays and that is the reason old brands spend millions to rebrand themselves.

Does the UDF now see the log in its eye?