Friday, January 30, 2009

Season of Rumours

It is right to call this period a season of rumours. But Brown Mpinganjira must go on to accept that crucial political truths in Malawi start as rumours.

Brown Mpinganjira, the cleverest politician in Malawi according to Jack Mapanje, is good at communication. He knows words that are loaded with meaning, he speaks poetry, and he can confuse people, even journalists, who don’t follow him critically.

In what can safely be called beautiful interviews this week with Blantyre Newspapers Limited journalists, Mpinganjira denied that he is being considered as a running mate for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president John Tembo in the May 19 presidential polls, saying this is a season of rumours.

He was clever, and right. Election times have been seasons of rumours since the 1994 polls. But one truth that Mpinganjira has not considered is that important crucial political truths start as rumours.

It was so with the coming of multiparty. Just a rumour, something from nowhere. It was so with the coming of Alliance for Democracy (Aford) into partnership with the United Democratic Front (UDF), just a rumour, something from crazy minds. Still, it was so with the divorce between Aford and UDF. Yet it was so with the open term and third term bids. It cannot be true, said Muluzi. Finally, it was so with the anointing of Bingu wa Mutharika as candidate for the UDF in 2004.

Even the birth of National Democratic Alliance, Mpinganjira’s own baby which he killed, started as a rumour. Yet in the face of such historical truths, Mpinganjira had the courage to tell The Daily Times of Monday (26/01/09) that he is not leaving the UDF.

"I am going to hold a press conference either on Tuesday or Wednesday to reiterate that I am yellow, yellow, yellow. The day I will leave the UDF, ask me about this and tear me apart on that decision," he told The Daily Times.

The following day, on Tuesday, he was in The Daily Times again, speaking poetry, using powerful construction, full of rhythm. He was speaking his mind on former president Bakili Muluzi who desires to contest in May.

"It would be naive to deny that there are problems there [in UDF], there are concerns stemming from the fact that there are a lot of rumours that ...Muluzi would not be allowed to stand. That he would be barred at the last minute; that he would be taken to court, all sorts of things. That is working on the minds of the UDF supporters," said Mpinganjira in visible poetry that can be re-arranged as follows:

It would be naive to deny
That there are problems there,
There are concerns
Stemming from the fact
That there are a lot of rumours
That...Muluzi would not be allowed to stand
That he would be barred at the last minute
That he would be taken to court.

It is interesting also that while Mpinganjira is calling this a season of rumours as a way of dismissing news that he is joining the MCP’s presidential ticket, he speaks his mind on Muluzi based on rumours as well: That there are a lot of rumours, that...Muluzi would not be allowed to stand, that he would be barred at the last minute and that he would be taken to court.

Why should Malawians disregard the rumour about the Mpinganjira-Tembo ticket but take seriously the rumour that Muluzi may be taken to court, that he may not be allowed to stand?

Mpinganjira is being selective. He is imposing one rumour on Malawians as truth and dismissing another as a product of a season of rumours. Aren’t both rumours a product of the same season of rumours? This is a question he is yet to answer. Or, perhaps, a question Mpinganjira, or BJ as he is called, is yet to be asked.

The most likely truth is that BJ is leaving the UDF or he is wooing the UDF to MCP. His assessment of the UDF alliance is honest and what people have said all along.

The parties that have partnered UDF do not necessarily bring numbers as in votes. All of them: from Kamlepo Kalua’s MDP, Uladi Mussa’s Maravi Peoples Party (MPP), Ralph Kasambara’s Congress of Democrats (Code), Amunandife Mkumba’s Malawi Democratic Union (MDU), with an exception of Gwanda Chakuamba’s New Republican Party (NRP) which may, perhaps, bring countable votes.

The challenge in UDF is that most people are afraid to speak. But not so with BJ. He does speak his mind. And so he has spoken, just short of Sam Mpasu’s hit: Muluzi can’t win.

Way back in the year 1999, there were rumours that Muluzi was supposed to pave way for BJ to stand on UDF ticket.

Just a year or so later, rumours were in town that BJ and Muluzi were not seeing eye-to-eye. Then BJ was Minister of Roads, Works and all the names that went with it. On the day Muluzi opened the Limbe-Thyolo-Mloza Road, Mpinganjira nearly knelt down, pledging his support to Muluzi and asking him to "remember me when you appoint your next Cabinet." This was at Luchenza on October 21, 2000.

"My loyalty to President Muluzi is unquestionable," said Mpinganjira, visibly angry at journalists who reported that he was harbouring presidential ambitions.

Next, BJ was fired from Cabinet, formed his NDA and was arrested, resulting into a court case that made him popular.

Just weeks ago, BJ repeated the Luchenza speech at Thawale Primary School in Mulanje. Mpinganjira reminded Muluzi that it was UDF’s Sapitwa region that first asked him to be candidate for UDF; that it was BJ who offered personal support for Muluzi; that the region has supported Muluzi throughout and that Sapitwa region of the UDF will support Muluzi to unseat Mutharika.

He spoke the tone of Luchenza when he pledged his allegiance to Muluzi. Now he has done the same. It seems likely that he will move out of UDF.

This is so despite his insistence that he is yellow, yellow, yellow. It is not the first time Mpinganjira has ever made such a claim. He did so just before the eve of the 2004 elections in which he was a presidential candidate.

Then, former editor of Focus on Africa and Network Africa, Robin White visited BJ at his Chitakale residence.
They became friends that whenever BJ went to London, he visited Bush House where the BBC is based and on one such trip, White, in an interview, suggested to Mpinganjira that Muluzi might invite him to UDF, meaning he should leave NDA and become UDF’s candidate in the elections in 2004.

The answer was interesting. BJ said he can "never, never, never, never, never, never, never"—seven times—join the UDF. (I used to record BBC programmes and still have the tape which I played to BJ the day we spent about seven hours together. He just laughed at my historical interest.)

Yet at the sunset of the 2004 elections, BJ dissolved NDA and joined the UDF, forgetting the never he said seven times on the BBC.

Now he claims he is "yellow, yellow, yellow" and that the day he leaves UDF he should be torn apart on this aspect. This invites one message for Mpinganjira, in some form of a letter, a brief one:

Dearest BJ,

You are right. This is a season of rumours because electoral rains have fallen and insects are singing. But some rumours, especially about Tembo and yourself, seem to be the kind that end into what was was rejected: truth.

Monday, January 26, 2009

In Search of One Person

Life is a journey and we meet hundreds, even thousands, and millions if you are the Pope or Obama, on the way. They help us understand who we are because the definition of our identity becomes clear when we interact with others.

So, too, our country. We know who we are when we interact with other countries or when we see what they are doing. The week January 18-24 was marvellous. We all admired Barrack Obama when he took oath of office of the President of the US on Jan. 20. For a moment, some Malawians wished they were Americans.

I did not. In fact, I have never desired to leave Malawi and work elsewhere. The streets of Washington can be interesting. I have walked on them. I have lived them. But Malawi is my home and remains priority.

Which is why we must not stop at admiring Americans. We must do for our country some of the things they have done for their country. Or, put clearly, some of the things our forefathers did for America. Those who were captured into slavery.

Why should we admire another country as if we do not have our own? I believe it takes one person to build a nation, not that he or she does the work on his or her own, but he or she inspires hundreds who work hard to develop their country. At a time we are so divided on political, regional, religious and tribal lines, Malawi is searching for one person, just one, to lead this country to a higher level the country deserves.

We need one person to rise above petty politics, triabalism, religious divisions, and all such vices, and talk about Malawi first. We need one person to come and speak of a new vision that will take Malawi out of poverty of the mind. We need one person to speak in new tones about the future of this country. We need one person to set Malawi on fire, the fire of self-awareness, hard work, honesty, and integrity. These are ideals missing in our society at national level. There are those who have these qualities but this is at individual levels and such individuals have not been able to recharge the country, to put Malawi on fire and move the country forward.

Instead, we look at Malawi not as a country of one history, but divided history. The Kamuzu era and its development; the Muluzi era and its development programmes; and the Bingu era with its roads and subsidised fertiliser. The result is that we say this belongs to Kamuzu, that to Muluzi and that one to Bingu.

No. Everything belongs to Malawi. We need someone to put Malawi first, to demonstrate that Malawi is more important than all of us.

This is how Bingu wa Mutharika started when he delivered his inaugural speech. But on the journey of his leadership, on the way, on the via, he met selfish politicians who taught him to castigate opposition leaders at rallies. He met leaders who have no sense of leadership. He made appointments based on religion, region and such unimportant qualification, forgetting that merit is the best.

On the way he has become like any other president. Yet he remains different and still has a chance to prove that he can set the country on fire, the fire of patriotism, to make all Malawians feel to be part of the country.

But what do the rest of us do to make such a person? Our leaders do what we allow them to do. If we demand leadership, we can get it. But we all over-praise our leaders as if they were gods and we make them believe they are miracles to Malawi even when they are failing.

I was writing this piece while listening to News and Reports on MBC Radio One and Minister of Local Government George Chaponda was on radio. He started by saying: "This is what Ngwazi Dr Bingu wa Mutharika wants to see." He was talking about tree planting. Is this really something only Mutharika wants to see? Why didn’t Chaponda say "this is what Malawians want". This means Chaponda is serving Mutharika not Malawi.

I am searching for one person who shall rise above petty politics and build Malawi as one country. I am searching for one person who shall speak like a Malawian to all Malawians. But I am also looking for Malawians who can be masters of politicians and demand from them what we deserve.

My plain view is that this search will be long but will come to an end, anyway. It may take years, perhaps decades, but the search shall yield results. I am hopeful for my country, that someday, someone will become a change agent. I long for that day.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Search for Power

The study of the story and history of power can be illuminating. What is power like and how do politicians use it?

On a warm May Monday afternoon in 2004, former president Bakili Muluzi witnessed the swearing-in of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Parts of the country were witnessing violence in the aftermath of the elections because some people who considered themselves in majority, led by some members of the clergy, wanted Gwanda Chakuamba to win. Thus the victory of Mutharika was bad news, especially in Blantyre where a trigger-happy Police Mobile Service man killed a 10-year-old girl, Epiphania Bonjesi. The country was divided. It needed a uniting power.

At Chichiri Stadium, Muluzi spoke first. Typical of him, he was overjoyed, telling off opposition leaders to accept results because the clergy prayed to God, asking for a leader, and God answered by providing Mutharika.

Then Muluzi handed over power to Mutharika who, minutes earlier, had taken oath of office, ending with "So help me God."

Just then, a country that had one president, welcomed a President and a living ex-president. First President Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda died in 1997 and left Muluzi without an ex-president.

Even in 1994, Muluzi had an ex-president from a different party, one the UDF and its supporters opposed and pushed out of power.

It was reasonably easy for people, especially government departments, to understand that Kamuzu had lost power and Muluzi was at the State House. This was partly because Kamuzu understood that he was no longer in power; instead, someone else, Muluzi, was in control.

The 2004 case was different. Mutharika had an ex-president who had become his party’s national chairman and it did not take long for trouble to appear.

He handed over power to Mutharika but out of Chichiri Stadium, Muluzi rode with the new Mutharika in the presidential, open Land Rover which for UDF supporters was love: an ex-president taking a new President to State House. But for students of power, it was the ex-president’s failure to appreciate his new status, that his name had attained the prefix "ex".

Weeks later, Muluzi, as national chairperson of the UDF was on a journey to thank people for voting for Mutharika. The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) was in a dilemma, whether or not to cover him live. Who was in power?

Power, as was the case in Malawi, can be understood in terms of command and control. "It is either the capacity to make others do as you wish (the command function) or to reorder the environment around you (the control function)," says a scholar of power, Jon Meacham.

Muluzi’s clinging to power showed that he was doing the command type because even after the State House, he wanted to enjoy some visible privileges exclusive to a President.

The command and control concepts of power became extremes. Mutharika was trying to reorder the environment around him (Malawi). There was a difference in the two people’s pursuit of power. Muluzi’s pursuit of power was for domination while Mutharika, it seemed, wanted to use power to make possible a journey towards paradise.

Some thoughts, as a result, became true. Decades ago, Machiavelli wrote: "It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things."

It was difficult for Muluzi to carry out or initiate a new order of things after taking over from Kamuzu because such work requires leadership lessons which, it now appears in retrospect, Muluzi did not learn. He replaced the MCP Youth League with UDF’s Young Democrats who beat up people in full presence of a helpless Police.

Mutharika, on his part, attempted to do what Machiavelli called difficult and doubtful: change and initiate a new order of the state of affairs in Malawi.

Constructive evaluation of Mutharika and his DPP must consider the world in which he started his rule and formed his party. The DPP, in the thoughts of Machiavelli, is a party attempting to do what is "more difficult to carry out…more doubtful of success [and] more dangerous to handle", a point analysts miss.

This does not mean Mutharika is perfect. He is a visionary leader, good mostly, but with one strong weakness: he is running an administration without a reverse gear. It is a government that does not look back to reflect on what has gone wrong and take responsibility, a leader whose vocabulary does not contain the word "but" which in the study of power is a reverse gear.

The subsidised fertiliser programme cannot be 100 percent correct. Food security does not mean universal food availability of the staple. Reports show that some houses, and they are in thousands, do not have maize.

Information about hunger and scarcity of maize is everywhere yet this is one thing. It is another for Mutharika to accept reality and be proactive by defining hunger and famine, instead of reacting to shortage reports and refuting starvation.

He is failing to say "but", a reverse gear, to appreciate that the subsidised fertiliser programme and nature’s kindness that brings rains, but accept that some things went wrong somewhere and indeed hunger is biting hard some parts of the country.

Mutharika is yet to work on his communication strategy, which is largely a failure even in the presence of visible success. He fails to construct reality for people to accept.

Still, that May Monday afternoon, when Muluzi and Mutharika spoke at Chichiri Stadium, politician’s use of power for good or worse became visible.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Engaging, Creative Oldies

Tsiku lina mwana wina akusewera
Ndi anzake adawauza, ine makolo anga nditawafunsa za sukulu
Akuti ukayambabe chaka cha mawa
Tsiku lina mwana wina akusewera
Ndi anzake adawauza ati ine mayi anga ndikawauza za sukulu
Akuti ukayambabe chaka chammawa

Chakudya amandipatsira pa ndekha
Chakudya amandipatsira ine pa ndekha
Kuwafunsa akuti palibe chifukwa
Nanga ndi chifukwa chiyani
Amandisiyanitsa ine ndi anzanga?

Anzake anamuuza si mayi ako
Mayi ako anamwalira
Pompo anayamba kulira
Anakauza atate ake
Mukanditule kwa mayi anga
Ndikakhale nawo.

It is a powerful song, beautiful and creative, too.

The four minute, 54 second song is titled Mwana wa Masiye. But throughout the three stanzas, Robert Fumulani does not mention the term mwana wa masiye (orphan). Yet even if one were listening to the song without knowing its title, they would still conclude that the persona is an orphan, lamenting lack of motherly care.

This kind of composition is creative and scarce. It makes music a journey of thoughts, at mental and physical levels. Fumulani sings through a child playing with friends who go to school and, most likely, ask him to join them at the nearest primary school as it is the beginning of a school year.

One day the child, not named in the song, reports back to friends that on asking parents about school, they say ‘wait until next year’. Fumulani does not say what the child’s friends say in response to the parents’ answer. But the child goes on to say he or she eats alone. When he or she asks the parents why this is so, they down play the discrimination.

Yet a question lingers on in the child’s mind: Why am I separated from my siblings?

It is a question whose answers the child can search and not find any time soon. The question raises a number of issues, too. One, that eating is a social event; people eat while talking and food earns its real meaning of sustaining life from dialogue and friendship.

Two, that food is one area that separates care given to different people. It happens all over, even at church and mosques where pastors and sheiks eat the best while ordinary members, whose contributions buy the best food, eat the least quality of food.

This is also a lesson that children, even the youngest, notice what goes on in families, hence they discuss the treatment experienced by one of their playmates. These are children under the age of 10 who have to go to school in Standard One.

One day, the persona gets an answer to his questions. Some of the playmates say something about the woman: She is not your mother, they say. Your mother died. There, the child cries and goes its father and asks to be guided to the mother to stay with her. This is where the song ends.

"It is a powerful song," says Pierson Ntata, a sociologist at Chancellor College in Zomba.

The song, he says, is probing the question of motherly love: Is it the biological mother only who can care for a child the way they should be treated? This is where Fumulani manages to set the agenda, which is what music is supposed to achieve.

Some songs are predictable. Listeners are told the whole story, even the conclusion. Such songs are closed and there is no room for deep thought. Fumulani and Alan Namoko and some musicians of their time, avoided such compositions. They treated music as poetry, not prose. Namoko, for example, has a song on orphans.

Ana amasiyewo,
Ana osiyidwa,
Opanda mayi awo,
Kodi kwalera kwake amatero?

Namoko does not say how they are being raised or not being raised but listeners are left to suggest that the child is in trouble following the death of a mother. "This is one strength of these musicians," says Ntata.

Asamaleni ana amasiye,
Musatemere mmanja ana amasiye.

This is almost the whole song. Namoko does not say much. He simply gives an example on food and asks a question: Is this the way to raise orphans? Namoko is not judgmental; he does not prescribe how children without parents should be treated. That is for listeners’ thought.

Both Fumulani and Namoko understand orphanhood as death of a mother, that even where a father is available, such children are orphans. This is a question of the value of a mother in the musicians’ societies.

Back to Robert Fumulani’s song. The child asks to be taken to its mother for it wants to stay with her. The child does not understand death, that the mother is no more. It is too small to understand death, the end of life which starts at birth. The child does not know really where the mother is gone to, that she is rotten in some grave within the area or far away and that the father married another woman.

This is where the song ends, with a request—to be taken to the mother, wherever. Fumulani does not tell his listeners the answer; the child is not told ‘no’, he is not told ‘yes’. Listeners sympathise with the lad but do not know what happens next.

Fumulani’s orphan does not know where the dead go: that at death they become cargo without value in terms of customs and immigration; that in real sense it is the vacuum they leave that becomes valueless in the lives of the young left alone without motherly love.

Fumulani’s orphan lacks parents who can bond with him; instead, the child finds bonding at the play ground. Fumulani’s persona is one who asks to be taken to its mother because the child is confused; it does not understand fate; it is asking itself ‘why me?’ as if there is someone it wanted it to be. The child does not see any better place than where the mother is gone.

A careful reading of the song reveals brilliant composition. The child asks to be taken to its mother—perhaps beyond the hills, across the river, or behind the forests—which is an impossibility. But this is a climax of a desire and Fumulani does not tamper with it. He leaves it as such; he leaves room for deep thought.

Anzake anamuuza si mayi ako
Mayi ako anamwalira
Pompo anayamba kulira
Anakauza atate ake
Mukanditule kwa mayi anga
Ndikakhale nawo.

The final image of the song is not an action but a request from the child to be guided to the mother. The child, practically, is waiting for an answer. The father is speechless. The listener is in deep thought—and there is a sense of a good future, room for the father to influence the stepmother to reconsider the child’s position in the family.

The conclusion is ambivalent, and holds out a bit of hope, just some hope, however faint. Little wonder such skills at composition are needed in the modern Malawi characterised by hopelessness resulting from puzzling challenges like poverty, violence and HIV.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eyes Into Africa’s Bright Future

The first wave of partnership in Africa was in the 1960s. But it was not for long. Coups, disease, hunger and wars became part of life. Now there is hope and Africa is moving forward to realise meaningful independence.

March 6, 1957, was a defining day in Africa’s history. Gold Coast, Ghana from this date, attained independence from Britain. The country’s founding President Kwame Nkrumah, speaking without a prepared speech or notes, was an inspiration to all Africa.

"The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa," he declared. It was a speech from the heart. And Nkrumah meant it, because a year later, he called African liberation leaders to Ghana to strategise the continent’s independence struggle.

The fruits were soon to be seen. Twenty African countries were independent by 1960. Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was in Ghana and admired Nkrumah’s success. It was from Ghana that Banda flew to Malawi to lead the struggle for independence.

Why did Orton Chirwa and others invite Banda when there were other Malawians outside the country? The answer is simple. Banda—and other educated Africans—was motivated by Nkrumah and supported the struggle in Malawi.

Namibia’s founding President Sam Nujoma describes Nkrumah as a "progressive president, an accomplished academic, an incisive thinker, analyst and writer, and a legendary pan-African revolutionary." Indeed he was, at least seen with an understanding mind and smelled by scholarly nostrils.

Nkrumah knew the importance of industrialisation. In nine years, he established 68 state-owned factories. He listed some of them in his 1963 book, Africa Must Unite: a distillery, a coconut oil factory, a brewery, a milk-processing plant and a lorry and bicycle plant. There were agreements for a large, modern oil refinery, an iron and steel works, a flour mill, sugar, textile and cement factories.

The New African editor Baffour Ankomah says Nkrumah forgot factories for shoes, glass, meat, gold, fruit and tomato, chocolate and a radio and television assembly plant. This, says Ankomah, was in addition to building a huge hydroelectric plant at Akasombo—that major source of electricity studied in Malawi’s primary school geography, a motorway from Accra to Tema and free educational and medical services "that made Ghana a showcase for Africa."

Further, Ghana had a continental radio station broadcasting beyond Africa. The radio, say analysts, helped the African liberation struggle.

"For unless we attain economic freedom, our struggle for independence would have been in vain, and our plans for social and cultural advancement frustrated," says Nkrumah in his book.

But this progress did not last. Nkrumah was overthrown on February 24, 1966, while in Peking (now Beijing) on his way to Vietnam with plans to end the American war.

"It is difficult to imagine the greatly improved condition of the African people today if Nkrumah had continued in power in Ghana to lead the pan-African movement," says June Milne, Nkrumah’s research and editorial assistant.

"One of the most shocking incidents in Africa was the overthrow, in February 1966, of that great man. I don’t think we will ever recover from those events," writes Zambia’s founding President Kenneth Kaunda in the New African of February, 2006.

Nkrumah wanted and fought for a united Africa, one that could progress together. He thought a united Africa should have a one-word-name: Africa. "There is no time to waste. We must unite now or perish," said Nkrumah at the historic OAU meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1963.

"Kwame Nkrumah was [Ghana’s] leader, but he was our leader too, for he was an African leader," said Tanzania’s founding President Julius Nyerere in Accra in 1997 when Ghana celebrated 40 years of independence.

Scholars—and all critical minds—can only reflect at history with wonder. Major-General Henry Templer Alexander, the last British Chief of Defence Staff in Ghana dismissed by Nkrumah, had no kind words for the architect of one Africa. Nkrumah "is not a brave man...nowadays he keeps himself very much confined," says Alexander in his book Africa Tightrope.

Colonel Afrifa, who was part of the coup, says in The Ghana Coup, Nkrumah could have been a great man.
"He started well...and became...the symbol of emergent Africa. Somewhere down the line, however, he became ambitious... and ruthlessly used powers invested in him by his own constitution. He developed a strange love for absolute power," says Afrifa.

What went wrong in Ghana between 1957 and 1966? "It is likely that historians will be asking that question for many years to come," says The New Africans, a Reuters guide to the history of Africa’s founding leaders.

Indeed it’s a question that needs an answer because the link between Nkrumah’s end and the rise of dictatorships in Africa is becoming clear. Why did, for example, leaders like Banda and Kaunda, who were close to Nkrumah, turn to one-party politics? Nkrumah established a one party state and controlled his Convention People’s Party (CPP) and all the organs of state; dismissed security chiefs and judges at will.

Was Nkrumah just that bad to enjoy absolute power? Perhaps the challenges and the world of his presidency can help explain. He faced at least seven assassination attempts. But one was most apparent. On August 1, 1962, a grenade was thrown at a village of Kulungugu, in Northern Ghana, where he stopped on his way from meeting President Maurice Yameogo of Upper Volta.

Four people died, 56 injured, most of them seriously. Nkrumah escaped without any injuries but saw everything that happened. It was a dehumanising experience. He later wrote of how a cheering crowd turned into "a screaming mass of people, blood stained, limping [and] disfigured".

The incident was followed by others. But the Kulungugu attack disturbed him. He lost confidence in Ghana Police and organised a private army with Russian help on January 2, 1964. On this date, a constable named Ametewee chased Nkrumah, fired five shots at him, missed, but killed the chief presidential guard, Salifu Dagarti.

It was another disturbing and dehumanising incident but not the first, not the last. He had endured a lot which his friends—Kamuzu, Kaunda, Nyerere and others—heard. This is perhaps the reason Nkrumah turned into a dictator. He was pushed into a corner and had no choice but to protect his life and the interests of his people.
Some African leaders like Kamuzu, perhaps, became dictators, dealing with every opposition immediately, for fear of being the next Nkrumah, Africa’s model. Or they were afraid of being Nkrumaised.

The military coup that ended Nkrumah’s rule was organised by the CIA with support from London and carried out by local collaborators in Ghana, according to information released in recent years by the West. It is easy to blame the US and Britain. But the major culprits were Africans who collaborated with the West.
Since then Africa has mainly been a sad story. Portugal handed over power to Africans in Angola and Mozambique but civil wars followed immediately. Malawi was host to over a million Mozambican refugees in the 1980s until mid 1990s.

Some remained and have become Malawians just like that confirming perhaps one of Nkrumah’s dream that Africans must be one, have one passport and move freely in their continent which was to become a country.
There was war in Liberia, Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Burundi, and trouble in Zaire. South Africa was struggling with apartheid. There was no peace in Ethiopia. People are still fighting in Somalia, Sudan, Ivory Coast and Uganda and many other counties. It has largely been a hopeless Africa, perhaps traced from Nkrumah’s troubles and fall.

But all that is changing now. Of course, Nkrumah’s fall was a setback because all African leaders were affected. And Kaunda was not exaggerating the effects when he suggested that Africa would not recover from the coup and its effects.

Yet there is light. Slowly Africa is moving and into the right direction. The wars in Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are over.

Mozambique and Angola are prospering. Liberia has a highly educated President, Ellen-Johnston Sirleaf, who is a symbol of a bright future for the war-torn country. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has made significant changes to bring lasting peace and economic boom to his country.

He was at the White House three years ago, talking to President George Bush, sharing a vision while their ministers were signing treaties to boost trade. Rwanda, with 50 percent women representation in Parliament and high positions, remains the world’s best example on women representation in decision making positions.
There are serious peace efforts in DR Congo, Ivory Coast, Sudan and attempts at normalising Somalia. Nigeria, a country of coups and assassinations, has been at peace with a civilian president for close to a decade. That is an achievement and a pointer to a brighter future.

Africa shares its fears and hopes. Most countries have held elections yet that is not democracy. The main challenge facing emerging democracies is rushed elections assumed to bring liberty and, therefore, liberal democracy. The good news is that now there is willingness, even pressure from within, for liberation and that starts with liberalising the economy which leads to political liberalisation because liberalised economy leads to modernisation.

Dictatorships were brought down in the 1990s. The IMF, World Bank and donors were able to do this in Africa and elsewhere bringing hope that soon vanished because there was no meaningful replacement and countries were plundered in a way that is very difficult to reconstruct.

Still there is a real chance for Africa to move forward. British Chancellor of the Exchequer writing in The Guardian in January, 2006, challenged Africa, saying it is the continent’s time to move forward.
"A century ago," he said, "people talked of ‘what we could do to Africa’. Last century, it was ‘what can we do for Africa’. Now, in 2006, we must ask what the developing world, empowered, can do for itself."

Nkrumah, born September 21 in 1909, had a vision for Africa, for a big country to be called Africa, one that could take advantage of its natural resources—land, forests, fresh water and hard working people—to develop. Sadly he died on April 27, 1972, in exile in Guinea, without seeing that vision. Instead, Ghana and Africa had become a land of coups, wars, hunger and disease.

In Nkrumah’s words, these problems, coming after independence, forced Africa to make one step backward. Now, he said in a visionary statement in 1966, "we shall take two forward".

It is happening now. Africa is moving forward and it’s good news, sweet news. The sweeter news is that Malawi, with President Bingu wa Mutharika, is moving along with eyes fixed into Africa’s bright future. It is time to join Mutharika in serious, visionary thoughts about Malawi, a country in which we live, not for ourselves, but for our children and their children—from whom we have borrowed Malawi, a piece of land which we are expected to return better than we found it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Why Endorse Candidates?

It was a loooooong year. Yet 366 days of a leap year, as usual. What made the year long and eventful? The answer is yours. I cannot tell. But it is nice to be in the New Year, to be part of those who celebrated the New Year.

It was the year I learned that I need not symapthise with opposition leaders who usually survive on our sympathy. Muluzi did so when he was leading UDF as a pressure group. Gwanda Chakuamba survived on our sympathy when UDF Young Democrats burned an MCP Land Rover in Chiradzulu. Brown Mpinganjira appealed to our sympathy when he formed NDA. Now Bakili Muluzi wants our sympathy because he is leading an opposition party.

Is our work to sympathise with opposition parties? No. Our work is to do for Malawi what will develop our country. Opposition parties which have a majority in Parliament should not seek to buy our sympathy but make laws that are good for all of us.

But they will not because they want to abuse the state machinery when they get into power. Which is why you and me must never support politicians who work towards their personal benefit over national benefit. Let us make the year 2009 the year for Malawi.

One old question that has come from 2008 is on the media and endorsements of presidential candidates. Some media practioners have suggested that we should endorse candidates because—they have one reason only—it happens in the US. This to me sounds like Muluzi’s joke that he wants to contest the elections for one reason: to remove Bingu wa Mutharika from the State House.

Should we do something because it happens in the US? This sounds like the ban of matola in Malawi simply because we copied our laws from Britain where matola is banned but they have an effective public transport system which we don’t have here. We copy the spirit and leave the body.

There are questions that must be asked regarding endorsement of presidential candidates. They are questions of citizenship and professionalism. And this is where theory comes in because it answers the whys and the hows. The reality is that most journalists in Malawi value practice more than theory, yet there is no practice without theory. Without theory all one does are experiments and accidents.

What was the historical reasons for endorsing candidates in the US? Newspapers were owned by politicians or people with political connections, hence it was necessary and in their interest to endorse candidates. Why should we do the same in Malawi today?

Again there are issues of citizenship. This—citizenship—is the highest office in the country. We often think the highest office is that of a President. But it is not. The office of a citizen is the highest. Which is why we must leave citizens to make private decisions on who they want to hire for President. Voting is one of the most private duties. Let the citizens assess the candidates and make a private choice.

The issue of professionalism comes in as well. How can I be impartial in reporting about John Tembo on page two when I have endorsed Muluzi on page one? What we have to do is to report and write critically and leave citizens to make a choice; we need to assess the candidates and say on education, X says so which is better than what Y says. At the end of the day people will see who, in their judgment scores highest.

Endorsing candidates is not the call of journalism in the new century. Journalism in Malawi has challenges that need thorough debate, not talking about endorsing candidates. We have poor analytical skills, hence we describe every album as a bomb. We lack tools (theories) for meaning generation out of events, ideas, and issues. We lack writing skills. We lack education which is our greatest requirement.

People talk about media freedom. I don’t need freedom from laws really. I need from that comes from education. Freedom is the power to do what is right and this comes from education.

Above all our greatest need is to raise circulation whose low figures are not inspiring. If you buy a newspaper everyday at K100, you need K3,000 to buy a paper everyday for a month. And there are over a 100,000 Malawians who can afford this amount. Why do we sell a lot less than 100,000 copies? The reason is more in us journalists than it is with readers.

My plain view is that it is time to work on journalism, not waste time discussing whether or not we should be endorsing presidential candidates.