Things fall apart, the centre must hold
BY Levi Kabwato
16:26:03 - 27 October 2005
In an apparent degeneration into a more sticky mess, things in Malawi continue to fall apart, breaking and spinning out of the control of those who are supposed to control them. Tidal waves of uncertainty over the future of the presidency and – more importantly – of the state continue to swell as the whirlwind of impeachment begins to swirl too close for comfort for many people in the country.
Proceedings in Parliament in the past week and the beginning of this week continued to give rise to growing anxiety coupled with discomfort among the citizenry as to where exactly Malawi is headed. That, added to the thick layer of mist surrounding what has become the new social-speak in the country – impeachment –, has also proved that not everyone can tell, let alone guess, what is in store for the people and their land in the coming few weeks. Malawi, it appears, now has a dark cloud hanging over it, threatening to release torrents of disorder.
In one of the greatest misfortunes to avail itself on the political landscape in the country, cunning politicians seem to be taking advantage of the people and their ignorance around the whole impeachment debate. Poor and gullible masses have been roped in to either raise a fuss for Mutharika’s impeachment or to rise up against the whole process in defence of the President.
The United Democratic Front (UDF) was the first party to begin what might just soon become the order of the day – unruly demonstrations. The UDF supporters on Wednesday last week marched from Limbe to Blantyre pledging solidarity and showing their support of the planned impeachment of Mutharika. In similar fashion, concerned citizens and members of the president’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) marched to parliament early Monday morning reportedly to try and warn opposition members of Parliament against continuing with the impeachment process.
But much more than that, the two demonstrations exposed the real faces which are going to bear the brunt of the whole course of action – the ordinary people – while their leaders afford themselves luxuries which are rarely extended to the last man in the party.
With the impeachment motion having been filed and a notice of indictment served on the president late last Thursday – almost five hours after the House had adopted the impeachment procedures – the nightmares of impeachment for Mutharika could not have appeared any more realistic. That move by the opposition drew the knives out for president Mutharika, becoming the latest indication of the opposition’s relentless ambition to unseat the incumbent who has ruled for just seventeen months. The unleashing of this fresh wave of wrath from the opposition was also fuelled by the growing inconsistencies of the Speaker of parliament, Louis Chimango, who has clearly shown that he is at opposition leader, John Tembo’s beck and call by recklessly and needlessly toeing on party lines.
This has forced government to be on the defensive most of the times since the impeachment debate commenced, a situation made worse (for government) by the opposition’s dominance in parliament. On Monday last week, MPs who back the government lost a challenge in Parliament to have impeachment procedures, which they said lacked laws of natural justice, referred to the Legal Affairs Committee. Morale was evidently low in the government camp as they desperately tried to keep the opposition on its feet as well.
The government MPs had to endure a whole week of steam turned on them by their colleagues on the opposing side. Then the relief came. Government had to wait for a breather until Saturday afternoon, when the High Court in Lilongwe granted a very significant and the much-needed breathing space for government through an injunction to Karonga Nyungwe MP Richard Msowoya, restraining the National Assembly from going ahead with the indictment of President Mutharika which was initially scheduled to start Thursday.
“We obtained an order that everything to be discussed in parliament should not include the impeachment of the president,” Maxon Mbendera, lawyer for Msowoya told The Sunday Times over the weekend.
This, coupled with the Malawi Law Society’s assertions in the press that the National Governing Council (NGC) Bill, which the opposition is pushing to become law, faces bountiful obstacles before it can achieve its intentions has proved to be just what government needed this time around to delay the impeachment process.
As things stand, according to the Malawi Law Society, the occurrence of Mutharika’s impeachment is being given a chance in a million. The society’s president, Alick Msowoya has also argued that a consensus by the people through the mode of a referendum is paramount since the NGC Bill is a major amendment to the constitution.
“People should be allowed to get involved and understand the implications of an amendment,” he was quoted as saying in the press late last week.
Although going the referendum way seems to be the only transparent way to gauge public perception on the performance president thus far into his rule, an opposition movement which has so far shown minimal interest in engaging the people in the impeachment debate will most likely be reluctant to go to the polls. There have been clear indications from opposition parliamentarians that the proposed impeachment of Mutharika has got clandestine motives attached to it which may fail to materialise if the people are allowed dominating space within the debate.
In a typical case of the imaginary Kangan state in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, public affairs in Malawi are being shrouded in the mist of unreality and floating above and away from the lives and concerns of the majority of the population. Whilst opposition members of Parliament try to muster a two-thirds majority to impeach Mutharika, there is a one-third minority in this country that is most vulnerable should the impeachment process degenerate into ultimate chaos – the four million plus people facing starvation this year.
The plight of these people has got minimal chances of being solved any time soon. The donor community has also expressed grave concern over the on-going political crisis in Malawi with some showing signs of opting to pull out of the country on the basis of the argument that government is being needlessly distracted in its efforts to avert the hunger crisis.
The British High Commissioner to Malawi, David Pearey issued stark warnings last week that if the political furore in Malawi continues, donors may have no other option but to withdraw their services to the nation.
“In a turbulent political environment, the donors could find it increasingly difficult to play the part they want. This is a moment for dialogue rather than confrontation; this is a moment for a united vision to take precedence over short-term party advantage,” Pearey told IRIN news last week.
But, as Malawi continues to put herself in the international spotlight for all the wrong reasons, her citizens may soon begin to bury their heads in shame for dressing in honourable robes and elevating to demi-gods, a voracious coterie of powerful and self-seeking politicians with inflated egos. But more than that, the actions of opposition members of Parliament and a collection of several other individuals in the country cannot be called anything less than counter-revolutionary.
That Malawi is moribund today still seems to be taken as a matter needing no urgent reaction from both the leaders of government and the opposition. Yet the truth of the matter is that everyday, as the impeachment debate rages on in Parliament, things continue to fall apart. The people seem to be holding on. But the remains: for how long?