"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"

Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Steps across time
by Mzati Nkolokosa , 13 December 2006 - 09:11:20
The first and second presidents of Malawi had their own way of dealing with crises. Now the third president, Bingu wa Mutharika, seems to be different—altogether.

First president of Malawi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda had his own way of ruling the country, a way different from the other two leaders: Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika.
In July, 1964, Malawians danced to the tune of freedom. On the eve of lowering the British Union Jack and raising the Malawi flag, people danced to hopes of a better tomorrow under self rule.
But as one poet recalls, what was supposed to be freedom turned into a 30-year arduous journey of fleeing into exile, detention without trial and mysterious deaths.
Two months after independence, Banda faced opposition from his own Cabinet. He dismissed three ministers—Kanyama Chiume, Orton Chirwa and Harry Bwanausi. Three others—Yatuta Chisiza, Henry Masauko Chipembere and Willie Chokani—resigned in protest.
This was a Cabinet of educated men and women, principled, too. They knew the dignity of resignation, a powerful lesson missed by many who stick to positions even when they are implementing ideas against their conscience.
Banda soon turned into a dictator. (This is what we are forgetting. Banda was a dictator in whose time Malawians suffered a lot. It is a mockery of our history if we turn him into a secular saint.)
Yet Banda won an overwhelming vote of confidence in Parliament. His chief opponent, Henry Masauko Chipembere, was placed under house arrest but ran away. Banda immediately announced new security measures to stop rebellion.
He used tyranny to deal with opposition until 1991 when the heavy wind of change was inevitable and Banda was blown off into democracy. But before that he used tyranny. Period.
Decade of Muluzi
Thirty years of dictatorship came to an end in June, 1993 when Malawians, inspired by their inner desire for freedom, voted for multiparty democracy.
The founding president of the multiparty democracy had his own challenges. Months after the May, 1994 elections, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the Alliance for Democracy (Aford) formed an alliance.
UDF went into Parliament with 83 MPs in a House of 168 members. The rest were in the alliance basically to give Muluzi tough time. There was even talk of impeachment.
But this crisis was managed. Muluzi hooked Aford into government by making its leader Chakufwa Chihana Second Vice-President. Other party officials were taken into the Cabinet.
Twenty months later, Chihana ended the political marriage, but he lost some of his officials who remained in government. After the 1999 elections, Chihana came into government as second Vice-President, again.
It seems this position in Malawi was solely created for Chihana because he is the only one who occupied the office and it doesn’t seem likely the vacancy will be filled.
This second time, Muluzi was facing a crisis of leaving office. He, most brazenly, wanted to remain in office beyond the constitutional two terms. And Aford was a means of achieving this shame for which Muluzi has not yet apologised to the people of Malawi.
In both cases, Muluzi used the appeasement policy. He bloated his Cabinet to 46.
Perhaps Muluzi is not a political engineer. He was an engineer of appeasement, a policy that has always failed in world history. Political engineering—if at all there is that field—is a combination of liberty and economic growth. Muluzi failed on both.
He left the country poorer than he found it. He robbed people of their freedoms. In the times of crisis he failed to manage the economy. His party’s Young Democrats were beating up people with alternative views.
Further, Muluzi didn’t listen to brilliant minds in his party. People like Justin Malewezi and Aleke Banda were disgraced.
Muluzi used appeasement, mistakenly referred to as political engineering.
Enter Mutharika
President Bingu wa Mutharika was supposed to be out of office by now, so said opposition leaders. Gwanda Chakuamba was exact, saying Mutharika would not be President by Christmas 2005.
This is now about Christmas 2006 and Mutharika is still in office. Yet impeachment was not the first trouble for Mutharika. His reign has been a troublesome three years. Mutharika came into office with about 30 percent of the May, 2004, elections vote.
The President’s inaugural speech on May 25, 2004, was a departure from UDF style.
It became clear that Mutharika would follow a different style from that of Muluzi, a man who had just handed the presidency to Mutharika.
The paradox was that Mutharika’s inaugural speech was welcomed by those who rejected him: the print media, the opposition, the civil society. That same speech was rejected by UDF because it was a bitter pill meant to heal the country’s ailing economy.
The first visible trouble for Mutharika was the probability of the rejection of the 2004 budget.
Members of Parliament who worked with UDF reveal that the party planned to reject the budget. Malawians were worried. The civil society felt sorry for a President who seemed powerless. This revealed the way Mutharika was to deal with crises.
He went on public radio and television to plead for public sympathy by portraying UDF and MCP as rejecting the budget.
The President went further to explain what a year without an approved budget means to people.
“There will be no medicine, no subsidised fertiliser,” he said. “There will be no money to pay the MPs, too.”
It worked. The country was against opposition MPs. Students from the universities of Malawi and Mzuzu besieged the gates of New State House to threaten opposition MPs.
Some MPs had to hide in the dusty townships of the Capital City. This method worked again when the President was threatened with impeachment. The country turned up against opposition MPs.
Now it is clear Mutharika seeks and uses public sympathy—legitimately or not—during crises and so far he has sailed through.
The most recent search for public sympathy was at the weekend when Mutharika, whose administration has messed up the distribution of fertiliser coupons, accused the opposition of sabotage.
The mess is Mutharika’s own but politically he has managed to convince some, thousands perhaps, that this is the opposition’s mess.
There is one difference, though. Mutharika has been able to manage the economy while managing political troubles while Muluzi was busy appeasing political buddies at the expense of the economy. Interest rates have now been reduced. These might not be remarkable achievements. But an achievement is an achievement.
The theory that it takes one man to destroy a country is true. Zimbabwe, built by millions for decades and destroyed by Robert Mugabe in a couple of years, is a typical example.
In the years to come, history will analyse the three leaders and choose who, among them, was close to a democrat, one who ran a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
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