The more things change, the more they stay the same

President Chakwera announced his first full Cabinet the other day.

Save for a few hard-line sycophants who have quickly taken over the shoes this far sported by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) apologists, many Tonse Alliance followers were up in arms.

Independent critics who had in the same week been singing songs in praise of Chakwera also went to town on the Cabinet, with Professor Danwood Chirwa saying “Crooks and known looters have been appointed, sending a clear message that all talk about ending corruption and all gimmicks are window dressing. We have seen this before; Malawians are not that stupid.”

He added that: “the entire Cabinet stinks of incest, and the smell is quite frankly unbearable. Not only has it been set up so that some families loot not just one ministry but two or more ministries.”

He was speaking for many.

While these are views that everyone is entitled to, they nevertheless contain some undeniable and disturbing facts.

To cite just two, three special Malawian families now account for seven ministerial posts and Lilongwe, the president’s home has now overthrown Thyolo as the home of the Cabinet.

While President Chakwera attempted to clear the various criticisms, still begging an explanation is the crowning of Lilongwe as the home of the Cabinet.

Also not convincing was his explanation of the concentration of “merit” – however, defined – to just three families in Malawi; more so when some members of those families are reported and known to have heavily funded his 2019 and 2020 campaigns.

The bottom line is that Chakwera has lost an enormous opportunity to differentiate himself from his predecessors.

An empty stomach Blues’ Orators has once again proved its worthlessness as an advisor and walking the talk remains as slippery as ever.

Announcing the innovations he has had to introduce to placate critics, namely probation period for ministers, “public” performance appraisals and a dare to the ministers to prove him right; the president sounded more like a man at pains to free himself from a rock and a hard place, than someone who had been pondering hard on how to make his Cabinet tick.

Don’t get me wrong; the initiatives sound plausible.

However, they are still an afterthought fashioned to justify the retention of uninspiring appointees who the president doesn’t want to irritate by dropping off the Cabinet.

Again, in the detail dwelleth the devil. Hence this public appraisal innovation could, for all we know, turn out to be a farce.

The question now is: let’s say Chakwera’s campaign had not been heavily funded by a few, let’s say, families and tycoons, would things have been different?

While this is difficult to predict, there is no reason to believe Chakwera is capable of appointing a Cabinet that can:

  1. create a million jobs,
  2. implement a truly universal fertiliser subsidy and not just a rebranded FISP, and
  3. feed Malawians – from Chitipa to Nsanje – with three square meals from January to December.

This is because, among other things, Chakwera’s definition of merit is absurd and to be fair, was concocted without much thought to justify the dubious Cabinet appointments.

Look here: “merit”, as per Chakwera is “a proven track record of leading people effectively in producing results in the face of formidable odds and political complexities” and according to him, “there is no one on the Cabinet who does not pass that test”.

Of course!

There is indeed no one in the Cabinet who can fail that test because one would have to be very dumb to fail.

Let me show you.

  • Close your eyes.
  • Pick any Cabinet. Can be one of Peter Mutharika’s or Joyce Banda’s or Bingu wa Mutharika’s or Bakili Muluzi’s for that matter.
  • From there, try to find anyone who in their lives before cabinet appointment had, “a zero proven track record of leading people effectively in producing results in the face of formidable odds and political complexities”.

Got anyone?

Now, let us assume that, with all due respect, the Honourable Charles Mchacha MP is the one you picked.

Can we really say that Hon Mchacha, at the time of his first appointment, had “a zero proven track record of leading people effectively in producing results”?

Remember he was serving as DPP’s Regional Governor and going by the DPP’s performance in elections in his region, he had a solid track record.

Agreed?

Now, let’s move to the next criterion: “in the face of formidable odds”.

Still using Hon Mchacha as a yardstick, it is undeniable that he played a role in bringing DPP back into government in the May 2014 elections when DPP came from the opposition to unseat an incumbent president.

Agreed?

Now, can anyone say unseating an incumbent is not “formidable odds”?

On the third criterion, i.e. “political complexities”, if the above two, i.e. serving as a party Regional Governor and contributing to DPP’s victory do not qualify as “political complexities”, what does?

Quod erat demonstrandum (Q.E.D.)

We should therefore agree that Chakwera’s definition of merit is a woeful load of bull which can justify any, if not all cabinet appointments made in Malawi, no matter how unfit for purpose the appointees were.

Back to the issue, with such a low bar on merit, what chances are there of Chakwera giving Malawians a fit for purpose Cabinet?

Next to zero is the answer because Chakwera, like his predecessors, has opted for the same appeasement highway that has taken Malawi nowhere. As has been said by others, when you have taken a wrong turn, speed and acceleration are pointless. This is where we are and sadly, we still have 59 months to go!

Lord have mercy!

This is where one begins to shed tears of sorrow for Malawi because, in a world where the only constant is supposedly change, the only change Malawi is capable of is superficial and inconsequential change.

I hear you asking: “Why don’t you give President Chakwera and his new Cabinet a chance?”

Let me tell you: I want to. I truly want to.

In fact, I badly wish to. But unless Chakwera begins to give himself a chance to succeed, my wishes and yours too will remain just that: mere wishes.

 

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