Talking Blues: Presidential benefit of doubt? That quota is exhausted


Since independence, Malawi has had six presidents who have presided over ‘seven’ regimes.

We had the Kamuzu era, Bakili’s lost decade, Bingu’s first and second terms, Joyce Banda’s cash-gate stained short stint, Peter Mutharika’s six years of plunder and today, Chakwera’s supposedly “tonse” time.

Six presidents in ‘seven’ regimes because Bingu’s first term was distinctively different from his abortive second term; while the first was a fresh breath of air, the second was as foul as Vulcan’s stithy.

One of the mistakes we have repeatedly made to date is dropping our guard under the pretext of granting an incoming leader the “benefit of doubt” at the start of a new reign.

Blues’ Orators, permit me to belabour this point.

When you have to give someone the “benefit of doubt” for whatever reasons under whatever circumstances, that should serve as a red flag.

It means that against your better instincts and judgement, you are making exceptions you will live to regret.

Let me elaborate.

In 1994, we voted for ‘wakuba yemweyo’. Apart from the defunct The Democrat, no mainstream media outlet ever referred to the six pounds episode or truck bought with party membership cards funds.

Yet, these were and remain historical facts. In other words, red flags. Why?

Because everybody wanted to give the first multiparty president “the benefit of doubt”.

Late Bingu wa Mutharika assumed office in 2004. Knowing he was widely expected to be a puppet, he ditched Muluzi and went on to impress.

Despite exhibiting tell-tale dictatorial proclivities and extravagant tastes, e.g. attempted procurement of Maybachs we did not need; Malawians – generous to a fault in dishing out benefits of doubt – gave him a parliamentary majority in 2009.

Result: his second term was hell. Yet, the red flags had been waving  from 2004 to 2009.

In came Joyce Banda. Good intentions aside, she came unprepared for the presidency. The benefit of doubt weighed in. Two years later, JB was probably the most despised woman in Malawi.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Peter Mutharika had already goofed beyond reasonable doubt three times.

Touted as a lawyer of note upon return home, there is nothing positive to remember him by in the Ministry of Justice’s library. Zilch. Nonteri. Nothing.

As Minister of Education, he flopped, and as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he was an unmitigated disaster.

Three bloody red flags.

Now check this: as early as July 2014, Z Allan Ntata Esq – a former DPP hardliner turned voice crying out in the wilderness – warned us that DPP under Peter Mutharika, had no intention to deliver good governance.

But alas, we crowned Ntata and his uncommon sense the height of sour grapes.

“Because he hasn’t been appointed anything, he is bitter,” we conveniently wrote off his SOS.

Having thus shot the messenger, we issued yet another blank cheque from our infinite reservoir of benefits of doubt.

Ntata stuck to his guns. Today, the DPP has proved him right. The cost? MK1.3 trillion and counting.

If Ntata was not as pissed off as we are with the looting, I would have ended this discourse here with a rhetorical: look who is laughing now! Knowing however that we are going through a catharsis and hopefully becoming wiser, I will proceed.

But before I proceed, would you agree or disagree with the assertion that: ‘it is impossible to make the same mistake twice’?

What do you think?

Can one make the same mistake twice?

My view is that you can’t make the same mistake twice because the second time you make the same mistake, it is no longer a mistake.

It is a choice.

In fact, if you make the same mistake thrice or more times, it is a habit, not a mistake.

The Public Affairs Committee (Pac), probably wary of getting wrong again, has refused to join the benefit of doubt bandwagon. It paid President Lazarus Chakwera a visit and volunteered its concerns.

In a statement read to Chakwera by Pac’s Chairperson Monsignor Patrick Thawale, Pac advised Chakwera on several fronts.

On executive arrogance, Pac said Malawi’s past leaders behaved as if “Malawi is their property” and hence brooked no constructive criticism.

“Pac wishes to caution Tonse Alliance that generations have changed and Malawians are not the same as they were 10 years ago. They have just given you a chance. As an alliance, you must stick to the principles and values you agreed to jointly develop this country,” said Pac.

Nepotism, tribalism and regionalism were also highlighted, and Chakwera was accordingly warned.

In a word: Lilongwe should not become the new Thyolo. Not again. Malawians rejected this once and for all.

“It has been a trend for governments to award positions to people from areas where they amassed more votes. You are aware of these issues. We are just emphasising [the advice] so that they are at the back of your mind,” Pac continued.

Pac then hit the nail on the head and advised Chakwera to avoid falling into the trap of ‘backyard cabinets’.

“While it inevitable that each leadership may have people he/she trusts more, too much reliance on ‘backyard cabinets’ may guide you into a wrong direction because of conflicting interests,” Thawale said.

Pac did not mince words on the size and composition of President Chakwera’s maiden Cabinet and wished to know what happened to Chakwera’s 2014 promise of a lean Cabinet of between 14 and 20 ministers.

The long and short of it is that we should discontinue dispensing benefits of doubt. Pac has set the pace, let us follow suit and demand the best and only the best from the very beginning because m‘mera mpoyamba.

Look here, when campaigning, neither Chakwera nor Chilima offered a list of excuses as to why they would not deliver.  They gave us promises and pledges. That is all we should demand, always. Had they wanted the benefit of doubt, they are both eloquent enough and would have said so. They didn’t.

They made promises, we expect those promises to be delivered, with zero excuses.

The presidential quota for “benefit of doubt” is now exhausted. Chakwera and Chilima, we – the people – are waiting in anticipation.