Talking Blues: Mr President, the time is now

“What we continue to lack is transformational leadership that is not defined by region, tribe or age. Leadership is not measured by education. We have a lot of educated fools in the country’s political leadership. We need to know who we are, where we are and where we want to be. Not mediocrity and politics of appeasement,” powerful stuff from the then Leader of Opposition and incumbent President Lazarus Chakwera.

This was in August 2017. Chakwera was among other speakers who addressed the Transformation Alliance (TA) convention.

In the keynote address, the then TA chairperson Moses Kunkuyu deplored rampant corruption, abuse of public funds, segregation and political witch-hunting.

He cited Maizegate, Tractorgate, Cashgate and the Area 18 Sewage for Drinking Water saga as worrisome indications that Malawi was taking a massive step in the wrong direction.

Economist Henry Kachaje was another speaker of note. He delivered a presentation titled ‘Economic Transformation – the Malawi we must aspire’, where he said due to misplaced choices, resistance to change, lack of patriotism and politics of appeasement, socio-economic change will remain but a mirage.

He also emphasised the need for leaders to keep their promises.

Since we have already gone down memory lane, what can stop us from delving even deeper into the chronicles of history?

But before we do that, let us first locate where we are. We are now over seven months into the reign of President Chakwera, who in August 2017 noted an unhealthy population of “educated fools” in Malawi; educated fools incapable of transformational leadership.

Well, seven months in Chakwera’s reign, even the most ardent apologists are getting tired of grasping at straws. Transformational leadership is still as elusive as the Holy Grail.

Come to think of it, a diversion into the myth of the Holy Grail can help to contextualise our woes.

As with many myths, this one has several versions. Some describe the Holy Grail as the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper. It was said to have also been used by Joseph of Arimathea to collect Jesus’ blood when he was crucified.

Some versions confer the Holy Grail spiritual and supernatural powers while others describe it as objects other than a cup, including a dish, a stone, and what have you.

While the same Grail is said to have a wide range of spiritual and magical attributes, it is also thought of as the ultimate object of achievement or desire. While it is generally believed that the Grail is a mythical object, some believe it exists and can be found.

The first known writing about the Holy Grail is traced to the 12th century by a French poet. The poem was unfinished when the poet died; hence additional material was added by later authors. In that version, the Grail is described as a golden serving dish.

The story tells of a young knight who, after several heroic encounters, sets off to visit his mother. Along the way, he encounters the Fisher King.

The Fisher King, also known as the Wounded or Maimed King, was injured in the leg or groin. This made him impotent and unable to stand, fight, or produce an heir. All he could do was sit in a small boat and fish.

The Fisher King happened to be the Holy Grail guardian and invited the young knight to spend the night at his castle. While there, the knight observed a strange ritual: young women and men walking in a procession from room to room in the palace, carrying priceless objects: a bleeding lance, candelabras, and an elaborate Grail (serving dish).

Too polite to ask about this strange custom, the young knight kept quiet. When he woke up in the morning, he found that he was alone. The castle had disappeared into thin air.

Just like the promise of Servant leadership, Uniting Malawi, Prospering together, Ending corruption and Rule of Law vanished like a fart in the wind and was formally declared “unachievable” by President Chakwera on 17 January 2021 when he said:

“We must all accept that the scale of the pandemic demands a change of priorities… some are still obsessed with campaign promises that were made on assumptions and in conditions that no longer hold.”

A couple of weeks ago, I argued that using Covid-19 as a pretext to dump the promises Chakwera was elected for is a betrayal of the highest order.

It means that Chakwera, having reached the zenith of Maslow’s pyramid, does not give a heck about the very people, especially the women and the youths who lifted him up to the top.

It means Chakwera has even forgotten that he once attended a “transformation alliance convention” where Kachaje emphasised the necessity and importance of “leaders keep their promises”.

More concerning, Chakwera now believes that priorities have changed for most Malawians.

You couldn’t be more wrong, Sir!

Justice, food, water, health, employment and education remain Malawians’ top concerns. Covid-19, if anything, is only exacerbating matters. Talking of Covid-19 as an excuse, let us tarry a moment.

  • Covid-19 is not just about people dying, no.
  • Covid-19 is not just about families losing breadwinners, no.
  • Covid-19 is not just about wiping out the little gains we had as a nation, no.

Covid-19, for boys and girls whose education has been interrupted, is a pandemic whose marks they will bear for the rest of their lives.

Covid-19, for small business operators, means loss of capital, and for the jobless 1,000,000 youths waiting for the promised 1,000,000 jobs, poverty and hopelessness have now taken a new meaning.

Now, when Chakwera shirks responsibility while – as we are learning – some civil servants and politically connected suppliers have literally hit a gold mine, I cannot imagine a worse form of dereliction of duty.

I can’t.

Like many Malawians, I, therefore, hope that the appointment of a special task force to comprehensively review systems of allowances, procurement and employment contracts which have over the years been conduits of looting public funds is not mere window-dressing.

I pray that Chakwera now realises that if Malawians had no confidence in his Cabinet before Covid-19 got out of hand, the fact that CovidGate ballooned under their watch, never mind the scapegoats, means that Chakwera should return to the drawing board and give Malawians a Cabinet that will look Covid-19 in the eye and say,

“Come Covid19, rain or snow, we will still deliver!”

Chakwera got a free pass when he wallowed in appeasement; Malawians now beg him to remember his speech at the TA Convention and desist from what he termed “politics of appeasement”.

Mr President, the time is now!

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