Talking Blues: Easter reflection – What will it take for Pres Chakwera to cross the Rubicon?


“Take we the course which the signs of the gods and the false dealing of our foes point out. Let the dice be cast.” – Julius Caesar

In April 2016, we debuted in the Times Family; in the Daily Times of Friday 29 April 2016, to be specific, with an entry titled “Accidental leadership will be the end of Malawi”.

Back then, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), exasperated by then-President Peter Mutharika’s absent form of leadership, had just certified him a “transactional leader”; not the transformational type Malawi was yearning for.

Among other things, Mutharika was refusing to acknowledge and act on the problems hounding Malawians. Hence, we advised Mutharika to step down from his ivory tower, look at the reality on the ground and begin to act.

Mutharika refused to heed our free counsel, and we all know how that ended. Today, Sanjika has a new tenant.

We are five years old now, five years of probing and asking difficult questions.

Now, let us digress.

The ’50s B.C. saw political tensions between Gaius Julius Caesar, otherwise known as Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, aka Pompey, his former alliance partner. The alliance between Caesar, Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus is referred to as the First Triumvirate.

Formed in 60 B.C., the First Triumvirate worked to consolidate power in the trio’s hands. Crassus and Pompey were enemies. But because collaboration was the only way to dominate and manipulate the system for their own benefit, they formed an alliance.

The alliance’s immediate action was getting Caesar appointed as Consul in 59 B.C. Once a Consul, Caesar side-lined the Senate and passed various laws designed to win him popularity.

Although infuriated with Caesar’s affronts, a powerful faction in the Senate held their peace, bidding their time. They would pounce on him when his consulship ended. Once it did, he would lose official immunity, and they would exact their pound of flesh.

Knowing this, Caesar cut a deal with Pompey and Crassus. He left for Gaul, where his phenomenally successful military campaigns made him rich and earned him much respect. In 53 B.C. Crassus died in a battle. This heralded an era of a bitter rivalry between Pompey and Caesar.

Caesar’s victories in Gaul benefitted Rome, which gained strategic territory. The primary beneficiary, however, was Caesar himself. He rewarded himself with gold and other loot, which he shrewdly used to buy senators. Again, he had a trained, experienced, and fiercely loyal army.

This combination of wealth and military clout was not lost on his onetime ally, Pompey, who was also consolidating power in Rome and now had the senators holding grudges against Caesar in his pocket.

After the battle was won in Gaul, Caesar was required to step down from his position, disband his army, and lose the official immunity. Pompey and his new allies intended to finish him off by having him arrested and charged with abuse of office and corruption.

Caesar was no fool.

In March 50 B.C., he refused to resign and told the Senate he would stay on until the end of 49 B.C. and stand for re-election.

On 7 January 49 B.C., the Senate declared him “an enemy of the state”, and on 10 January 49 B.C., upon learning this, Caesar ordered the 13th Legion to edge closer to Italy and exhorted them to fight for him. The Legion swore loyalty to him.

Caesar now had the backing of a loyal army, ready to follow him unto victory or death.

At this point, however, diplomacy still had a chance. Because, the political crisis notwithstanding, Caesar had not yet done anything irreversible.

Thus in 49 B.C., on the River Rubicon bank, Julius Caesar faced a conundrum: should he remain in Gaul and forfeit power to his enemies in Rome, OR should he do the irreversible and cross the River Rubicon into Italy?

Mind you, there was an ancient Roman law forbidding generals from crossing the River Rubicon and entering Italy with a standing army.

This law protected the Republic from internal military threats. Breaking this law would be considered an act of treason, punishable by a torturous and agonising death.

That is why on the River Rubicon bank, Caesar and the soldiers of the 13th Legion waited, agonised, and weighed their options.

According to Suetonius, after some hesitation, Caesar saw a sign from the gods and cried out the opening quotation finishing with “Iacta alea est!” or “Alea iacta est!” (meaning: “Let the dice be cast!”) and Caesar entered Italy.

The course of history was forever altered, and literature was gifted the phrase “crossing the Rubicon”, which implies a person committing him or herself irrevocably to a high-stakes course of action in which the risks and rewards are extreme.

Back to our times, in the historic June 2020 elections, millions of Malawians, many of whom had never voted for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) before, agonised at the polls, crossed their personal “River Rubicons” and voted for MCP’s candidate.

They took the ultimate political risk and gambled on Chakwera, hoping that once Chakwera is in power, he would reciprocate and make “Rubicon-crossing decisions” which would forever alter Malawi for the better, for all; through his Hi5 Agenda, i.e. Servant Leadership; Uniting Malawians; Prospering Together; Ending corruption; and the Rule of Law.

Nine months on, has Chakwera reciprocated? Any tell-tale signs Chakwera will cross the Rubicon anytime soon?

As we speak,

  • The “Servant Leadership” philosophy was interrogated by Prof Garton Kamchedzera and found wanting.
  • Concerning “Uniting Malawians”: with MCP and UTM supporters brutally fighting during byelections, a lot more needs to be done to “unite” first, Tonse Alliance partners, then Malawians at large.
  • On “Prospering Together”, there is progress. Some alliance leaders are indeed prospering. But NOT together with Malawian masses.
  • Vis-à-vis “Ending Corruption”, someone in Chakwera’s administration failed to ensure continuity in ACB leadership after Reyneck Matemba’s contract expired. Is this characteristic of a government serious-minded about fighting, let alone ending corruption?
  • The “Rule of Law”? Albino abductions are slowly returning, Nsundwe police rapists are still at large, no one significant in DPP has been arrested for graft and for those arrested, court cases are proceeding at a snail’s pace.

Easter positivity notwithstanding, the questions lingering on many Malawians’ minds are:

  • What will it take for us to cross the Rubicon?
  • Who, for Chrissake’s, will lead our act of crossing the Rubicon?
  • Can we sustain yet another accidental un-impactful transactional playing-to-the-gallery leader? Can we afford to?

We wish you all a most blessed Easter!