In what should have been anticipated by Malawi State House when arranging President Lazarus Chakwera’s HARDtalk television interview, H.E. embarrassed us all by fudging a question on the one million jobs he promised to create in his first year in office.
Do you know who President Chakwera’s response reminded me of? My secondary teacher. I have shared this before, but since President Chakwera obviously missed it, I will gladly share it again.
That teacher always insisted that we should read widely and sternly warned us against cherry-picking.
He regaled us about a friend of his who got a scholarship to study zoology or some related subject abroad to make his point.
The course had two modules; one on vertebrates, in which elephants were the case study, and the other on invertebrates, in which worms infested a large part.
It is not clear whether it is because the name “helminthology” – the study of parasitic worms – sounded irresistibly sexy or whether, coming from the tropics, he overestimated his knowledge of elephants why he was so fascinated with helminthology that he researched and read about nothing but worms.
Anyway, he became an authority on all things to do with worms. Nematodes, trematodes, you just had to name it, and he would school you what that particular worm does in the morning, noon and evenings etc.
Come exam time, he was all set, anticipating an easy pass.
He duly took his assigned seat in the examination hall and waited. The hour came, and the invigilator intoned: “You may open the Question Papers.”
Open his paper he did, and the self-satisfied smile on his face turned to a scowl.
He had been expecting two questions. His game plan was to get fifty out of fifty on worms, top this up with a little something on elephants and nail the exam whose pass mark was 50%.
However, there was only one question. Twisting the knife further into his bleeding heart, that question read: “Write all you know about elephants (Number of words: 1000).”
The guy pondered. Then scratched his head and thought some more. With his jaw balanced in the palms of his open arms, he cogitated to no avail.
He determinedly decided that he was not leaving the answer sheet blank and started writing:
“Elephants are enormous vertebrates with an impressive vertebrae column. They have legs. A head. A body and a tail. They are vegans. They are born. They eventually die.”
End of the first paragraph.
I should add that this was the wide and depth of his knowledge of elephants. He counted the number of words and found that this far, he had 28.
What to do?
“Contrary to public belief, it is not only when they die that their rotting carcass is infested by worms. There are all sorts of parasites that live and thrive in a healthy elephant. Nematodes, trematodes, or worms in common parlance are one common parasite found in living elephants. These worms, by the way, are invertebrate animals from a variety of distantly related groups. They include animals from phyla such as Annelida (earthworms, polychaetes), Nematoda (roundworms), Nemertea (ribbon worms) and Platyhelminthes (flatworms). Sipuncula (peanut worms), Echiura (spoon worms), Acanthocephala (spiny-headed worms), Pogonophora (beard worms), and Chaetognatha (arrow worms)…”
He went on and on about his beloved worms. He quickly counted the number of words and noted that he had 991.
This debacle notwithstanding, he was an intelligent chap; hence, it wasn’t lost on him that he had only 28 words on elephants and the rest on worms.
He quickly solved this and decided to sign off with a flourish by adding a scientific name or two to bring elephants discourse back in focus.
“Worms are much, much smaller than elephants, be they the African (Loxodonta africana) and Asian (Elephas maximus) elephants.”
1,000 words plus a margin of safety.
This was President Chakwera at the hands of BBC’s Sarah Montague. First, he answered the wrong question. Then went verbose with his patently off-orbit response.
It should not be you or me reminding President Chakwera that “how many” is answered with a number.
How many jobs? Five, Four hundred fifty, or zero; then elaborating with whatever excuses one has.
Having said that, I find the hullaballoo over President Chakwera’s embarrassing inability to answer a straightforward question much ado about nothing.
After all, we all know that the eulogies that won Chakwera acclaim in Tanzania and Zambia were written for him. All he had to do was to deliver, and deliver he did, with excellence.
Unfortunately, there will always be situations that require that he thinks on his feet, and Chakwera can help himself by closely monitoring what progress or lack thereof is happening vis-à-vis his contract with Malawians.
The first real issue for me was Chakwera’s mistaking job creation with AIP (which is essentially FISP renamed).
How can it be that President Chakwera, one year on, cannot differentiate between the two?
- Did AIP create jobs?
- Which jobs?
- The hundred or so drivers, their assistants and the truck-loaders who transported the farm inputs?
- Or the subsistence farmers whose occupation is subsistence farming and hence can’t count as new jobs?
What was he talking about?
Second, as per Peter Drucker, “what gets measured gets managed.”
From President Chakwera’s yammering through Sarah Montague’s straightforward question, he has absolutely no idea whether any deliberate strategies to create jobs exist in his government.
Had a strategy existed, means of verification, indicators to measure progress and risk management and mitigation elements would have been integral parts of that strategy, and he would have had numbers and justification for variances from the plan.
As it is, it now looks like Chakwera has neither intention nor plans to create jobs for non-relatives.
Because Chakwera and his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) proselytes think they can get away by passing the buck on campaign promises which originated from Vice President Saulos Chilima’s UTM, one of them being the one million jobs.
If MCP is clueless on how to create the one million jobs, why not delegate the hiring and firing of Ministers of Labour (line ministry), Agriculture (the hub) and Trade and Industry (enabler) to the Chilima?
If Chilima succeeds, Malawi wins, and Chakwera takes the credit. Should Chilima fail, he will shoulder the blame. The point being: MCP should not try to eat its cake and still have it in our faces.
Chakwera has an option: he can continue talking FISP when asked number of jobs and suffer the consequences of hoodwinking the one million jobless youths.
A hungry man, said Bob Marley, is an angry man.