Because there are disturbing parallels between war-ravaged Afghanistan and tranquillity-filled Malawi, writing off developments in Afghanistan as mere news would be a colossal mistake.
Where should I begin?
On 15 August 2021, nearly twenty years after being ousted, Taliban fighters overrun Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital and took over the presidential palace hours after President Ghani fled.
Chaos ensued as the US and its NATO allies scrambled to evacuate their nationals and Afghanis facing uncertain futures.
Just as success has many parents, but failure is an orphan, there is a dearth of volunteers to own the Afghan mess.
President Joe Biden’s finger points onto Afghan leaders and military and previous US administrations.
Afghanis say it’s the Americans.
Some analysts suggest that the underlying cause is corruption among the Afghani ruling elites.
Others blame the Taliban, who are sanctimoniously adamant they are merely doing God’s will. As far as the Taliban are concerned, it is either God’s will or Lucifer’s fault.
God’s will for allegedly setting in stone laws and ordnances which should be followed to the letter; or the devil’s fault for incessantly seducing people, especially women, into undertaking ventures ordained only for men or for walking about ‘naked’, as if they are in the Mwanza-Neno of the late 1950s.
So, as Italians would say, “La victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso!” That is, victory has a hundred fathers; defeat has none.
It is difficult to fault Pres Biden’s assertion that bombing reluctant nations into nationhood is a non-starter and dangerous. Vis-à-vis Afghanistan, only the Afghanis themselves can and should determine their fate.
Didn’t the British try and fail in the ‘Disaster in Afghanistan’?
On 13 January 1842, only one man, a Dr William Bryden – British Army doctor, was the lone survivor of a 16,000-strong Anglo-Indian expeditionary force massacred when retreating from Kabul.
The rest perished.
The Soviet-Afghan war raged from Dec 1979 to Feb 1989. Like in this current US debacle, the Soviet military invaded Afghanistan to prop up a pro-Soviet government. Tail between legs, the Russians learnt to leave Afghanistan to its own devices.
Oblivious to history, the US thought throwing a whooping USD2.3 trillion, bombs, and ammunition would do the trick! It has spectacularly failed.
The cost, in terms of human life, is incalculable. Two hundred and forty-three thousand dead and yet USD2.3 trillion and 243,000 lives later, Afghanistan is back on square zero.
The Taliban, as we speak, are calling the shots and shooting using American guns and ammunition while Afghani people – especially women and youths – are not only falling from flying planes; but have literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
Now, what parallels exist between Afghanistan and Malawi? I see at least six shared myths.
a) Throw enough money at a problem, and the problem will vaporise:
Just like USD2.3 trillion has failed to democratise and stabilise Afghanistan, no amount of donor money will sustainably develop Malawi.
This is not only evident in our ‘stunted’ status despite aid when our neighbours are thriving but is also well-argued in Dead Aid (Moyo, 2009) and Deadly Aid (Sanchez-Moreno & Roht-Arriaza, 2012).
b) Democracy can co-exist with nepotism, tribalism and cronyism:
There was very little in Afghanistan not involving some faction, tribal or religious leaders pacts and practices. Practices, for example, the same family sending one son into the Afghan army and another to the Taliban to win favour with both sides.
This misled foreigners – especially those not wanting to know the truth – towards wrong conclusions, inappropriate policies, strategies, and decisions.
This also explains why the military and the Taliban quickly reached amicable agreements, twenty years of beef notwithstanding. Why not? Isn’t blood thicker than water?
Here in Malawi, change of presidents notwithstanding; nepotism, tribalism, and cronyism are plagues we are yet to find vaccines for.
c) Better the devil you know? Think again
From 2001 to 2021, Afghanistan has had two presidents. Hamid Karzai was president from December 2001 to September 2014 and was succeeded by Ashraf Ghani in September 2014 until the Taliban took over.
During the same period, the US has had four. 2001-2009 – George W. Bush; 2009-2017 – Barack Obama; 2017-2021 – Donald J. Trump and in 2021, Joe Biden.
Contrary to public opinion, my studied view is that Mark Twain was dead right: politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.
The longer a president stays in office, the more pungent the stink from his administration. Hence, in my book, clinging to the adage better the devil you know is counterproductive.
Towards 2025, Malawians should think very hard. As has been seen in Afghanistan and elsewhere, two-term presidencies rarely mean double the reward.
Impudence and complacency creep in.
d) Presidents are more equal than other citizens
Following on (c) above is the tendency to pamper leaders. In fact, I long gave up trying to understand why people try to create gods out of mortal men. You saw those misguided MCP youths at President Lazarus Chakwera’s function earlier this week?
What was that for?
Such idiotic stunts are why even themost incapable of our leaders are grossly deceived into overrating their power. This, too, was the case with the Afghani leadership.
e) “I don’t have to play a role; Mapwiya Muulupale (MM) will write for us!”
What IF, like my erstwhile comrade-in-arms, I am offered a ‘yellow bun’, which I greedily and noisily gormandise while hurriedly deleting my social media footprint?
As you know, the international media is awash with anger directed mainly at Biden, arguing that the US should have continued propping up the Afghan army, the same military that made deals with the Taliban and traded aircraft, humvees, artillery and armoury for safe passage.
When did the Afghan government and military intend to start pulling their own weight? What were ordinary citizens saying or doing about this?
f) All that glitters is gold
Do you know what former president Peter Mutharika and the spineless Afghan president Ashraf Gani have in common?
Both were respected academics in the US before returning home; they authored impressive articles and books on good governance but failed to take medicine they prescribed for others when given a chance and thus suffered dishonourable exits from centre stage.
Luckily for us, the incumbent is 100% home-bred and supposedly cut from a different cloth.
But then again, contrary to his uncompromising anti-corruption rhetoric before assuming office, the ACB recently deemed it necessary to interview him in connection with corruption in the infamous NOCMA oil deal, courtesy of the SPC and Advisors he appointed and is loath to fire.
Now, what have we here?
If we subscribe to the notion that Caesar’s wife must always be above suspicion, why should we apply a different standard to Caesar?
This is even more why the Afghanistan tragedy should teach us that indifference to politics and good governance is suicidal. The earlier we embrace active citizenship, the better.
Even if they wished, the Taliban could not cause as much devastation in Malawi as we are doing with our indifference.
The time to get up is now.