Talking Blues: Where do we go from here?

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President Lazarus Chakwera is one lucky fella. With the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in total disarray, and its opposition sister United Democratic Front (UDF) in snooze mode, no one can stop or slow him down from overhauling the isms pulling Malawi down if he wished to.

Everyone wants him to succeed. This has been amply demonstrated by the Human Rights Defenders Council (HRDC), which lost the militancy it had during DPP’s time; the religious fraternity represented by the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and of late the Nkhoma Synod of the CCAP, all which have taken it upon themselves to serve as President Chakwera’s pro bono advisors.

With respect to the media, there is no media which can be faulted for sleeping on the job.

A government official who says one thing during the day but does the opposite at night as did the Attorney General vis-à-vis Zunneth Sattar company’s secret payment, will find a well-investigated article broadcasting all their hypocrisy for the world to read.

Likewise, with the NOCMA leadership or lack thereof, a presidential ‘decree’ not acted upon by the SPC will be discussed ad infinitum by TV panellists.

Should any public figure or institution comport themselves inappropriately, yours truly goes to town on that person or institution here on Talking Blues.

These elements create an environment in which an enterprising president could do a lot.

You might, for instance, recall that late Bingu wa Mutharika – under not as favourable circumstances as Chakwera’s and some might even say in a volatile and hostile situation – did a lot between 2004 and 2006.

Of course, things did not always go according to plan, nor did his appointees always stay goal focused.

Do you remember that while Bingu was preaching zero tolerance to corruption, a certain minister deemed it fit to wed using public funds? Once the story made headlines, Bingu promptly fired him. With no excuses.

Again, when former president Bakili Muluzi’s arrest exposed ‘chimkulirano’ among the then Attorney-General Ralph Kasambara, Director of Public Prosecutions late Ishmael Wadi and ACB Czar Gustave Kaliwo; Bingu did not hold a press conference to lament the disharmony and vaguely warn that ‘those who can’t change will be changed, Blah! Blah! Blah!’

Not at all. He fired the trio and started afresh. He had no time to waste.

The result was that save for the case of Bakili Muluzi, which took on a life of its own, no momentum was lost elsewhere, and a few months down the line, the Washington Consensus was “apologising” to Bingu for having tried to dissuade him from subsidies.

Today, well, I don’t even know where to start.

Is it indecisiveness as the men of the collar are putting it, or is this indecisiveness a symptom of incompetence and/or is this incompetence a result of utter cluelessness aggravated by an acute deficiency of vision, whose absence – if Proverbs 29:18 is right – is lethal for us all?

Is it, God forbid, the dreaded ‘state capture’?

I don’t have answers, you try and figure it out.

On this note, let us change the topic. There is no single governmental system in the world.

On the one hand, there are systems like that in Israel, Germany and the UK where the head of state (presidents and a queen, respectively) is ceremonial. In these cases, the head of state is more of a figurehead whose tasks are mainly symbolic and, in some instances, insulated from partisan politics.

On the other hand, there are systems where the head of state (president) is also the head of government. This applies to Malawi and the United States, where President Joe Biden, the head of state, is also the head of government. In this system, the president combines the duties and prerogatives associated with both titles.

The main difference is that whereas an ‘executive’ president like ours holds significant constitutional power, a ceremonial president (or king or queen) performs essential but mainly figurative functions. These functions, mind you, do not need unique talents or skills or competencies.

In almost all instances, prescribed formalities or traditions are followed. No thinking is required. No sweat. No hard work. One just goes through the notions, and the work is done.

The executive presidency is a totally different cup of coffee. One cannot just thrive on the ceremonial bit and hope that the executive part (making complex and controversial decisions in uncharted waters) will take care of itself.

No ways.

If you ask me, my assessment vis-à-vis President Chakwera is that he is more suited for the ceremonial type. Inspecting guard of honour, receiving diplomats, making speeches at national events – speeches that just give a feel-good feeling but are of little or no consequence. Come to think of it, as a long-time cleric, standing on ceremony was the core of his job, hence his excellent performance in this regard.

Since our system combines the exigencies of a head of state and government, he is a marvel to watch or listen to as the former, but as the latter, he is proving a disaster. Hence his passionate pledge to “change the way things are done in Malawi within two years” notwithstanding, his apologists have given up trying to point out a single thing he has changed.

In fact, from the presser he held last week, one could sense that there is no reason to expect anything tangible.

The question is: what can we do? Where do we go from here? Did we adopt the wrong system?

I don’t think there is anything wrong with the system. Late Dr Banda slid into the role(s) like a hand in a glove. Under multiparty, late Bingu took to the system like a fish to the water.

I, therefore, posit that we have here is that in the last election, we tried to fit a square peg in a round hole, hence the frustrations and discontent all over.

We cannot have an executive president who is so beholden to his inner circle that even after being spoon-fed by well-meaning PAC, ECM, and several traditional chiefs in these MK218 million per outing crop inspection tours, he remains all bark and no bite.

The final question before us is: where do we go from here? Rather than cry over spilt milk, I submit that it’s time we started seriously hunting for the right person for the next elections. While at it, let us learn from the Bible.

Remember Prophet Samuel and Jesse’s seven sons in 1 Samuel 16:6-13? The right person will not necessarily be the most obvious as Samuel saw in the “tall and handsome” Eliab.

There is a “David” out there, “tending sheep”.

We must find him/her! At any cost, lest we perish.

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