Malawi’s bumpy road to democracy
Blantyre- The rise to power of Malawi former President Joyce Banda following the three April days of madness that characterized the death of her former boss Bingu wa Mutharika who lost a sudden battle to heart failure in 2012, came as a relief to many Malawians.
In the last term of Mutharika, Malawi was going through serious economic, political and diplomatic difficulties including allegations that his administration was reminiscent of the one party autocratic rule under the country’s first president, the late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
The economy had dipped relations with neighbours and the donor community had gone down the drain, acute motor vehicle gas shortages were biting, foreign currency was also scarce and the high handedness, with which the government was dealing with dissent was a cause for concern.
When Banda entered the stage after a spirited battle with Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) followers including, the late president’s brother, Peter, an American trained lawyer, she hit straight onto the road, mending fences and repealing all the repressive laws.
However, some of her actions were to be the cornerstones of her fall from the power that she took with the people’s support and sympathy to the way she had been treated by President Bingu.
After, Banda refused to endorse the anointing of Peter, as the heir to the presidency of the small potato shaped southern African nation, the elder Mutharika took offence and immediately started side lining her from government activities despite her being the country’s vice president.
Constitutionally, as vice-president, she automatically became successor despite Mutharika's allies’ actions to conspire to block her.
A year earlier before Bingu’s death, Banda had formed her own People’s Party (PP), a political grouping that was received with warm appraisals for its choice of members who were perceived to be clean from “political banditry and prostitution”.
It was an assortment of academics, business kingpins, economists and rights activists.
Unfortunately when Banda rose to the helm of power, following her former boss’ demise, she shook off the “cream” that had made her party and incorporated some politicians from different political parties for expediency.
Little did she know that most of these were wolves in sheep skin who still belonged to their original party but were sailing her boat only to destroy her by eavesdropping and misinforming her.
To make it worse her leadership was much bent on populist policies characterized by handing out cattle, goats, money, houses to a selected number of people who only managed to breed societal disdain especially among those who never received her gifts.
“I learned that leadership is about falling in love with the people and the people falling in love with you. It is about serving the people with selflessness, with sacrifice and with the need to put the common good ahead of personal interests,” she would tell people at her political rallies that were her trade mark and saw her spending less time in her office at the Office of the President and Cabinet.
If Banda was not at rallies in the country, she was out globetrotting.
She said she actually had to go around the world with a begging bowl in order to save her people who she claimed had been let down by the “system”.
Her attitude towards the West endeared her to the donor community until “Cashgate” spoilt the party for the woman, the second female African president and made her lose the election despite having the advantage of being a sitting president.
The “Cashgate” scandal instead of working to her advantage after her administration exposed loose ties in governments financial and accounting system where millions of dollars in aid and tax revenue were syphoned by corrupt civil servants who connived with senior politicians in Banda’s government and outside as well as big business magnates, turned her to fall on her own sword.
The last nail to close her coffin, was her belief that the world attention and acclamation she was receiving was an acknowledgement of her achievement in taking her country from the jaws of poverty. Indeed Banda became more popular outside her country than in Malawi.
Banda’s fiercest contender in the 20 May elections, Peter Mutharika was sworn into office last weekend at a brief ceremony in Blantyre and delivered his inauguration speech on Monday.
The younger Mutharika did not have the advantage of incumbency that one may have expected him to use to garner votes.
This makes Banda’s falls of her own making.
Her constant attack on Peter Mutharika and the treason charges against him and his group that has been christened “the midnight six” for their midnight meeting to plan to subvert the rule of law by concealing the death of Bingu with the intention of taking over government illegally, pinned Banda as a vengeful and unforgiving woman.
Banda’s decision to devalue the Kwacha, Malawi’s currency by 40 per cent following arm-twisting antics of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) brought huge miseries triggered by the rising cost of living and skyrocketing inflation, pitted the masses to think twice and start listening to Mutharika’s manifesto promises.
On the other hand, the younger Mutharika rode on the back of the infrastructural and agricultural policy achievements of his late brother.
The May elections are Malawi’s fifth since the country’s attainment of multiparty democracy in 1994.
Former president Bakili Muluzi took over as the first democratically elected leader after defeating Hastings Banda (no relation to Joyce Banda).
He was followed by Mutharika who wrestled the presidency from the Muluzi’s United Democratic Front (UDF) by breaking away from the party to form his own after the UDF had relentlessly campaigned and sold him for the country’s top job.
About 7.5 million people were eligible to vote in the elections.
According to the Malawi Electoral Commission, in 58 of more than 4,000 polling centres the official number of votes cast were more than that of registered voters.
Despite the anomalies, Peter Mutharika, leader of the Democratic People’s Party was declared the winner with nearly 2 million votes, or 36.4 percent of the electorate, according to the commission.
Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader, Lazarus Chakwera, came second with 27.8 percent. And Banda was a distant third with a pathetic 20.2 percent.