In this interview, Nation Online engages political analyst Michael Jana not just to interpret 2012’s topical issues but also to give prospects of what could be on 2013’s political menu.
Q.What would you consider the most defining political moment of 2012?
I think the defining political moment of 2012 was April 5 to 7 when the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, may his soul rest in peace, died and the following events that saw Joyce Banda taking over the presidency. Since the then vice-president Joyce Banda was effectively squeezed out of the corridors of power, the death of Mutharika brought a political power vacuum that some Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) elements wanted to selfishly exploit and rape the Constitution. We have also observed in other countries where in such power vacuums, those holding the monopoly of violence, the army, launch coup d’etat and take over power in unconstitutional way. But during that period in Malawi, the Malawi security forces acted professionally and backed the vice-president to take over power in line with the Constitution. The civil society also added its voice to safeguard the Constitution. I think that transition was the epitome of constitutional democracy in Malawi.
Q. How has such a moment defined the political development of the country?
The April transition opened a huge policy window on political and economic fronts. Policy entrepreneurs and members of the public who had their policy agendas and proposals ready presented them to policy makers and the public and some were adopted. In the past eight months, we have seen policy shifts, for example, the devaluation and flotation of the kwacha and such plans as the economic recovery plan. These policy shifts, and in some cases continuation, may not have been the best solution to problems facing Malawians, but the space created to debate these policies and issues, and the microscopic scrutiny that government is going through, is very important in a democracy. And come 2014, Malawians will have clear and strong bases to evaluate Joyce Banda’s rule and decide whether or not to vote them back into power. I also think that donor conditionality and the 2014 tripartite elections have hugely muddled the conduct of the Joyce Banda administration. At macro level, government’s policy choices seem to be limited to donor policy directions. At micro level, more often than not we are witnessing political party campaigns masquerading as ‘government at work’ as exemplified by the recent politics of maize distribution.
Q. How will this moment affect the future of the country’s politics?
More importantly, I think the manner in which presidential powers were transferred to Joyce Banda adds significantly to the culture of respecting the Constitution. For a long time, we have heard about complaints that in Malawi we have a Constitution without constitutionalism; that people do not respect the constitutional provisions. April 5-7 2012 will consciously and/or unconsciously pop in the minds of many Malawians and will remind them that tampering with the Constitution is not an option.
Q. The border issue between Malawi and Tanzania has been quite topical. How do you assess the way government has handled it?
I think Malawi has a credible case on the border issue and the Malawi Government has done relatively well, especially on consulting a wide range of stakeholders before making a hasty move; and being involved in negotiations. I, however, think government should consider this a full fledged international political issue and should effectively go beyond the legal angle and take a multi-faceted approach, from both realist and idealist perspectives. Just to give a soft example, I think that the Malawi Government has underutilised the media in the whole dispute.
Q. There has also been debates on issues surrounding gay rights. How best would you love to see this debate go?
There has been a section of Malawi society that is against and another that is for it. I think this and all the debates surrounding this issue is quite healthy in a democracy as it brings about a ‘thinking’ society. The contention surrounding such issues as homosexuality, death penalty, abortion and so on, exists everywhere in the world; no society was born with a firm resolution on such issues. Resolutions are made with time after such open debates. So, no Malawian should feel bad for holding a different opinion on homosexuality issue, as long as one has reasons and is ready to engage with alternative views. And nobody or no country should force anyone to adopt a particular position on this issue. Having debated this issue, we should however be bold enough to take this issue to formal institutions such as Parliament so that we can determine our legal position in the foreseeable future, and in a democratic society, people should accept the resolution though it must be open to further debate.
Q. What would be your prospects of politics in 2013?
I think 2013 will be dominated by politicking in readiness for May 2014 elections. Political parties will be busy positioning themselves for the elections and people will be told truths, half-truths, distorted truths and lies as parties try to shape public opinion. It is actually unfortunate that the ruling People’s Party is such a new party faced with general elections in few months. I can foresee PP leadership temptation to be preoccupied with building their party and positioning it for elections at the expense of good governing. But I believe that Malawi has credible analysts, mature electorate and active civil society that can decipher performance and non-performance and hold leaders to account.
Q. Your last words?
I think the year 2012 was a very big test on our young constitutional democracy, especially the transition that followed the demise of our late president Bingu wa Mutharika; and we passed the test. This should give all leaders and citizens the impetus to respect the Constitution. The economic hardships that Malawians experienced in 2012 is also a reminder to policy makers and leaders that political freedom has no meaning if the socio-economic needs of the people are not met.