After the court case—when the question of who has the rightful mandate to govern us is answered—we must go back to the more important business of building our young new nation.
Fifty-five years after independence, the excruciating poverty and sheer underdevelopment has to force a moment of reckoning; otherwise, as reminded by the sheer numbers of jobless youths that marched this past winter on the streets to a political cause, many still didn’t care as much about, but simply turned out to vent against those in power, we are sitting on a time-bomb.
And you don’t have to drive long after crossing any part of our border— either into Mozambique, Zambia or Tanzania—to realise that the rest of the world is moving forward.
And our abject failures are breathtaking as they are heartbreaking: students learning under trees or crumbling walls that now often kill them; doctors desperately trying to rescue lives in over-congested smelly hospitals that have no drugs or even at times bandages; roads that have become a deathtrap. You can go on and on about the decaying infrastructure and crumbling systems.
So, it is no rocket science to say the political system is not serving its purpose. And while in comparison with Kamuzu Banda’s one-party era, our development trajectory has taken a turn for the worse now, it’s one mistake to simply blame democracy as the reason the country is falling apart. Neither is it just poor policy planning and implementation.
And, yes, corruption has eaten so much of what was good about this country, but there is a vice that is tearing this country apart, just like it has done anywhere it has manifested itself on earth, and that is tribalism.
And while we are not killing each other like in Rwanda during the genocide, tribalism is still this country’s biggest enemy. It’s through tribal politics that our parties and politicians have found legitimacy.
Have you ever wondered why after so many years of independence, there are no parties that are rising in our country based on a series of principles, but are either based on the cult of personality (like was the case with DPP when Bingu wa Mutharika founded it as a president while already in State House), and are mostly functioning as tribal organisations—perhaps the UTM being the odd exception in this context.
Check the results of the disputed elections, the voting patterns tell a clear story. Even the protests subsequent to the vote draw in themselves an alarming political map. North is neutral; but because we know its small population makes it perpetually handicapped in the game of voting for homeboys (and, indeed, they are most boys!) while the Centre and South are overwhelmingly for MCP and DPP respectively.
In the aftermath of the elections, worryingly, some people in Lilongwe driving vehicles with registration numbers suggesting they are from the South were accosted and even stoned.
Each time civil society folks have gone to Blantyre to hold the anti-Jane Ansah protests, the ruling party has sent thugs on the streets to intimidate or rough up participants.
This is how divided Malawi is. And the underlining issue is not just disputed elections, or frustrations with lack of progress, the big fish in whose belly all this falls is tribalism.
It’s tribalism, not just the democratic system, which has enabled greedy politicians without any nation-building agenda to attain and sustain power. It’s tribalism that has allowed our major parties to be complacent about critical national issues, knowing fully that as long as the Chewa tribe exists, MCP will always gain Members of Parliament in the Central Region and the presidential vote, while the same will always obtain for the DPP in the South.
In that space, there is no room for progressive ideas. Corrupt politicians calculate that they can play chicken with the public purse, enrich themselves and just throw a little candies and freebies to their tribal-loyal constituents who will always back them into power again.
For this country to move forward, we must not only reform the public service or reform the electoral laws. We must deal decisively with the corrupting power of tribal politics. And we must end all forms of recognition of tribe by the State at every level.
The point being that when the State amplifies our tribal differences, they embed it in our conscience those differences and encourage us to remember our tribal belonging, instead of uniting us towards nation-building.
Any leader seeking to make a difference in this country must be determined to end tribalism, including, as politically dynamite as it sounds, ending all State recognition of tribe. Least of all, end stupid divisive policies such as the quota system of selecting students into the university.