Malawiâ€™s President Joyce Banda has carved for herself a larger-than-size and historic image of one who consults.
This attribute has come strongly in the ongoing Malawi-Tanzania border â€˜misunderstandingâ€™ chapter where, it was said, Dodoma was pooling its tanks along the Malawi north-eastern frontier in readiness for war?
Before President Jakaya Kiwete of Tanzania and his foreign affairs minister calmed down the nerves prior to and during the just-ended Sadc summit, there was a lot of uncertainty this side of the border. Most people believed the story of the tanks as relayed by the Tanzanian media, especially online editions and social networks.
For JB, as the Malawi leader is referred to in the local media, this was yet another opportunity to summon wider â€˜Malawiâ€™ and consult. Hence, the faith community, the media and political parties trooped to New State House in Lilongwe last week, where the President, apart from giving a brief on the situation, also took notes and made a few promises.
One of them was that she was going to make it a point to meet Kikwete in Maputo. She did.
She also, following the roundtable advice, pledged to keep Malawians informed of what transpires at every step of the process and assured them that her rallying point shall ever be peace. So far, she has done just that.
Somehow, things look good; at least there is a CEO who takes the people into the fold on national issuesâ€”a very sharp contrast with what happened during the Kamuzu Banda, Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika administrations.
But, somehow, it seems the President is not talking on other issues that beset the nation today. She seems to have skirted the Section 65 issue, and dryly left it to the Speaker of Parliament who, despite being given that clear signal, is still dithering on a matter that is constitutionally and legally straightforward.
The President and team also seem to have said little or nothing on yet another boulder that precariously stands on the frontiers of Malawiansâ€™ livesâ€”the escalating cost of living following the two devaluations and soaring inflation, all of which are making life for the wage-earner and business person very harsh. The situation is unimaginable for the citizen outside the formal sector, who also has to access the same expensive goods and services which are beyond the reach of the average employee.
This explains the nationwide industrial disputes for increased wages that are rocking both the private and public sector, with the University of Malawi virtually downing tools until a 113 percent pay hike is effected.
It also explains a wave of retrenchments and downsizings in the private sector, where businesses, reeling from the devaluations and recent shortage of forex and fuel, would opt for leaner staff complements and pay them well or close shop altogether.
At the same time, not much has been seen from mitigation packages that were pledged by Western capitals before Lilongwe devalued her currency, save for pledgesâ€”some extended over a period of time, hence not having an immediate impact on peopleâ€™s lives?
The question is: What should the President do with the over-heating economy? How should she respond to the cries for high wages? Does she have options? Do Malawians have alternatives?