President Lazarus Chakwera has just finished a nightmare week. Watching the BBC Hard Talk interview, one would feel an urge to snatch the poor man out of the television screen. Not that he couldn’t hold his own. No.
If there is a president who can ably hold his own on the world stage and ably articulate his thoughts, then Chakwera is that man. But here was the worst possible moment to get any leader, least of all one who rose to power promising change, yet is under pressure for failing to deliver what could be seen as change, fast enough, on a platform as merciless as the BBC Hard Talk.
Thank goodness, that exercise in accountability has been dealt with. And the President can now focus on delivering his promises to the people of Malawi. But there is no wishing away the fact that there is a rising discontent against his leadership here at home. That, threatens to eat into the capital of goodwill he still largely enjoys and, that, is something that must be addressed as urgently as possible.
Something needs to change. That change must be in the way the President is handling things (i.e. obvious gaffes like the appointment of Cabinet members from the same families and his daughter to a diplomatic post); slow decision-making and implementation of crucial matters and promises such as the reduction of presidential powers and public service reforms as well as changes in personnel that ought to help the President achieve all this.
For the former, the President has to look hard at his communication team and wonder how on earth it failed to communicate in clear terms all successes his administration has recorded. In spite of all the bad news,, there are many including running a more transparent government and prosecuting people suspected of being involved in corruption, among others.
Even the challenges such as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy and its bearing on the ability of the President to deliver his promises, such as the infamous one million jobs, have all been poorly communicated.
But the problem is also not just about communication. Service delivery, too, has to be reviewed and ministers who have failed to make the grade must be shown the exit door.
One of the common criticisms people make about the President is that he is a good man, which in political parlance is translated as weak. The problem really is not that people want a dictator for a president, but they would love to see the President being ruthless with those who cannot do their job. And that ruthless streak is also required when his friends and family members ask him to do something outrageous like giving them government jobs and contracts.
The President has showed before that he can bite when he fired the Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo (before appearing to regret the decision publicly). He did not hesitate to remove a military commander and reinstate his predecessor when he felt the army boss was forced to retire on flimsy grounds.
That means managing the politics as well. The alliance partners will each have their expectations, realistic or not, but Chakwera must rely on his advisers and technocrats in government who are well-versed with policy. The balancing act involves ensuring his Tonse partners are on board but when they disagree, and there will be disagreements, Chakwera’s decision-making must be guided by the same mantra: whether it’s good or not for Malawi.
The President, a good man by all accounts, for good and for bad, must be seething to see his legacy protected. He deserves better, so do the people of Malawi who have huge expectations and a short supply of patience. He will soon find out most citizens are rooting for him anyway. Most of them are outside the political bubble. They have no stake in politics but have stakes in this country; they want their businesses to thrive, jobs and the better life that it all brings. Any president who is able to deliver that will be their friend. That’s what Chakwera must focus on.