Our nation is in dire straits. Our children are killed by falling masonry in dilapidated schools; our mothers die in childbirth because access to maternal health services is non-existent; and our cousins are dying in hospitals from preventable illnesses because there are no medicines available. Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked us the third poorest country in the world, only above South Sudan and Burundi (both of which have faced and are continuing to deal with the consequences of internecine conflict). And yet, in this beautiful Republic, no one takes responsibility for these horrible facts. The Minister of Education will not take responsibility for killer schools.
The Minister of Health will not take responsibility for a failing health service. The Minister of Finance, Goodall Gondwe will actually tell you that the economy is doing well despite these terrible numbers of economic underperformance and the unbearable poverty endured by our people. Sadly, my President is unlikely to fire these ministers
We find ourselves in a situation where the best talent is needed to help resolve the myriad problems that we have and yet, by choice, we allow individuals who are not competent enough or uninterested in resolving those problems to lead. It is akin to sending okhoma mipoto to fix a leaking and sinking Ilala: kodi mmesa onse amapinda zitsulo? We have ministers who time and again demonstrate to us that they have a very limited understanding of their portfolios. During parliamentary questions, they will fail to explain basic things because there is no prepared speech to provide them with the answer. Do we really expect these individuals to provide leadership on our complex problems? Really? The fact is that in the governance system that has evolved since 1994, there is no expectation of delivery by those holding public office.
A minister can spend all day speaking annoying bombastic words that convey no meaning, fail to explain the simplest technical detail of his ministerial portfolio and still be in his job the next day; a minister can preside over a continued regression of key indicators for his portfolio brief and still be assured of his job; a minister can spend all day distributing footballs at the expense of the key performance indicators of his ministry and still be guaranteed that position. This is because what matters is not performance but loyalty to the party and those who happen to be in control. This is true of the DPP. It is true of the Congress.
Recently, we have been treated to a slew of conversations recorded on the sly by warring factions both from the DPP and the Congress. What has struck me the most listening to these conversations is the pure focus on winning power for its own sake and on loyalty to party leadership. There is no awareness by these people we have given the privilege of leading us of the development needs of our country and of the need to focus all efforts on these issues: keeping our children safe; making sure our mothers do not die during childbirth or that our people do not die needlessly from treatable disease. Our political parties, long the vehicles for gaining power in our democracy do not encourage accountability but instead guarantee privilege to the most vocal praise singers in the band. Consequently, there is no need to deliver any tangible results when one occupies public office.
Make no mistake; we have serious problems of underdevelopment: from health, to education, to industry; to infrastructure. We do not have the luxury of electing leaders who are corrupt or leaders who elect to keep those that are corrupt as their closest confidantes. We do not have the luxury of electing leaders who are incompetent or leaders who shield those that are incompetent. We just do not have that luxury. Unfortunately, our current party politics will not save us. The corrupt and the incompetent continue to prosper whilst the masses suffer the brunt of our poverty-laden Republic. For the longest time, we have been told that the conventional wisdom is that only those with political party affiliation can win elections. I think it is time we debunked this myth which is perpetuated by those who want to keep the political party patronage networks relevant.
It is possible to mobilise for political action in a different way: through our churches, through our mosques; through our banki m’khonde; through our community and social interests. We have seen the major political parties come and go. The party colours change but the behaviours and attitudes remain the same. It is time we put a stop to this terrible dream. We do not deserve public officers who only show anger and determination when their positions are threatened but remain unmoved at corrupt individuals around them.
We need public officers who are accountable to the people and their Constitution and who do not scoff at the demand for such accountability. We need public officers who serve with purpose and are proud of what we could be. Our problems are many but we are many too. It is time to stand up and be counted. It is time to start organising. It is time we defended this Republic!
*The author is from Bangwe and sometimes teaches law.