The first democratic president of this country—he is best remembered in those terms—Bakili Muluzi—once said our biggest problem as Malawians is we forget easily. At the height of the 2002 maize shortages, he would unashamedly give with one hand and take with the other. Remember the truckloads of maize at political rallies which would disappear as the last vehicle on his convoy left the venue? Those words are attributed to that man whose two terms are now infamously dubbed ‘the lost decade’.
Fast forward 14 years later, we have forgotten that for 52 years of this country’s existence, political leaders have continued to fail us but like suckers for punishment we do not to learn from our mistakes. We went from men in red shirts openly demanding chickens and goats supposedly for the benevolent leader to civil servants carting home millions of taxpayers’ money in the boots of their vehicles. In other words, our eyes have remained open as rampant theft occurs. But once again we have forgotten.
About K24 billion flew out of Account Number One within four months and three years later, Cashgate took place and continues to take place although wearing a new face, is forgotten. The fervour with which Malawians took to the streets in 1993 is non-existent and the bloodshed of July 20, 2011 seems to have been in vain.
Civic activism is dead. Structured public discourse has disappeared even after the Constitution put it in black and white that it is a right of every citizen. One moment we are discussing with passion how to rescue people with albinism from the machinations of some evil-minded Malawians, the next topic of discussion is an honourable members of Parliament’s wish to parade naked in the streets for the cause. Before the day is over it is, “Oh, how did Bingu acquire his wealth?” It seems it is too much to ask for consistency.
Where is the display of anger when MPs demands which have on several occasions halted the budget debate if these demands for a government guaranteed K3 billion loan are not met? Where is our consternation upon learning that a company contracted, whether legitimately or not, to construct roads in the country was also lining the pockets of the then president? Why have we as citizens not correctly assumed that this practice did not stop with Bingu but is still happening to date?
We have left the plight of the country to lone activists that we ridicule on social networks and cartoon caricatures. Malawians have become afraid to speak, afraid to take to the streets and even more afraid to question authority and demand accountability. The fear starts at the village development meeting all the way to the cabinet meeting.
It is not surprising, therefore, that when the public discourse changes dramatically, it is suspected that there are machinations by the powers that be to disrupt public discourse and take the heat off. In the words of the pre-World War Two (WWII) leader of the land of the free Franklin D. Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” n