The difference between the DPP’s vanquished misrule and the current experiment—for its too early days to call it anything else—is like day and night.
Back in the day of unabated plunder and neglect that was the DPP maladministration, there was no attempt at all to disguise the abuse of office and total disregard to tenets of the law and principles of representative democracy.
Thanks to the intoxicating power of excessive executive arrogance and corruption, the voice of reason vanished from the face of the government and ruling party—replaced by endless threats and insults.
It’s not just the people of Malawi –and their aspirations— that were shown the middle finger, though, sanity itself was attacked. Today, a new government that was voted into office—to send the clearest message that such actions are intolerable—is trying—to say the least—to govern differently.
There is still too much chaos, too much cluelessness and too much try-and-error in the new government, but the reality is, the new sheriffs, unlike their predecessors, are trying.
They are trying to be more responsive (ask the gender activists that were up in arms against the new president), they are trying to be too transparent and too accountable (you won’t believe it but I have journalist colleagues who are grumbling about too many press briefings and radio addresses by the President).
While the supporters of the president and the Vice-President routinely and habitually square off on social media and currently on the campaign trail in Karonga in the by-elections, the President and deputy are working hard to keep their relations cordial.
That, though, is a far cry to a government that we—through our protests, courts and votes—toppled in June. Of course, for our former lame duck leader now enjoying some forced retirement in Mangochi, that process means nothing.
The protests—to him remain political gamesmanship lacking legitimacy and bereft of genuine grievances; the court process (which his party is accused of attempting to twist through large bribes to judges) was and is—to him—a farce and a judicial coup, to borrow his fantastic diction of fantasy; and the subsequent vote was the “worst election” the country has ever organised, as it was marred by violence and intimidation.
If you had no idea how clueless Peter Mutharika is, and just how much he still lives in denial about what happened and how twisted he got it on the legacy of his presidency, the interviews he gave last week and a press briefing at his retirement home—purportedly to respond to overwhelming media pressure for him to speak on national and party matters by the media—but which we know was just Mutharika trying to regain some semblance of relevance as power slips both at national and party level—offered the answer.
That Mutharika finally sees the sense of holding a press briefing and ostensibly promotes media freedom when his time in power was a rejection of the very notion of a government accountable to the public through the press, offers further irony.
It also signals a remarkable turnaround. A turnaround that is informed by desperation and not genuine realisation of previous erratic behavior. On the other hand, Mutharika’s desperation is informed by the fact that with power gone, he no longer has MBC to do his propaganda and former loyalists are increasingly becoming rebellious.
He is all on his own. In the sand.
But even the proverbial ostrich can’t bury its head in the sand in light of Omni-present danger. For Mutharika, he had to come out of the cocoon to remain politically relevant and try to avert the inevitable fall from political grace, an event that looks both natural and eminent, considering his dwindling political fortunes and advancing age.
But Mutharika can’t read the writing on the wall. Such ambivalence to reality is what brought us that nightmarish presidency.
Yet, we, the people, know better and will never forget. No amount of public relations operations will ever erase memories of a helpless, incompetent, negligent and ultimately cruel administration that turned a blind eye to Malawians plight while it filled its pocket with filthy riches.
Or will we?
Lazarus Chakwera and co, too, better be warned that Malawians know better when a regime change course and when corruption overwhelms a leadership.
Today, there are good signs and bad ones but Malawians are giving the new administration some benefit of doubt. But that goodwill is not infinite. The stench of corruption, more than anything else, is what breaks the bonds of patience and turns these elusively meek people into the lions that roared in that long winter of discontent and finally mauled the kleptocracy.