“I am ready to work with anyone—civil society organisations or the opposition. We should forget the past and work together to rebuild the country. Other African presidents are laughing at us, including investors. We need to move forward.”
That was President Peter Mutharika on arrival from Russia where he attended the Africa-Russia Summit. Had many people not been obsessed with trivia like whether Mutharika sitting just a seat away from Vladmir Putin—an insertion in the social media discourse by the ruling party’s propagandists—was some prestige, many would have reasonance in the quote above.
But we are fixated on trivia, at times. And well, Mutharika’s detractors committed no such crime by questioning what else Mutharika brought out of the meeting—by comparison Paul Kagame’s Rwanda announced multiple deals—we all should be excited that Mutharika went to Sochi, anyway.
It appears meeting Putin and his African peers was the lucky break Mutharika needed for his faculties to regain their bearings. From shouting and ordering military crackdown on protesters, mocking and threatening his opponents, Russia gave us back a responsible President eager to listen to his rivals and compromise for the sake of the nation. The President, who left us all bewildered with the careless declaration that the country could burn and he would not give a hoot, came back asking all of us to bury the hatchet and move on.
So, thank you Russia. And, we, too, shall heed the President’s call. Just like he has heeded our long cry for a cool head to lead us through this trying time.
Indeed, perhaps, we have our President back. Perhaps, it is not that the President was finally scandalised by the ‘laughing of his peers’, but he is just a listening leader who at some point was always going to listen. Whatever has led to the transformation, the remarks uttered by Mutharika at the airport must be welcomed.
But we would be suffering from the worst forms of naivety to think that all the President needs to stop the carnage we are witnessing is to give a two-minute interview to MBC and declare that all is forgotten and we all, too, must join hands and work together. The President, too, surely would be delusional to think people who have been vandalising buildings, maiming and killing each other, over a wide range of grievances, would simply bury the proverbial hatchet.
But Mutharika has made the first step, and it’s the right one. But that is just offering an olive branch, he must now follow up on his words with action. He must reach out to Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima directly, to figure out how the country’s nightmare moment can be ended. Of course, Chakwera and Chilima have a ready answer for Mutharika today: “You are an illegitimate President, so talk to us when the court case is decided.”
Both Chakwera and Chilima are within their rights to pour cold water on any political settlement that seeks to hamstring the current electoral case. But both men, too, have a monumental responsibility to ensure that when the Constitutional Court makes its ruling, it should do so in a climate of peace. The shops looted, the damage to the economy and lives lost already, are already one too many.
So, regardless of what happens in court, the three main political protagonists in the country have a solemn duty to ensure that there will be no bloodletting in the streets or anywhere. And beyond the election case, we will need a new Malawi that must be moulded out of the confusion and chaos of today, that Malawi must have none of the bottlenecks that is holding us back—the corruption, cronyism, nepotism, the absent long-term vision, permanent state of bickering etc—hence; we need serious reforms in how the country is governed. We need reforms on how the country’s rulers are elected so the country’s main politicians must work together—in compromise and with the country at the heart of their thinking—to address the electoral challenges of today.
Then we need to review how leaders use public office because for a long time, they have used it for their own selfish goals, without advancing any policies that will bring prosperity to the people. So, we will need all the parties to work towards, reforming the governance systems, namely the independence of the crucial offices of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), the National Audit Office (NAO), police and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), among others.
There are many reforms that need to be made for our country to start functioning as a State again. And whether Mutharika, Chakwera or Chilima is president, that crucial work won’t start unless these guys start talking now. We can’t keep fighting forever, but the country has been destroyed in many ways than just through the impasse.