I prefer to call those that exercise the legal and political authority of the State the governing–proxy. When we refer to public officers as leaders—whether they are technical public officers or political public officers—it creates a delusional sense of superiority that oozes a capture and monopoly to intelligence; know-how. The rest of us do not know anything. After all, we are not the nouveau Maybach—men or Maybach—women.
This sense of entitlement is misplaced. The people of Malawi have always determined which shall be the political party in the majority; which shall be the political party in the minority; and who shall form the Presidency. The act of the people of Malawi at a general election defines the political space. It is their composite consent that legitimates public officers to exercise the legal and political authority of the State.
There is something disheartening that happens to the Presidency and the rest of the Executive when they form government in this country. When our political public officers enter office, they proclaim sound economic management; announce positive inroads in the agricultural sector; and they usually get an excellent score on the ‘democracy barometer’; especially amidst a typical idiosyncrasy of the opposition still reeling from an election loss. Then; slowly but surely, our political public officers develop a certain hot–headness. A hot–headness that says to us: “Go to hell.” This has happened under the three previous administrations we have had in this country. It is happening now.
If I may be a little nostalgic; in post–Cold War Africa, did we not revel in the promise of more of the Ikem Osidos and less of the Sams depicted in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah? African countries are, in the words of Mwangi Kimenyi, in a ‘poor–governance trap’. What has happened? Beyond the text of the largely, liberal democratic constitutions, it has been business as usual.
What do the people of Malawi want? In light of the Cashgate scandal, Malawians want speedy prosecution of culprits with a follow through of confiscation orders of the property of those who will have been convicted. Malawians want clear evidence of improvement in the provision of essential services. Malawians want more action and less talking. Malawians respect—and will continue to respect—the various ethnic groups that exist in the country. However, it is a no–no when—suddenly—members of a particular ethnic group are seemingly entitled to appointment to public and other offices; and to government contracts.
Perhaps, we are also not moving as a country thanks to the political network we have. The network is self–reinvigorating. A number of our political public officers in the country are imbricated in the network based on personal connections or social class as opposed to ideology. The absence of ideology has led to the underdevelopment of democratic institutions and to the entrenchment of political patronage. Indeed, politicians have defected, with remarkable ease, from the red shirts of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) to the yellow T–shirts of the United Democratic Front (UDF) to the orange zitenje of the People’s Party (PP) and to the blue safari suits of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and to other colours in between. This has been possible because the principles of a universal, free vote and periodic elections have been absent at intra–political party level in the country.
What the people of Malawi want is very simple. They want drugs in the public hospitals; all weather roads; primary and secondary schools that one can be proud of; public officers who are not merely guardians of rubber stamps as Thabo Mbeki once said. Malawians want to look out to the end of the horizon and quietly smile and say to themselves: “This country is moving forward.”
We sang “Zasintha! Zasintha! There was hope everywhere. We are still hoping. In the words of Achille Mbembe, we have been dancing to songs of repetition and lists; frequent antitheses; the tendency to exaggerate; the common use of hyperbole and expressions that go beyond reality; and preference for imprecise propositions and vague generalisations, complete with constant references to the future. We have been served a “verbal trance”.
When the class of the governing–proxy does not listen, the subaltern speak. On October 17 2017, Malawi had by–elections in Nsanje Lalanje constituency, Lilongwe Msozi North constituency, Lilongwe City South East constituency, Ndirande Makata Ward, Mtsiliza Ward and Mayani Ward. And the subaltern have spoken.
*Chikosa is a lawyer and consultant at The Mizumali Foundation. He holds a PhD in Law from The University of Warwick in Coventry, England.