I am sure congratulations are in order to Nicholas Dausi for landing a Cabinet post as Minister of Information after heading the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB)—that ubiquitous intelligence apparatus mostly known for targeting domestic political foes rather than those threatening our national security, especially external elements.
It will be interesting to see how a man who, since 2014, has known nothing, but keeping State secrets, could oversee the roll-out of the Access to Information (ATI) legislation after, I hope, President Peter Mutharika signs it into law.
His personal political story is the stuff of legend—from a Malawi Congress Party (MCP) literal foot soldier who would make media rounds by walking from his home in Kanjedza to the country’s media hub around Ginnery Corner in Blantyre; to a powerful member of Bingu wa Mutharika’s inner circle and now one of Peter Mutharika’s most potent Cabinet ministers, Dausi’s is an inspirational journey of perseverance and calculating genius—he left MCP at the right time after gaining national name recognition defending a party with a dark and bloody past.
Dausi joins a long list of his colleagues—Kondwani Nankhumwa, Jappie Mhango, Patricia Kaliati and Malison Ndau—five people, including Dausi, in just over two years in the post.
It is a turnover that should scare anyone who goes into the ministry because he or she is not assured of any degree of tenancy there.
Even the technocrats at the Ministry of Information must be tired of preparing briefing papers, orientation programmes and familiarisation tours for incoming ministers.
Over the past one year alone, there have been three ministers of Information—Kaliati, Ndau and now Dausi—who also act as government spokespersons.
Which employer does that?
Sure, President Mutharika has the powers to hire and fire, but he has to exercise those powers with a great deal of responsibility bearing in mind that what he wields is delegated authority from the Malawian people who cannot be having various individuals thrown at them every few months or so as Information ministers.
I mean, if all these folks were incompetent, what does it say about the judgement and temperament of the appointing authority?
How can the President make four wrong Cabinet picks in just over two years? Meanwhile, welcome to the business of sharing information and getting feedback out of it Honourable Dausi.
I know it will be hard given that you are coming from an institution whose officers would die protecting information from getting out and you now have to do the opposite—get the information out, what with ATI!
Dausi also has inherited a complicated operating environment—he is coming at a time the relationship between the media and the administration, especially State House, is at its lowest ebb.
I will not pass judgement on whether it is the media or the administration that has brought this animosity, but managing the media is always a critical part of governing and its mishandling has tended to bring administrations to their ends.
I note that Dausi has quietly been reaching out to several independent media houses to smoothen things over while seeking a new beginning.
That is a good start.
But I am mindful of the fact that the only person who sets policy is the President. If Dausi’s olive branches to the media are to be taken seriously, the President must set the tone for the détente in both words and actions.
Otherwise, if the President and the Minister are not reading from the same page, Dausi may as well start preparing to follow his four predecessors out of Information to God knows where.
It is a fact that the Democratic Progressive Party—whether under Bingu or his brother Peter—has always viewed the independent press as a nuisance that should be given as little space as our democratic architecture can allow.
That won’t stop now unless the President comes out clearly to declare his commitment to a free, vibrant and, yes, critical press—and then follow it up with action such as publicly admonishing his overzealous party cadres who suggest “dealing” with the press whenever they write pieces highly critical of the President and his administration.
But surely no amount of intimidation and bullying will stop diligent and aggressive journalism; certainly not at Nation Publications Limited. n