Presidential advisers must always seek the President’s ears instead of silencing Malawians or wondering what they ought to be saying in State House. JAMES CHAVULA writes.
Andrew Longwe is a dramatist, but he believes the youth deserve a greater role as veterans keep doing business as usual.
“The youth must revolt against the status quo,” he says of the largest proportion of the population.
To him, breaking away from the ordinary is standing up for the future the young generation desire.
Longwe was among 13 young Malawians recently arrested for unlawful assembly and conduct likely to cause breach of peace when they were found with a coffin and a dog wrapped in a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cloth to symbolise that the country has gone to the dogs. He wants President Peter Mutharika’s administration to start ending the worsening food crisis and economic hardship facing Malawians.
Mzuzu Youth Association on February 22 staged a protest petitioning Mutharika to explain why Malawians are starving if there is enough maize in silos.
But Mutharika admittedly takes no ultimatums. He recently told off campaigners for the long neglected Access to Information Bill in Parliament: “If you give me deadlines, you are wasting time.”
The youth had planned a vigil at Mzuzu City Council to force the President to respond to their concerns when they were rounded up.
When Mutharika trimmed the Cabinet to 20 ministers and deputies, including himself and his Veep Saulos Chilima, he christened himself a listening leader.
However, he has been acting to the contrary of late. Recently, he uttered the infamous Nilibe Pulobulemu tune, meaning he has no problems or worries. When a captain of a sinking ship says he has no problem, passengers are in a bigger mess than bashing winds.
If the President is being misguided, his 16 advisers are pocketing nearly K25.6 million a month, translating to K308 million a year, for no job done. Surely, they are supposed to make sure he does not go wrong or derail the nation. Farcically, they include failed Member of Parliament Symon Vuwa-Kaunda who supposedly advises the President on parliamentary affairs and national unity as well as former outspoken activist Mavuto Bamusi who talks on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society affairs.
The bloated advisory team has seemingly left the President alone as he blunders all the way to 2019-rekindling memories of his brother’s eight years in power.
In 22 months, APM has almost surpassed the dreaded curse of the Mutharikas: he bangs tables in anger like his brother, his lieutenants crack down the constitutional right to demonstration, just as Bingu said he would “Smoke them out”; he defies Malawians concerns like Bingu told them: “Go to hell!”, and he rants against the press and refuses to nourish free press just like his brother loved to hate critical reportage and contrived a law requiring a minister to ban publications deemed unfavourable.
As the clampdown on expressive rights tightens, it appears the President, who got just about 36 in 100 votes in May 2014, is striving to gain ground by silencing the majority that might have polled for his contenders. He needs to meet his critics midway by heeding their aspirations, not crashing their voices high-handedly. Re-aligning his deeds with reality and ensuring he reduces his mistakes is the advisers’ job.
But they keep saying the wrong words.
The ‘Wise 16’ often hit the road to convey whatever they claim the President has sent them to Malawians.
They must revert to speaking to the President and the President alone. That is their job precisely. To tell him the whole truth whether he takes it or leaves it.
They sometimes hijack ministerial chores.
Government spokesperson Jappie Mhango, of whom it is said news is never true until he refutes it, refuses advisers are a good for nothing bunch.
Countering the concerns about bulging expenses, Mhango told The Nation: “A Cabinet minister indeed gives advice to the head of State on certain issues, but they have other Cabinet errands as well.”
Presidents know no limit as to who and how many they can appoint.
Government agencies have technocrats that can handle the so-called advisers’ tasks, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College political scientist Mustapha Hussein says.
“This setup requires proper justification because obviously this is duplication of power,” he says.
The roaming advisers are not only draining taxpayers’ money.
They expose their master to avoidable ridicule, for he has advisers and ears but does not seem to listen.
The President compels some Malawians to think he is no more than a figurehead.
Longwe is one of them. He feels lack of basic leadership is the reason 10 percent of the population are getting richer while 40 others are getting poorer. Speaking at an Oxfam-funded debate over the ‘dangerous divide’ in Mzuzu, he said: “I have no President. I wake up, go to work and struggle to feed my family. Nobody can claim to be in charge of the country”.
The audience clapped, almost agreeing the country was on autopilot.
Bamusi said: “We need to do something about it.”
Longwe said in an interview with Political Index: “From the debate, the presidential adviser drove straight to my house around midnight. He said the President had given us three options: to arrange a meeting with him at the State House, to postpone the demonstration in anticipation for the meeting and a good sum of money to sort us out.”
He reportedly turned down the “dirty deal in the dead of the night” before Bamusi asked him to communicate with his friends and call him the next day at 3am.
Instead, the secretary for the demonstration summoned his colleagues to discuss the twist.
Something strange happened that exposed some demonstration organisers’ opportunism at the mention of money.
“Three quickly asked how much was expected and why they could not just take the offer,” an insider disclosed.
Trouble had begun.
Afterwards, Robert Banda, Harris Kanyelemuka and Mervin Nxumayo, started ignoring calls, holding secret meetings at Sunbird Mzuzu and urging against the protest.
Such was the hide-and-seek on the defiant remnants, on the eve of the vigil, who stormed Mzuzu City Council offices where they found the three in a closed-door meeting with Bamusi, Vuwa-Kaunda, city chief executive Mcloud Kadammanja and DPP regional governor Kenneth Sanga.
“We shook our heads, telling them: ‘You are all corrupt.’ We left.”
Later, Nxumayo and company allegedly wrote the police in-charge and allegedly told the State-run MBC-Tv to announce the march was no more and that maize was no longer in short supply.
Bamusi denies bribing them. He counter-accused the youthful protesters of being bribed by an undisclosed opposition party.
The war of words has fledged into a case at the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) where nine of the ‘young confusionists’ on bail reported the alleged K5 million bribe from Bamusi and Vuwa.
Longwe says: “We feel bad for the youth as they continue being used by politicians without any regard for their real needs. We also sympathise with taxpayers because their hard-earned money keeps being misused to silence critical voices.”
The complainants hope the case awaiting ACB director Reyneck Matemba’s nod will set a precedent for political elites who continue to get away with costly abuses that downgrade human rights.
The US Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) may have ordered Apple to extract evidence from a locked iPhone, but the Mzuzu crew say a mere call log will reveal the figures that changed hands.
It remains to be seen who will be exposed to be lying or telling the truth. n