April 5, 2012Fate has flipped the script on Malawi and forced us all to face the consequences of political myopia. Even as the nation mourns the passing of President Bingu wa Mutharika and commiserate with his family, let us not lose sight of the events that have brought the country to the point where we have to rethink the place of constitutionalism in an emergent democracy like Malawi is.
I must admit, I have been one of the harshest critics of the late president and his government, but it was never personal. This is why, amidst the pall of national grief and sorrow, I feel inclined to borrow these lines from the poem, For Whom The Bell Tolls from the English poet, John Donne, who wrote: â€œEach manâ€™s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.â€
Like many Malawians, I am diminished by President Bingu wa Mutharikaâ€™s death, but his passing should teach whoever assumes the mantle of executive power that it pays to respect the Vice-President for reasons I advanced in a column I wrote on 31 August 2010. I reproduce it today in its entirety in the national interest because the circumstances that inspired me to write it are as valid as they were when I put pen to paper.
Constitutionally speaking, Joyce Banda is a president in-waiting, and in talking with his foot in his mouth about Malawi not being ready for a female head of State, Noel Masangwi, a senior ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) official, merely showed how ignorant he is about the laws of the land.
So, let me use this opportunity to enlighten him and all those who think and talk like him and are weaving their ignorance into the fabric of public debate.
According to Chapter VIII of the Constitution, should a sitting president resign, die, is impeached or is declared incapable of holding public office, the Vice-President takes over the reins of State so there is no power vacuum. And should any of the above happen before 2014, God forbid, Joyce Banda could find herself sitting pretty in the New State House.
That would mean the red carpet would be rolled and the 21-gun salute would boom for her. She would be commander-in-chief of the armed forces. She would be the one the cameras of MBC would follow everywhere she goes, nobody else.
She would officially open Parliament and assent to the laws that our legislators pass. She would receive the credentials of foreign diplomats accredited to Malawi. As President, she would have the constitutional mandate to form a government, to hire and fire ministers, including Peter Mutharika who currently holds the portfolio of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister (then). She would be, for all intents and purposes, a force as strong to reckon with as Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the President of Liberia.
In all this, I am neither suggesting that anything bad should happen to the President nor do I want it to be so. That would be unChristian on my part. In fact, my prayer is always to wish that God protects our President so that he leads our country to greater heights and retire peacefully to raise chickens at his Ndata Farm come 2014.
But facts are facts and these are the realities that the framers of our Constitution put in the supreme law of the land. Most constitutions in the world put vice-presidents as successors to their president if anything happens. It is, therefore, pure folly for someone to say the country is not ready for a female president when we have a sitting female Vice-President right now.
If they want to stop her, they should first of all remove her from that position and let us see whether that is possible.
My view is that all those who have openly thrown their support behind Peter Mutharika are failing to see the fact that Joyce Banda is a president in waiting by constantly demonising her. She deserves special respect.
In their opportunistic exuberance, they are failing to acknowledge that fate is a big player in politics and that as recent events will show, Vice Presidents can find themselves at the right place at the right time. We donâ€™t have to look too far for a recent example. Lest we forget, when Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa was looking for a vice who wouldnâ€™t threaten him or rock the political boat, he decided to pluck an old Kenneth Kaunda protege who had retired to his farm in Chipata to spend his last days growing maize. As Vice-President, Rupiah Banda had no real power to make any political decisions.
But when fate dealt a fatal blow to Zambian politics, he assumed the mantle of office and is, even as we speak, de facto head of state of Zambia who went on to win a presidential election.
Such is the lesson from history that the people of this country must learn. Thankfully, the DPP has seen the folly of Masangwiâ€™s words and his ways.
Of course, in the quirky, murky world of African politics, strange things have been known to happen. In view of this constitutional lesson, I hope that the political opportunists who have shown their true colours will not be plotting the removal of Joyce Banda from her current portfolio in a bid to take her out of contention and to pave the way for what seems like a dynastic succession plan.
For the record, it is not fair how shabbily Joyce Banda has been treated by the political establishment of which she is a senior member. In a democracy, an election should be a fair contest between and among all those who throw in their bid for office. As things stand, the odds are being stacked in favour of one candidate before the game has even begun.
Donâ€™t get me wrong. It is all in order for people to campaign for Peter Mutharika as a possible contestant in the DPP race for a presidential candidate. It is equally in order for people to endorse his candidature. What is not in order is the level of disrespect that the sitting Vice-President has been shown from within her own party simply because she is a woman. What is also not in order is the lengths to which the public broadcaster has gone to support a mere Cabinet minister in a purely partisan contest.
All said, Joyce Banda could be president of this country even before 2014, all thanks to DPP.