In the ruckus of the 2014 tripartite elections, the research institution Afrobarometer delivered a message that ran counter to the narrative the establishment at the time wanted us to swallow without asking questions. As huge crowds continued to attend rallies organised by Joyce Banda and her PP [People’s Party], the governing party went into an overdrive, homing in the message that the numbers at the rallies told a clear story of undoubted triumph on May 20 2014 with an overwhelming popular mandate.
Then Afrobarometer entered the fray. In what was an assault on the PP story line, an Afrobarometer survey found that Peter Mutharika of DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] would win the elections. According to the survey, second to Mutharika would be Lazarus Chakwera of MCP, followed by Joyce Banda and UDF’s Atupele Muluzi. So, not only would JB lose the elections, but she would not even take up the second slot!
That was bitter news to swallow for PP and JB. For obvious reasons, the mood in the DPP camp went heaven high as Mutharika and his followers sniffed victory. To DPP, Afrobarometer was a hero for challenging the PP narrative and projecting Mutharika as the one to make the triumphant entry into the State House.
How time flies!
Today, the same institution whose survey was sweet music to the party has turned into a dubious organisation that conducts questionable surveys to paint DPP black. The Pan-African research body a few days ago became the target of vicious attacks by the President and his henchmen who chastised it for daring to say that Malawians, especially in the President’s home district Thyolo, have little trust in him as their leader. The assessment was based on a survey by the Institute of Public Opinion and Research (IPOR) of the Afrobarometer.
Curiously, nobody at the DPP rally put up a credible case to question the research process that generated the uncomfortable findings. In research analysis, if you can’t question the conception of a study, its methodology, analysis and interpretation, you can’t dismiss the findings. The DPP gurus should have demonstrated that within its scope and the overall process, the survey is invalid and unreliable.
Maybe I am getting needlessly too far here when the obvious fact is that the survey, as was the case with PP, is not the messenger of good tidings for the party. In their strange thinking, the President and his sycophants are determined to discredit the survey instead of taking the lessons and addressing Malawians’ concerns. Apparently, in Malawi those who deliver bad news are evil-minded people bent on destroying you.
Let’s not forget that Afrobarometer is the same institution that also predicted the 2009 elections in DPP favour even in the face of the combined forces of MCP and UDF who teamed up to face the late Bingu wa Mutharika. In the tradition of our politics, Bingu and the DPP crew hailed Afrobarometer as a credible research institution while the opposition cried foul.
For PP last year, the reaction to the Afrobarometer findings was as vicious as it was brutal. Colleagues at the Centre for Social Research (CSR), which conducts Afrobarometer surveys in Malawi, told me how the heavy PP hand prevented researchers from announcing the findings at a scheduled media conference in Lilongwe. In a departure from tradition, Afrobarometer was forced to rely on its website as the major platform for releasing the results after the Lilongwe function had been cancelled at the behest of PP.
What all this tells us is that the DPP tantrums in Thyolo on Monday are very much in keeping with the fabric of the politics we espoused, the politics based on the idea that the source of bad news, like Afrobarometer researcher Boniface Dulani, should become the target of vitriolic and vicious attacks.
My last word is that politicians need to learn to embrace reality and the truth as sources of strength and learning. Used the right way, the truth, no matter how bitter it may be, empowers. n