Hon Folks, did you too see Barack Obama holding an umbrella upon alighting Air Force One in Havana, Cuba recently?
It was drizzling when they arrived in Havana on 20 March and the President of the United States of America—the richest and most powerful country—did not just carry his umbrella but he also shared it with his wife, Michelle.
The other day I saw a video clip of Obama also carrying his own umbrella which he shared with a White House female member of staff upon alighting a presidential helicopter in Washington DC. The president of the US carrying an umbrella for another person!
APM announced he stopped reading Malawian newspapers on March 19 but I hope he also does not ignore the international media which was awash with the pictures of Obama’s historic arrival in Havana on a rainy day.
What he did was a lesson on simplicity, playing human even when you’ve the exceptional privilege of lording it over virtually any other person on earth!
Luxury is damn expensive. If simplicity were a characteristic of political leadership in Malawi, more of the country’s meagre resources would be channelled towards more worthy causes. It would also greatly help the leadership cause in these hard times of austerity as people tend to respect more leaders who walk the talk and lead by example.
APM was elected on a minority 36 percent vote and on its own the government side lacked numerical supremacy in Parliament. Government agenda in the House, unless it’s attractive to opposition MCP and PP, may pass only with the help of UDF and the so-called independents.
On the economy—which is the biggest deal after elections—the APM government faces the unprecedented (at least in the multiparty era) challenge of leading Malawi in extremely hard economic times aggravated by natural disasters and a freeze on budgetary support which, in good times, made up 40 percent of the recurrent budget.
When things are as dicey as that, although they may not openly say it, governing becomes less pleasant. Those in government need not be reminded that a hungry person is an angry person. They know that whether its floods, drought or Cashgate causing their misery, the blame is on those entrusted with sovereign authority.
These are entrusted with power and public funds and it’s their duty to find acceptable solutions and alleviate the pain of the citizenry.
In such times popularity is for the opposition to lose, a factor which heightens tension, distrust and even conflict between the two sides of the political divide. If you asked me, the arrests, intra-party conflict and the political violence rocking the MCP could either be genuine or political machinations of their major rival, government side. History has precedents in which Machiavellian thinking allows for even bloodbath if the end is longevity of tenure.
I’m here to tell APM that the best way to avoid taking drastic measures to survive the turbulence of these economic hard times is to get down from the make-believe world of opulence and be the president who carried his own umbrella.
That’s the leadership that’ll resonate with the hardships of the majority of law abiding, peace loving Malawians who break sweat everyday so as to improve their living standards only to end being short-changed by a government which reduces the education budget so it can refurbish the banquet hall of the presidential palace.
In this economy, why should ministers continue to draw allowances for 1000 litres of fuel when they are housed in Area 10 and their offices are five minute drive away at the Capital Hill. Why do they still require a chauffeur and a ride in a Land Cruiser when a Camry can do the job at less than 50 percent of the cost?
I bet if the President could just learn frugality from his Tanzanian counterpart John Magufuli and simplicity from Obama, he would win many hearts even in these hard economic times.