Next month is April. The month former president Bingu wa Mutharika, literally, died in office, while working—serving his country, his people.
In came Joyce Banda, until then, an ostracised deputy on fringes of power; maligned and banished from the ruling party. Against the advice and scheming of Bingu loyalists, she became the country’s first female president.
Detractors termed her the accidental president. But the Constitution is not prone to such pity arguments.
Once in office, she went about reversing a number of Bingu’s contentious economic and political policies; devalued the kwacha, mended frosty relations with neighbours and donors broken by her more combative predecessor.
She relaxed the civil space; repelled draconian laws and sort other ways to pacify the international community and local players rattled by what the ex-British High Commissioner Fergus Cochraine-Dyet described as Bingu’s increasingly autocratic and intolerant leadership.
She changed the dial on the country’s other demons. She ensured availability of fuel and forex whose scarcity created a crisis that threatened to ground the economy and paralysed social service delivery.
Rural folks appreciated her down-to-earth character and philanthropy although the media questioned the wisdom of her daily travels across the country to personally distribute handouts such as, cattle, goats and chickens.
Professor Chijere Chirwa captured the exasperation over her economic policies; famously quipped about her lack of sophistication as policy observers pointed out that her administration was obsessed with quick-fix measures likely to win her elections than bring long-term reprieve to the stagnant economy.
Pragmatists pointed out she was in some catch 22. She had to win the elections to safeguard her long term vision hence the prominence of her campaign-tailored projects.
Generally, there was a good about Banda, if not about getting behind the last difficult years of Bingu.
…Well until Cashgate happened and changed the whole ball game.
Cashgate transfixed Banda’s legacy into that of scandal and nothing else. Think of Banda, and the words that will quickly come to mind are either naivety or careless. When voters took to the polls in 2014,
Cashgate was what many remembered and not many of her good interventions during her period as president.
Years on, I think we need to revisit Banda’s legacy. And that is the beauty of time, it allows you to get over emotional considerations and appreciate both sides of the coin.
In wake of recent Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) declaring that it has found no direct evidence implicating Banda in the scandal, her successor in office demonstrates none of her zeal to combat corruption in a transparent way, let’s not harangue Banda anymore for perceived weakness in fighting corruption when evidence suggests otherwise.
On Cashgate, she allowed the country unfettered access to those who had robbed the nation and allowed the long arm of the law to take its course, something the DPP administration has resisted constantly over the bigger K236 billion Cashgate or when scandals erupt at Admarc,
Macra, Admarc or any other government body. The sheer amounts of money involved make the 2013 Cashgate amateurish.
While as president she remains responsible for what happened under her watch, perhaps, as a country we need to accept that Banda is being judged either harshly or with a different yardstick although she hasn’t helped her own course by continuing to stay in self-imposed exile.
Her absence naturally invites suspicions on what is she running away from and points to, as this column has indicated previously, a hypocrisy as she once declared in office to always be here at home to serve people of Malawi.
So, let JB come back home. If she is harassed by her nemeses in government, Malawians and their strong democratic institutions will quickly come to her rescue.
But chances that she’ll win any elections are little. She has squandered her political capital by opting for self-imposed exile, for this long.
But it wouldn’t bode ill for our democracy to have one former president roving around the country in freedom or our daughters to have a vivid pointer that they can become whatever they want and that their gender is not a limitation.
Yet conversation was not possible in the aftermath of Cashgate or her defeat in 2014.
But neither did we say any kinder things when Kamuzu Banda left office; Bakili Muluzi failed in his failed term bid or Bingu left us queuing long hours for fuel. n