Malawi President Joyce Banda has been in office for five months. The first two months were well-watered and held to the core by public sympathy which gave birth to optimism. But things are changing now.
In fact, the change is too fast and furious. The scale of public obsession with President Joyce Bandaâ€™s government is happening too fast, too tense and grossâ€”almost like sun setting in the morning.
The obsession is not only revealed in the calls for the government to step down, but also in the recent one for the Vice-President Khumbo Kachali to resign as Minister of Health.
A recent survey by Afrobarometerâ€”an African-led Network of survey researchers and analystsâ€”adds the momentum.
According to the survey, one in two Malawians thinks the country is going in the wrong direction. Over 7/10 feel the countryâ€™s economic conditions are bad, and the feeling is strongest in the cities (80 percent).
Arguably, the economy comes out as the heart of the beast. It continues to ailâ€”and its effect is disastrous on the common Malawian.Â Â
â€œWe donâ€™t have maize here. Of course, there is some at the market. But we have no money to buy it. We need government to help us,â€ said Annie Maya, 78, from Therere Village, T/A Ngabu, Chikhwawa.
Mayaâ€™s concern is one that resonates with millions living in rural areas; especially the 1.6 million that a recent report showed will be food insecure from August 2012 to March 2013.
In urban areas, too, they have their own innermost fears and deep, scorching pains.Â
â€œI work for an Indian shop in Limbe. I get K15 000 [about $50] as my salary which, despite the devaluation of the kwacha, has remained static. How do I cope when the cost of living is shooting up?â€Â said Ignatius Banda, a resident of Manje Township in Blantyre.Â Â
These concernsâ€”both from urban and rural areasâ€”carry a voice that seeks redress from those in power.Â
They want commodity prices to stabilise. They want transport fares to go down. They want salary increments. They want to have food in their homes. And they want to be happy.
But who is supposed to provide for all that?
As part of its fundamental principles laid out in Section 13, the Malawi Constitution advances that the State shall actively promote the welfare and development of the people of Malawi by progressively adopting and implementing policies aimed at achieving a number of goals.
One such goal, the Constitution indicates, is economic management.
Arguably, President Joyce Bandaâ€”as Head of State and Governmentâ€”is the tallest tree in this forest. She needs to provide leadership that should not just manage the countryâ€™s economy, but also come up with deliberate measures and initiatives that should cushion the people from the devastating effects of an ailing economy.
Of course, it is right to argue that Bandaâ€™s government inherited an ailing economy. Most analysts agree that the current mess is a product of the previous governmentâ€™s economic flaws.
It is, therefore, delusional, almost a bay at the moon, to expect JBâ€™s governmentâ€”despite taking decisive measures so farâ€”to heal the economy in five months.
So why the fuss against JBâ€™s government? Is it that her administration has failed to run the economy?
Rather, after adopting an austerity budgetâ€”one spiced by devaluation and flotation of the kwachaâ€”and adopting an automatic pricing mechanism (APM) of fuel, among othersâ€”analysts have consistently advised her government to cut public expenditure to save the little that government has in its coffers.
A week ago, renowned economic and social commentator Professor Wiseman Chijere Chirwa called on Bandaâ€™s government to trim her Cabinet or appoint a technocratic crisis management Cabinet.
â€œCurrently, most Malawians are not happy with the state of affairs as evidenced by strikes, rising crime rate, the public anger and prevailing frustration. A crisis Cabinet is needed to steer the country to economic recovery,â€ he said.
The advice came barely weeks after some commentators had advised government to cut on its domestic and international travels to save money. The commentators were responding to revelations Weekend Nation made in August on the cost of JBâ€™s entourage to a nation pursuing an austerity budget.
Among others, the paper revealed that since ascending to power, the President by them had made 37 local trips.
The tragedy of the trips, argued the paper, is that they cost taxpayerâ€™s money K160 million (about $533 333) and could be K360 million (about $1.2 million) more in the current financial year if left unchecked.
Human Rights Consultative Commission (HRCC) chairperson Undule Mwakasungula advanced that the civil society is worried over governmentâ€™s unnecessary expenditure.
â€œSome of these officials go to the functions and do nothing, yet they have used a lot of resources to travel. It is a concern to see that wherever the President is, the Vice-President and many ministers are there,â€ he said.
Unfortunatelyâ€”and this is where public anger springsâ€”JBâ€™s government, instead of heeding to waves of public concern, can be too arrogant and too insensitive in response.
While he has apologised, but the statement Vice-President Khumbo Kachali made in Karonga recently reveals the depth of insensitiveness in this government.
For starters, the Veep in response to accusations that he and the President are travelling too much is on record as saying he and the President do not visit their criticsâ€™ mothersâ€™ and fathersâ€™ homes.
The statement was made barely few days after JB left Malawi for New York. The trip is said to have skinned the taxpayer at least K308 million (about $1.03 million).
These trips and the insensitive remarks which mock the intelligence of suffering Malawians, questions JBâ€™s government capacity to take advice and, most importantly, lead by the wishes of the led.Â
â€œFailure to take advice and to respect the popular voices earned him [Mutharika] a bad reputation and even worse, plunged the country into a mess,â€ said Chirwa.
Frankly speaking, a government that has been in office only for five months does not deserve such reminiscent of tragic history. It is too early.
But if such calls are being made consistently, as is the case now, it means something, somewhere is wrong.
For a government yearning to attract voters as the winds drifts to 2014, this is suicidal.Â Taking the wishes of the people, therefore, is not an option for JB; it is a priority. Otherwise, the sun of JBâ€™s government is setting so fast, at dawn.