Recently, political and social activist Michael Usi, alias Manganya, held a public rally where he raised various governance issues affecting the country. EPHRAIM NYONDO caught up with him to explain more on the issues.
: There is a recording trending on social media where you are addressing a rally and raising various governance issues affecting the country. Confirm it was you.
: Yes, I can confirm.
: Why did you come up with such an idea?
: Those who know me can testify I am a Malawian, who speaks out when things go wrong. I have been looking at what is happening in the country and, to be honest, I am not impressed with the course we are taking.
We have hunger, we have divisive politics of lies and deception, we have violence, we have a falling economy and government is failing to efficiently finance social services.
What we are going through is not what Malawians dreamed of. We need to sit back and reflect.
It pains me to note that we have a President who is a well-known professor. His Cabinet is full of learned and well-travelled people who know how development is supposed to happen. But what we are getting from such respected leaders does not agree with their stature. It is as if we need to start teaching them what leadership is about. It is very sad and I am concerned for my country.
: You have raised serious reservations on the relationship between chiefs and government regarding the process of decentralisation. Can you explain the reservations?
: What I need to emphasise is the need for chiefs to understand their job description. Chiefs are local leaders—traditional authorities; they are not political authorities. They belong to local government. As such, they should focus on assessing the efficiency of local government. Instead of doing that, they are busy being used by the central government. Now look at this: local government is still very weak and instead of lobbying for its strength, the chiefs connive with government which is a key player in weakening local government. The result is that chiefs are failing to stand up for their local government because they are principal agents of its destruction by working for central government. In fact, by doing that, they are completely abandoning the people. They are protecting the powerful who already have vast protection, instead of protecting the weak majority. We need to question the relevance of these traditional institutions in our governance system.
: You also raise critical issues regarding how the people relate with their
government in Malawi. How have you been assessing this relationship?
: The biggest challenge we have is poverty. Most Malawians are poor and in search for their means of subsistence, they easily end up being coerced by quick money and eventually fail to question things that are going wrong in this country. But I believe that poverty should not be the usual excuse. It should not trap us in the cycle of retrogression.
You see, I want Malawians to understand government as a construction. Just like a building, we construct people who are in power. We bring them there. And as a construction, we need constant checks so that it does not develop cracks and other problems. If we keep our government in check, it is easy to know the problem that demands instant rehabilitation. So I urge fellow Malawians to not be afraid of a government we constructed ourselves.
: You also have issues with some policies being pursued by the current government. Some of them include the quota system and Malata subsidy. Can you elaborate?
: To begin with, the Malata subsidy is premised on wrong assumptions that Malawians are too poor to provide good shelter for themselves. Yes, Malawians are poor. But have we really asked ourselves why they are poor? You mean we would solve the poverty of 80 percent of Malawians by building a house here, and another there? I do not think so.
What we need to do is to get back to the poverty alleviation strategies that will help develop industries so that Malawians should earn for themselves and buy iron sheets for themselves. We cannot continue to have a welfare government that is failing to generate income on its own. In fact, my fear with this Malata subsidy is that it will just fuel corruption-in the process, enriching further the already rich. Do we understand the procurement processes? Who is accounting for all these? Has there been an audit report?
On quota system, I have never changed my regard for merit. The current system is divisive. How do you explain a scenario where somebody with 10 points gets left out to clear a room for somebody with 25 points? University should get the cream of the society. It is interesting to note that when students graduate, the benefits do not just go to the family of the students. The ultimate goal should always be to get the cream of the society so that we maximize productivity.
: Do you think President Peter Mutharika has the leadership capacity to get the country to greater heights?
: If there is somebody who has had the privilege of being close to Mutharika, even before he became president, then it is me. I have talked to him often on various issues and I have always been amazed by his sense of maturity, thoughtfulness, insight and, most importantly, his capacity to learn from others.
I can tell you without fear or favour, Mutharika is a good man. He is non-violent and I have a strong feeling that he can take the country to greater heights. However, I feel Mutharika is losing the plot today because he has surrounded himself by dishonest people who do not wish him well. They are doing a great job of destroying his name and if he does not realise this quickly he is in for great trouble.
I would advise the President to return to his roots. He should return to who he is. What he is today is just an imitation of what he is not. The good thing is that he is not beyond redemption. He can, if he chooses even now, rediscover his good self for the good of the country. n