I just finished re-reading an essay Peter Mutharika wrote in 1996 when he was Professor of Law at Washington University, St Louis, Missouri.
I first read it for a class assignment. This time, I read it out of curiosity following his speech at the launch of the Tsangano-Ntcheu-Mwanza road construction project.
I refuse to judge the President by one side of the story. So, I read the essay to discover the President’s deeper side.
I believe he is a good thinker and he puts his thoughts in the simplest of terms as was the case when he was unpacking the concept of community technical colleges launched to offer the youth vocational skills.
In The 1995 Democratic Constitution of Malawi, the essay published in the Journal of African Law, Mutharika pulls no punches.
He writes: “Good governance will be possible if the people demand accountability and transparency from their government, if the government understands that it must act within the framework of the rule of law and if the judiciary understands its role in a democratic society.”
His line of thinking is clear and can be interpreted from multiple viewpoints.
The first point of view is that citizens need to demand better from the people they elect to positions of leadership, even post-election.
The other viewpoint is an assumption that leaders will have to be pressurised or pushed to govern better.
But here is the burning question: Don’t leaders get to their positions because they voluntarily promise people things they would do if elected?
These are the things the electorate consider will bring good governance.
With this in mind, we must quickly understand why good governance is elusive in the country.
First, the leaders themselves are not committed to the whole notion of good governance and the fruits it can bear.
Second, the leaders do not deliver what they promise, but do the opposite of their manifestos.
But Mutharika’s thinking is clear: the people must demand better of the people they put in positions of leadership.
The shortfall in his statement is that he does not offer the ways in which the people can demand transparency and accountability from their leaders.
Malawians can demand accountability and good governance from their leaders through the media.
The media plays a central and pivotal role as a country’s fourth arm of government.
It must be strong and unwittingly carry out its duties without falling prey to the traps of capitalist pressure and power games.
The Malawian media must be commended on this one. They have been strong watchdogs of our freedom despite pressure exerted by those in power.
The second to ensure transparency and accountability is through open resistance, such as demonstrations.
When he wrote his essay, Mutharika must have had in mind the demonstrations and resistance that weakened one-party rule and heralded multiparty democracy to Malawi in June 1993.
Through mass protests, as the word is, the people demonstrate their feelings about the status quo and the change they need.
The people can also show disapproval as a way of demanding good governance.
Disapproval can be through opinion polls, the media, demonstrations and the ballot box.
Through the ballot, the electorate can denounce lack of accountability, secrecy and bad governance all at once.
Malawians demand accountability through demonstrations and the media as can be seen from time to time.
What then is the problem in our quest to achieve good governance?
This is the burning question that Mutharika must consider every time he sets out to silence critics and dissenting voices. n