Hate them or loathe them, but the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) seem to have cultivated a reputation as past masters in the art of creating decoys from essential matters of national discourse.
Before the political landscape was muddled by the arrest of three Malawi Congress Party (MCP) members—Ulemu Msungama, Jessie Kabwila and Peter Chakhwantha—two issues shaped Malawi’s public discourse, which everyone wanted pursued to their logical conclusion: maize shortages and the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) conference last week.
Ever-presented for a while has been discussion on government’s failure or lack of effort to solve a food shortage crisis that is high on propaganda and low on solutions. From government denying media reports of a death due to hunger and President Peter Mutharika excoriating Admarc officials for “moral recklessness” for allegedly conspiring with shady businesspersons to buy maize, to an ambivalent position by opposition parties on the matter, there has been no shortage on talk (unlike maize) on how to deal with the food crisis.
As for the PAC conference, people are still coming to terms with a mini fall-out after opposition parties ganged up to seek the President’s head—figuratively, that is—over his lack of skills to lace his own shoes, let alone steady the rocking ship that is Malawi. PAC promised to release its final recommendations by this week, but had not done so at the time of going to print. And perhaps that was for a good reason.
Since then our focus has been usurped by the arrests that are as petty as they are mind-boggling. There is confusion over whether the three were arrested for sedition, treason or whatever crime the police fancy—or, indeed, if they were arrested at all. Inspector General of Police Lexten Kanyama refused, at a press conference on Wednesday, to describe the overnight detentions of Msungama and Kabwila as “arrests”; dismissively suggesting they were merely called to record caution statements. The length of their caution statements should be scaring, if it takes overnight just to record them.
Kachama, however, tried to dampen any speculation the arrests were politically motivated, insisting that the trio was only brought in to assist the police with establishing the authenticity of the allegations against them.
Kachama may sugar-coat the arrests the way he likes, but he is selling us short here. The trio may not have been charged, but it was definitely arrested. And if the three were arrested just to establish an allegation in their line of inquiry, then we have serious problems here.
I am no police officer, but I know when someone is putting the cart before the horse. Should an arrest precede investigation or should an investigation lead to an arrest having established all pertinent facts? Of course, such a modus operandi in this case is hardly surprising; our police, it seems, has the tendency of making premature arrests, hoping suspects will implicate themselves during interrogation.
Equally disconcerting was Kachama’s casual thoughtlessness to confess that they don’t care whether they are sued should this turn out to be a storm in the cup. I’m certain if police officers were made personally liable for any lawsuit against MPS, they would be cavalier in their approach to work. But, hey, who cares if the government pays for their mistakes?
Does Kachama realise that if this case becomes a nightmare, it is taxpayers—not him and his officers—who will pay in the event of a lawsuit?
That nonetheless, whatever ghost roams in the President’s office needs to be exorcised—and urgently. Every president sees imaginary enemies everywhere and they believe accusing opponents of treason is a badge of honour. But it is just a symbol of a president troubled and unsure of their authority and ability. Why should someone plot to unseat you if you are doing a good job?
By the way, do you now believe when I said DPP is the master of diversionary tactics? Now you should, because I, too, totally lost focus.