People’s Party acting president Uladi Mussa should have been smiling ear-to-ear after he got his wish—at least half of it—when President Peter Mutharika reshuffled his Cabinet on Thursday.
Last Sunday, Mussa demanded the resignation of Goodall Gondwe as minister of finance and Allan Chiyembekeza, as minister of agriculture for their respective failures to drag Malawi’s economy out of the ruts and to deal with Malawi’s debilitating food shortage swiftly and decisively.
Gondwe stays; but Chiyembekeza has been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency to be replaced by the erstwhile foreign affairs minister, George Chaponda.
As past fired ministers have been keen to remind anyone who would listen, the prerogative to hire and fire is the President’s and we, the common people, have no business poking our noses into why someone has been hired or fired as a minister. But it just seems prudent to know why someone has been relieved of their positions for future holders to learn a lesson and do better, especially for a ministry as critical as agriculture. As for now, our fertile minds will roam freely speculating why Chiyembekeza had to be sacrificed.
Did he commit one unforgivable sin too many that he had to bite the dust? Did he, like Icarus, fly too close to the sun that his wax melted and he came crash-landing to earth? Was Malawi’s precarious food situation or two minor Cashgates in his ministry Chiyembekeza’s undoing?
Some will point to Malawi’s food shortage as something of a man-made situation that was let out of hand by a ministry at its wits end about what to do. The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee warned as far back as July 2015 that Malawi would be thrown into the throes of hunger if mitigating measures were not taken, with as many as 2.8 million people affected. Hence, it was with mild curiosity that in February 2016 the country seemed to be gripped in a panic mode as people queued overnight for maize, while governments went into propaganda overdrive to mask the fact there had been failure in planning. Was it Chiyembekeza’s problem?
It could be that he has been shown the door because there were one Cashgate too many in his ministry under his watch—two involving the creation of ghost workers. But should revelations of fraud under his watch elicit celebrations, being evidence that his leadership was committed to promoting good governance? Or that he didn’t provide requisite leadership that would have ensured the second Cashgate was forestalled?
Either way, Malawi’s food problems are bigger than one person and to think the country has crossed the Rubicon with his firing is wishful thinking. Chiyembekeza is gone, but one only needs to realise that we have changed ministers (and governments) numerous times before, but our fears and failings of yesteryears still haunt us. There might be subtle changes, but if we think Chaponda is Mr Quick-Fix, we are deluded.
That said, I wish I could welcome the appointment of Patricia Kaliati, but I won’t. Make no mistake, I have nothing against her. Kaliati is an affable person whose appointment will be welcome by some of my colleagues, especially for her witty, quotable soundbites, even if most lack substance.
But I’m afraid she is tasked with heading a ministry that should not even exist. Its appropriate name should be the Ministry of Propaganda. Ministry of Information is a gross misnomer going by how it has been used to drive government propaganda without actually providing the actual information.