The hype was feverish. The build up was intense. The expectations were set very high. But the conference’s contextual framework was as irrelevant as it was out of touch with the reality on the ground.
The public wanted the Public Affairs Committee (PAC)—the official federalism debate facilitator—to hit the ground running on whether Malawi should become a federal State or remain a unitary one.
But it was not to be. PAC had other ideas, very slow ideas if you ask me. And by the end of the conference, the take home message was, well, zero.
I mean, what exactly did the so-called two-day national stakeholders’ forum for inclusivity and federalism that started on Monday and ended on Tuesday in Blantyre this week achieve?
Look, I want to believe that the conference’s organisers, PAC, meant well, but to spend all that money, all that time and all that energy only to end up with the recommendation of a review of the Constitution and electoral laws as a major output is a joke—and that is putting it mildly.
I mean, what is new here? We all know that there is a constitutional review report that is gathering dust at Capital Hill. And we need another one?
After the tumultuous and tearful (literally) May 20 Tripartite Elections, everyone agreed—at various forums—that we need to review our electoral laws to be in sync with our maturing democracy.
Some even came up with specifics on what exactly need to change in our electoral laws.
Should PAC really waste everybody’s time by regurgitating the same stuff? What are we, a bunch of talking shop revellers?
You see, the problem we have in this country—which is the major reason more than half of our population is wallowing in abject poverty—is that we talk too much.
We cannot seem to resist listening to the sounds of our own voices. And we talk about the same things all the time and do the same things over and over again: write reports about whatever we have talked about, file them and wait for a while to start talking about the same things again.
The embarrassing cycle, or is it circus, goes on and nothing gets done and the country remains static—50 years after gaining independence.
Why, I ask, do we keep doing this to ourselves? I mean, PAC was given the nod by the Peter Mutharika administration to facilitate the federalism debate given its track record of objective and fair handling of contentious issues in the country.
The body also boasts strong democratic credentials and is highly representative of the Malawian society.
But what did PAC do?
It spent weeks and months planning for a conference whose objective—we now learn after the event—was to lay the foundation for future debates. Is this some sort of a joke?
The problem is that folks want to have as many excuses for as many workshops as possible all in the name of preparing the ground work for a national conversation on federalism.
This country has so many problems to solve that we cannot be wasting time “sitting down properly” as my boss likes to put it, before starting a formal process of seeking people’s views on an issue that has dominated public discourse for several months now.
My friends, as we speak now, the Judiciary is about to shut down because Capital Hill is failing to resolve a wage increase stand-off.
At this very minute, a water crisis has hit Blantyre, the country’s commercial hub and no one has any idea how to deal with it.
Right now, several public institutions are demanding more salary increases even as their service delivery stinks.
As I furiously punch away at this computer, the economy is tanking, poor villagers have no idea when they will get subsidised farm inputs; hospitals are in disarray and the cost of living has shot through the roof. The list of problems is endless.
Yet, PAC wants to ‘sit down properly’ as it prepares for the next rounds of federalism talking shops that will keep taking away productive people to, well you guessed it: Talk about preparations for talks so that talks can be talked properly.
Well, my attitude is that the talking shop that is PAC is not going to help the country navigate through this federalism conversation. Maybe we should try another body, that is, if we believe that this discussion is important enough and that we want a concrete road map out of it.
Otherwise, we will be moving in circles as problems pile on the country and priorities shift.