Some in the country have always wondered why Malawian presidents are synonymous with bad governance.
Well, this is it.
Malawi is now seeing and feeling the answers to its political problem.
And these are answers well hidden in the motives behind mass defections Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Members of Parliament (MPs) are making to Peoples Party (PP).
Are these defections done in good faith?
To get the answers, press rewind and go back to that Friday nightâ€™s late press briefing in Lilongwe. It was short, its motive precise and to the point.
By exactly 22:15 hours that night, government spokesperson Patricia Kaliati had finished making her point.
“Joyce Banda cannot become Malawiâ€™s president because she formed her own opposition party,” she said.
Flanked by Minister of Health Dr Jean Kalilani, Minister of Local Government Henry Mussa, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kondwani Nankhumwa, Youth Development Minister Symon Vuwa Kaunda and Deputy Minister in Office of the President and Cabinet Nicholas Dausi, she went furtherâ€”in her usual stabbing rudenessâ€” to remark: â€˜There is no vacancy in governmentâ€™.
Those that heard her words believed she will be the first to stand by her statements. But they were in for a surprise!
Exactly 19 hours later, Kaliatiâ€”flanked by the same Cabinet members, was in the Parliament building in Lilongwe, clapping hands as Joyce Banda took the sword of the Presidency.
Now, how affirmed was their conscious when, after an illegal Cabinet meeting, they went public to wrong the Constitution on Bandaâ€™s apparent ascendancy to presidency?
If their conscious was affirmed, why, instead of challenging Bandaâ€™s ascendancy, did they choose to witness the ceremony, nod their heads, feign smiles and clap hands to something just hours earlier they publicly rejected?
Worse still, just a day after the ceremony, Kaliati was in the news telling the world she will work with the new Presidentâ€”the same Banda whose legitimacy to the presidency she and her fellow Cabinet members had questioned.
Interestingly, that was after several DPP ministers and MPs had already made the statement.
Now, one moment they agree to reject Bandaâ€™s ascendancy to the presidency, the next they have already gone as far as consulting their constituencies to get a nod of defecting to same Banda.
Who is fooling who, here?
The political gesture from Kaliati and fellow DPP cadres reveals a serious rot in the countryâ€™s politics, a rot behind the cyclic bad governance in Malawi.
Joseph Chunga, Chancellor College political science lecturer, argues that the rot stems from the neopatrimonial politics practised in the country.
“This is a system where government business is guided by a reward system based on personal loyalty. The ruling elite reward their loyalists with national economic or social resources through appointments to public positions or business contracts,” he says.
In pursuing the rewards, our politicians, like fighters without flags and anthem, wobble the political stage, devouring their reason and, without shame, sink the dignity that defines their â€˜honourableâ€™ status.
Chunga argues that the fact that PP is not seal-structured because positions are still held in the interim status, leaders of other parties will fancy space in the party and government structures.
“Unlike in 2005, when it was not certain whether Mutharika would be impeached or not, it is very clear today that Banda and PP will be in power until 2014.
“As a result, we will see numbers from DPP and other opposition parties joining PP,” adds Chunga.
These numbers, despite being needed to help Banda sail through Parliament, have been quite suicidal to most leaders.
“What is acidic is the motive. They are in PP for one reasonâ€”material benefit,” says Michael Jana, a South Africa-based Malawian political scientist.
He continues: “The challenge these politicians pose is that they form an inner political circle, always available to poison the leadersâ€™ mind with whispers of praise and falsity, but also to mislead the leader into believing that every form of criticism stems from agents that want to overthrow government.”
The result is that a leader falls into a trap of power. This is a cage where a leader, on one hand, hears nothing but praise from loyalists who are always close, and on the other, hears nothing but criticism and rebuke from the opposition and civil society groups. Balancing the two becomes difficult.
Kamuzu Banda fell into this trap, so did Bakili Muluzi and the fallen leader Bingu wa Mutharika.
It is this trap that distorts presidentsâ€™ view of their country. They begin to see images of people wanting to overthrow them. As a result, they let loose terror on the land, something that scares investors and development partners.
Interestingly, the same politicians that fooled Muluzi to believe in the infamous Third Term Bill are the same ones that energised Mutharikaâ€™s resolve to suspend Banda to pave way for his brother. Now, the same â€˜brotherâ€™ is being deserted for the â€˜rebelâ€™ they loathed and suspended. If these MPs had managed to resist Mutharikaâ€™s resolve to have Banda suspended, could PP have been in power today?
After shooting DPP to its imminent demise, the same breed of politicians, in the name of â€˜we will work with government of the dayâ€™, is now making their way en masse to PP.
Is Malawi safe?
“Joyce Banda needs not be naive. She needs to be cautious in dealing with these defectors. It is not that these defectors agree with how she will run the country nor do they support the idea that she is a President,” says Chunga.
And Chunga advises.
“She needs to make sure that she surrounds herself with technocrats, not politicians. The kind of technocrats who should dust off to her weighty words that she must hear, not comforting type just to make her feel sweet.”
But that is easier heard than done. Politicians have a history of surrounding themselves with sycophants, griots to always sing lullabies to them.
Malawi, grounded by a series of political and economic challenges, is watching Banda. The swearing-in ceremony symbolises her acceptance to own and deal with the challenges rocking Malawi. Mutharika is now history.
The future of Malawi depends on how Banda chooses who to associate with in governing. Presently, every option close to her, from PP founding loyalists to DPP defectors, carries the same curse.
They are mostly fighters without flag, ready to poison a leaderâ€™s mind with falsity to meet their personal needs.