Hon Folks, did APM play a prank to make us April fools or was it real? On April 1 the President and First Lady were caught on camera playing the prayer warriors at the Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre.
It wasn’t even during the day; the first couple were attending a night of prayer led by Apostle Stanley Ndovi of the Living Waters Church!
I would be the last person to open my mouth in awe if it were Madam Gertrude Mutharika, whom I have known from back in the days when she worked for a Christian non-governmental organisation, throwing herself to the floor, crying to God in fervent prayer.
But APM, though a member of CCAP Church in Blantyre, played a persona way different from the tough-talking know-it-all politician that political analysts see as dictatorial and whose style of leadership was also bashed by Catholic bishops in their recent pastoral letter.
A recent conference led by the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) had no kind words for the APM administration and though not adopted in its final resolution, some attendees urged for the President to step down.
Needless to say, there hasn’t been any formal reaction from government but what we have seen happening in the aftermath is no different from the tit-for-tat philosophy championed by the government of the late Bingu wa Mutharika, APM’s brother—opposition leaders arrested on treason charges, lives of outspoken government critics threatened and increased violence that appears to be politically sponsored.
The media and civil society have just seen their hope for an enabling law for sections 36 and 37 of the Constitution which provide for access to public information turned into a tool for legitimising government’s hold-back of virtually any information it doesn’t want to share. In an I-don’t-give-a-damn Texas cowboy-style, APM has warned in advance that should MPs tamper with his government’s version of the ATI Bill, he won’t assent to it.
Then again there’s the turn-around on the campaign pledge to let go of excessive presidential powers by, among other things, relinquishing powers to hire and fire directors of watchdog institutions whose independence is stipulated in the legal instruments used to set them up.
We saw how APM’s government shot on all fours, accusing the Legislature of trying to usurp Executive powers when, through an independent member’s motion, the issue of having the appointment of the Director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and his deputy handled by the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament as opposed to the President was tabled in the august House.
Those of us who saw how Bingu literally made the job of a former ACB director untenable after the later independently zeroed in on former President Bakili Muluzi for a corruption case that’s gone nowhere for over 10 years now, know better what happens to the war against corruption when the President retains the power to be the hiring authority of an ACB director. As Bingu publicly declared, the hiring authority is also the firing authority of those who dare act on the big fish without first seeking the presidential nod.
All this meant one thing—if you are not on the side of his government, shauri yako.
On 1st April it was a totally different message grounded in the Christian principle of unconditional love. He said: “As a people called by one name, one faith, bound by one country, we are commanded and demanded to love one another…. Let us seek to focus and see what is good in others.
“Let us learn to love those who hate us while we disagree with their way of life… As one people, let us be faithful to one another. We can only be trusted when we are trustworthy. And we can only be trustworthy when we are a people of integrity.”
The only problem is that this assuaging message was being delivered on April Fools’ Day. It’s hard to tell whether it’s real, sheer prank or a reflection of internal pressure since the night of prayer coincided with some unsavoury prophesy of doom. We all do kneel down before the Lord and beat our chests when things get dicey, don’t we?
But I am here to tell Mr. President that his was a very sweet message. My fear, and I guess the fear of so many others too, is to wake up someday only to realise that we were only being given a special Fools Day treat.