Hon. Folks, APM’s unenviable task in 2016 is to make Malawians believe in the patriotism of accepting continued impoverishment with grace.
It’s an agenda well articulated in his New Year message in which he acknowledged that 2015 was a year of “hunger, pain and suffering” then singled out as a milestone our ability to survive and manage with “our locally generated resources” following donor withdrawal of budgetary support in the wake of the Cashgate scandal in 2013.
“This is a reason for national pride for every patriotic Malawian who aspires for our economic sovereignty,” APM is quoted as saying in an abridged version of the speech as published in The Sunday Times of January 17.
Our President wants us to believe we are patriotic citizens if we can embrace and cherish that we somehow managed to survive in 2015 even when the donor pull-out was aggravated by the combined effect of prolonged draught and devastating floods.
But as El Niño begins to show signs that 2016 may be another year of hunger and increased poverty, I’m sure the President is also beginning to see the challenge inherent in a people who survive only to suffer deprivation. A hungry person is an angry person, so they say.
We may not rule out the possibility that some people indeed see our survival without budgetary support amid “hunger, pain and suffering” as a sign that economic sovereignty is possible without aid.
Faith leaders who carelessly mix the controversial issue of same sex relations with aid would probably have not championed the call for donors to take their aid, go home and leave us alone if they thought total withdrawal of aid would lead to their imminent death and that of their children
In APM’s own admission, 2.8 million Malawians faced imminent death from starvation in the aftermath of last year’s floods and drought.
Our contribution towards mitigating the devastating impact of the tragedy on life and well-being was a small percentage of what was contributed by donors.
But in a country where close to 30 percent of the gross national income is made of donor aid, it should take little convincing that it’s nothing but a political yarn to talk about economic sovereignty when the economy is not generating enough wealth to close the deficit.
The economy grew by a mere 3 percent last year against an overtly optimistic projection of 6 percent growth rate.
Yet, the curse of incumbency isn’t just in being judged for the bad and ugly that come, stay or go on your watch. It’s also in facing up to the opposition, often the beneficiary of the protest vote even without having to work hard for it.
Could this be the reason Hetherwick Ntaba–a medical doctor who’s equally, if not more, adept at spin-doctoring–has been added to the legion of presidential advisers?
Except for the two-year Joyce Banda stint, Ntaba has served as a spin-doctor for all the other former presidents–Kamuzu Banda, Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika–always coming in when there is a big political hurdle to surmount.
He made a name as ‘the computer’ at a time Kamuzu needed good spin-doctor to help him defend the one-party dictatorship. Ntaba did that although Kamuzu lost anyway.
Muluzi used Ntaba to help him stay beyond the two consecutive five-year terms. Ntaba did the job with a passion. Unfortunately, Muluzi lost anyway.
Bingu used Ntaba from the word go, first to fight a hostile opposition and later to defend the bad laws and other horrible policies that characterised Bingu’s short second-term. Ntaba did all he could with a passion.
Unfortunately, his efforts did not help in making a president who garnered the highest of votes in multiparty Malawi turn into the most loathed president overnight. At the time of his sudden death in April 2012, Bingu had a 60-day ultimatum to step down or face mass protests. He had also been dumped by development partners.
Will Ntaba help rally the people behind APM’s difficult agenda at the time when economic hardships that started with Bingu’s zero-deficit budget have worsened under the so called zero-aid budget?
APM should focus more on restoring confidence in the people that government is serious about tackling corruption which is eroding 30 percent or more of public revenue. He should also take reforms to the level where they translate in bringing efficiency in government.
You don’t bank on spin-doctors to make a bad story good. Rather, they make a good story better. I hope Ntaba knows this. Otherwise, he’ll fail again in his role as a presidential spin-doctor.