By now one would expect President Peter Mutharika to have developed a thick skin and take criticism in his stride. That is what a year in office should have done to somebody in power, more so that being criticised is the staple of the political game. While Mutharika, like everybody in this world, has the right to fight back and defend his corner, the presidency is too important an institution to be relegated to an arena for petty fist fights.
The President’s latest gripe over what he perceives as unfair criticism came last Tuesday when he grumbled that his every turn is scrutinised and condemned. He urged the media and others who don’t appear to wish him well to be patriotic and help to build the country instead of being consumed by negativity. Well, not a bad point to make, except that the pork-barrelled nature of politics is such that the presidential seat has more thorns than roses. This is the reality the President should have understood before he began nursing presidential ambitions.
And for an error-prone leader like him, he should have learned the basics of power sooner rather than later. If Mutharika was a-nobody like me whose decisions and actions affect a small circle of friends, family and a few others, we would not bother whether he is in America or Haiti. He matters to us because he is our President and his decisions have a bearing on our lives. The institution he heads, which is government, affects people’s lives more than any organisation or individual. You could add that this institution we call government operates on the money we all pay through taxes, levies and other means. That is why Mutharika and his government matter to us. That is why despite his impassioned pleas to leave him alone, it is nigh impossible for him to escape our attention and criticism.
The issue is that the President has a government to run, criticism or no criticism. It is demeaning for a President to turn himself into a spin doctor and spend his time refuting everything and responding to everybody who thinks differently. This is the one mistake his departed brother Bingu made when he began to view everybody who criticised him as a mortal enemy who should be castigated on the political podium. Over time you could see a once balanced Bingu becoming increasingly delusional and fragile. The Bingu who breathed his last in April 2012 was one very bitter, frustrated and an isolated man. I would be loath if this fate befell the other Mutharika.
The President’s call for patriotism, unity and other national virtues reminds me of the late despot Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda who used these very ideas to build one of the most authoritarian states in the world. His argument was that nation building and development could not thrive in an environment where dissent, opposition and criticism flourished. But as we all know, Kamuzu was only building the foundations for a personalised one-party state that eliminated any voice that sang a different tune to the government’s and MCP’s.
The impression I have is that Mutharika would rather he created an insular state that hears and brooks no dissent and criticism. In the ideal world, the President would be comfortable leading a nation of praise singers and cheerleaders, people who say what he wants to hear. Sadly for him, that time is long gone, a period we will never return to unless something catastrophic happens.
The world we live in is one where criticism is the currency of life, the fuel that keeps government and governors on their toes. It is the life blood of democracy. The choice we made in 1993 imposed on all of us a duty and obligation to be watchful that nobody becomes some god who is immune to criticism.
My last word is that the sooner Mutharika accepted that he is the President, the better for him and all of us. Nobody wants to have a President who is scared of his own shadow.
MCP needs a post-Kamuzu identity
Over 20 years since the nation got rid of dictator Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the party he left behind, MCP, just cannot disentangle itself from his enduring tentacles. Some party badges and other items still bear his face while some people in the party struggle to move past his silhouette.
In the name of honouring him for his contributions to the party and the country, MCP maintains unbreakable bonds—or is it bondage?—to the man who for three decades terrorised the people he led. Hey, dudes, create your own identity beyond Kamuzu. Let the party give itself a new character not defined by the sleeping fella.
For all I know, Kamuzu is no longer a factor in the political fortunes of MCP. He may still hold sway in some stretches of land in Kasungu, but nationally he is dead politically. Would MCP suffer debilitating electoral reverses if the party discarded Kamuzu’s image? Not for me.
There are lots of Malawians who vote for or reject MCP because of other reasons such as region, not because of the Kamuzu factor. So, MCP, please move on. Let the guy sleep in peace.