The country is facing unprecedented political crisis. And that crisis has been enabled by a leadership crisis. While the political crisis could not be predicted even as we queued to cast our votes in May, there were always tell-tale signs from a long time that our country is facing a leadership crisis.
Even before ascending to the presidency, we knew Peter Mutharika stood a good chance of becoming President thanks to his brother’s hardly veiled succession plan. And we knew, too, thanks to his time as minister under Bingu’s presidency, what type of leader he could become.
As detached and absent as he was Education minister during the academic freedom crisis, so too has he been in this long winter of discontent.
Only that the stakes are higher. He is President, for goodness’ sake. When the citizenry are maiming each other, the economy is being ravaged and the very social fabric is degenerating, the margins for error are much higher than when a minister is clueless.
Mutharika has neither the answers nor the skill to solve the crisis. Or the intuition to let others, be it international community or local enablers, help him solve the crisis. That, above all else, is the reason Mutharika is dismally the right leader for a time like this.
When the country needed a unifier, he projects an image unacceptable to millions. When the tensions needed a cool head of a pacifier, he drums up the tension and let everyone know he cares little about the fate of this country.
A leader facing a crisis would not throw such a line. But on Monday, Mutharika, in sync with his detached character, reminded everyone who cares that he will not be the loser if the country is destroyed. A President rather ought to feel the loser when his nation is being destroyed.
A commander-in-chief mourning the death of his serviceman in battle ought to even be more sensitive. But Mutharika is not looking for peace, Mutharika is only seeking legitimacy. He is not looking for national unity, but just power.
So, on Monday, granted a platform to call for unity in death of a police officer murdered by protesters at Msundwe, the President saw an opportunity to once again taunt the opposition for protesting against his election victory.
That is classic leadership failure. But with Mutharika, it’s a natural phenomenon. Nobody can pretend was surprised to see the President fail to rise to the occasion.
Here is, after all, a President who has failed to heed the message coming from the election results—that majority rejected his policies regardless of the fact he won—and the protests—that many are ready to burn the country as long as his government continues on the same path.
Ever since the election results were announced and the protests ensued, Mutharika has governed as business as usual, appointed the same advisers and ministers. He has not launched the war on corruption and attempted to end cronyism. And, meanwhile, he has sought to buy off people’s support through populists moves such as promised construction of football stadia for the top two most popular teams in the country.
But the underlying causes of the season of discontent remain untouched. Youth unemployment cannot be solved in a single day but Mutharika has not spent his energy convincing the restless youths that he is still the best bet for their future.
Instead, by prolonging the crisis by failing to solve it, he has given the jobless, disfranchised and those left out of the DPP cronyism, an opportunity to vent anger, again and again.
On Tuesday, Mutharika bellowed to his opponents: “I am president, get used to it.”
An angry citizenry wants a President but can’t accept one that doesn’t want to address their problems.
But while Mutharika has never inspired confidence (hence why scores are protesting his re-election regularly), one ought to be perplexed, too, that the alternative leadership is beginning to display the same levels of cluelessness.
For one, both Saulos Chilima and Lazarus Chakwera have been proactive in supporting the demonstrations but when the police officer was murdered in line of duty, forget for a second how the police have handled themselves unprofessionally from time to time, the two leaders reacted to the news with conspicuous silence.
That’s pathetic, but that, though, should not distract us from the leadership failure exemplified by State House today. By refusing to fire Jane Ansah, whether out of political calculation, by failing to find the right tone and language to address the restless nation, by continuing the nation as business as usual—with the same old mistrusted ministers and advisers, as if the elections didn’t send any message, by failing to fight corruption, cronyism, and growing nepotism, Mutharika has assumed for himself the title of the worst President to ever have entered the office. He is uninspiring as he is cold-hearted.