I have said this before and I will say it again: I did not join journalism to win popularity contests.
I pander to no one and I am only motivated by the desire to hold leaders’ excesses in check; to cut through the propaganda chaff and give readers the grain truth; to help make sense of the complicated policy nuances and what they mean for the people and, most importantly, to look out for the weak and help protect our democracy that too many Malawians paid for with blood.
That is not to say I am always right, God knows I have made wrong calls as a reporter, title editor, managing editor and even as a columnist.
But my opinion is my sacred fundamental right to freedom of speech and of expression just as those who disagree with me have all their constitutional right to call me out on any platform of their choice and I will defend with my last breath their right to those opinions, especially those against mine.
What I will not take, never have, are cowardly threats; certainly not when the man we elected under a free, fair and internationally respected democratic process is displaying authoritarian tendencies as he gets drunk on power and flounders on governing.
The senseless hero worshipping, the embarrassing idolization and adoration, has started to create a dangerous “Lord and Saviour” persona that is on course to morph into a dictatorship that has already started taking apart the ladder that a now drunk-in-power President Lazarus Chakwera used to climb to the mountain top.
The equilibria that have emerged during the six months Chakwera has been in power clearly heads the authoritarian way—and they are chilling.
First, just look at the so-called State House briefings in which questions are demanded in advance and, according to Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Malawi Chapter), those deemed ‘critical’ are removed.
During the 100 days press conference, I was politely asked to submit my questions in advance. I refused, although to the credit of the State House communications team, they still gave me the opportunity to ask my undisclosed questions.
But the point here is that they are trying to control information by restricting the issues journalists should ask questions on.
That way, State House systematically denies citizens independent and accurate information that people can use to judge the President and his administration’s performance.
The soft questions they allow, therefore, ensure that the narrative that Chakwera is competent takes hold in people’s minds; an approach—which amounts to intimidation of the media and calculated propaganda—that dictators throughout history have used to maintain their grip on power.
The second red flag you have to see is how successful the administration has built a powerful pro-Chakwera media by turning once fiercely independent media houses into those that consistently see positives in everything Chakwera and his ruling elite do. You add the doodling Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and you have a national praise team that no President in democratic Malawi has had at his or her disposal. Think of this media force and how it can be tooled to indoctrinate the masses and dismantle the pillars that hold our democracy.
And while at it, they are going about suppressing and threatening the few outlets that have remained skeptical of the unfolding Chakwera-bolstering orchestra and decided to be steadfast in their impartiality.
The third warning sign is a controversial one and will need a whole column space to unpack. But the speed with which President Chakwera packed the Supreme Court and the High Court with a total of 14 of his own court appointees within four months of his presidency should give all of us some pause. I will not elaborate.
Can you see why someone has to be vigilant around here to save the country from drifting back into a one party State at a time the opposition is fragmented and civil society is still searching for its bearings after years of working hand-in-hand with the current ruling elite during the pre-fresh election struggle?
So, yes, for as long as democracy is at stake and for as long as President Chakwera continues to think that his fine rhetoric and political postures can make us overlook the fact that he is largely failing to deliver on his campaign promises, we will do our job of pointing out his spectacular neglect of his promise to Malawians.
And those who enable him—including those hell bent at silencing the few authoritative voices willing to fill the void left by a weakened civil society and a large swathe of the independent media that has curved—should just know that they may unwittingly be turning a once upon a time well-meaning, even good, man into a dictator.