When he crisscrossed the width and breadth of the country during the campaign period, President Peter Mutharika promised to deliver a new brand of politics. He called it politics unusual.
Two years into his reign, there are strong signs that there might never be any unusual politics on the horizon. Not only is Mutharika looking like an ordinary President, he appears to have succumbed to the pressure of the old politics. What happened?
Like his brother Bingu in 2004, Peter Mutharika was not voted by almost 60 percent of voters in this country. Bingu, however, won the hearts of many Malawians, including those who did not vote for him, almost immediately with his inspiring and powerful inauguration speech.
Despite facing major challenges in form of a stubborn opposition in Parliament marshalled by the then leader of opposition leader John Tembo, Bingu got the full backing of civil society organisations (CSOs) including university students. The economy was growing and Bingu was rewarded with a landslide victory in the 2009 General Elections. Things only began drifting deep south during his second term.
By contrast, Mutharika’s inaugural speech was generally bland. He accused former president Joyce Banda for not attending the ceremony and warned that the olive branch which he extended to her might fall from his hands. He told the people to look the rest of the speech up on the internet. The 60 percent of Malawians who did not vote for him still believe he is not the man. Chances are he might also have lost many of his supporters.
He has only been in office for 19 months, but, apart from grappling with a stern opposition in Parliament, Mutharika is also battling hostile CSOs, some of which are calling for his resignation. Donors are still holding on to their purse and they do not look like they will relax anytime soon. The economy continues to sink.
University students have largely left him alone (probably thinking about rising school fees and other academic costs). In his second year in office, Mutharika finds himself battling the same challenges that practically brought Bingu’s government to a halt.
Bingu was a man made of steel whereas Peter is showing more weakness. These are hardly the conditions of a landslide in 2019.
I cringed when BBC’s Zeinab Badawi introduced Mutharika as President of the poorest country in the world in a recent Hardtalk interview. I would pay top dollar to know what Mutharika felt that moment. And I am not interested to discuss the interview either.
Obviously this country needs a crisis manager, a change agent to help us pivot to a sustainable socio-economic growth path without necessarily relying on donor support. Our own version of Magufuli.
In 2004, just after a presidential debate with John Kerry, former US president, George W. Bush sought an opinion from a young aide on his performance. The aide politely told him that “Mr President, that guy kicked your ass”.
A president is as good as his advisors, and the question is: who are the people that Mutharika sits down with to plan affairs of the State? Are they above board, or they are intimidated by him? Do they tell him the truth, or they are just an army of yes bwanas? Do they tell him, for example, that it is okay to chase journalists from a press conference because of a critical editorial against government? If they pamper him with falsehood just to massage his ego, they are killing him.
They say it is only a stupid cow that rejoices at the prospect of being taken to a beautiful abattoir. n