President Peter Mutharika is a scared man. For that reason alone, we should be afraid for (and of) him—just like we were for (and of) his brother, the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
As brothers, Bingu and Peter have a lot in common besides the womb. Among the many similarities as presidents, both developed morbid fear of newspapers and perceived ‘insults’. Bingu went as far as claiming that he was the most insulted president since independence. Sad and selfish that he declared that in superlative terms, because he has closed the door on his brother to declare himself as such.
In the twilight of his tyrannical rule, Bingu arrested some people for the capital offence of insulting him—including three people who wished him dead (the poor souls got their wish some four months later!). Even Jim Jumani Johansson, the would-be son of Kamuzu Banda, managed to rub Bingu the wrong way in the short period he was in Malawi for the same offence.
Now APM seems to be using the same copybook. His police last week arrested two other people in Lilongwe for calling out his ineptitude in handling the hunger crisis and charged them with “conduct likely to cause breach of peace”.
There are people whose brutal, honest opinions would impale Peter’s leadership—and not just the banal, harmless sentiments the student and the other person expressed in the Lilongwe minibus. And if the government starts arresting people for expressing admonitory opinions, it is a killer for health political debate. Mutharika cannot expect all Malawians to think alike—a two-thirds of them did not share his vision in 2014 and it would be absurd to imagine they have all-of-sudden crossed over to his camp.
The essence of democracy is that we should accept to be different in our sameness. Political debates in any society can be a prelude to strife, but it is how they are handled that differentiates warfare from peace.
Talking of insults, APM last week accused the media of insulting him over his handling of Malawi’s political and economic crises. So chafed is he with the editorial opinions that he has decided to stop reading newspapers. APM, so he said, drew his inspiration from his predecessor and sworn enemy, Joyce Banda.
No journalist revels in insulting APM, if anyone does at all. Our forbearers coined the adage ‘mutu ukakula sulewa nkhonya’ for a reason. They knew the hazards of authority and leadership. I expect APM, as a man of letters, to be less obsessed with such trivia and petty superstition and focus on the larger picture.
For him to say he has stopped reading newspapers just because JB did leads credence to her flawed argument that the media killed Bingu and she was afraid of facing the same fate. The media was nowhere near Kamuzu Palace nor Kamuzu Central Hospital on April 5 when several calamitous mistakes were made to revive him. If the accusation be that the media put Bingu on the spot, yes, maybe they did, but that was because the nation was demanding answers which were not forthcoming.
In his attempt to wish away the ‘death spell’, APM comically banded the media and the Nigerian hit-and-miss ‘prophet’, TB Joshua, in the same bracket as agents of death. TB Joshua in early 2012 apparently ‘prophesied’ that an ageing leader of a Southern Africa nation would die. When Bingu did, the Nigerian prophet had his followers eating from the palm of his hand.
TB Joshua may just have found another believer in his game of chance. APM name-checked the Nigerian by suggesting he won’t succeed to do what he did in 2012. Apparently, early this year TB Joshua apparently ‘prophesied’ that a president in Southern Africa would die this year. That has had his followers in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia observing their respective leaders’ every cough, step. Mutharika is sold on it, too.
Sadly, for a man of his wide learning and supposed sophistication, APM retains a narrow, superstitious thought that an illiterate, flea-infested man at Goliati, would be ashamed of. And that’s not an insult!