They say it has been a week of hiring, relocating and firing. But for me, it has been a week of answers to questions regarding the kind of leader Peter Mutharika is and again, the kind of leadership we will experience in the next five years.
Mutharika, we know, has always been an enigma. We just do not know what, as a leader, he is capable of doing with too much power because he has never had that before. His complete life, until his return to Malawi in 2007, revolved around nothing but teaching, researching and publishing.
That is why every appointment Mutharika makes is, to me, an important window to what innermost fears drives.
You see, our choices, often define us. For a Mutharika with unlimited powers to appoint whoever he wants to work with, somehow, not always, the character of the people he chooses could, at least, give a glimpse to his own too.
To mean, his appointment choices could help reveal the tone of leadership we will have in the next five years.
Mutharika rode to the presidency on quite an ambitious manifesto—perhaps the most ambitious ever seen—promising a complete turnaround in the way government has always been run in the country.
I should be honest though, that most of the people he has, so far, appointed to help him in this ‘turnaround’ mission do not, even inspire confidence.
You see, it is not easy for a president to maintain a cool head given the trap of power they are caught in once elected.
This is a trap where they only hear nice and comforting words from their closest and nothing but criticisms and disdaining words from those on the opposing side.
That it is why to negotiate this trap, presidents need, to a large extent, surround themselves with at least a certain cream of honest people that should not fear to dust off weighty words that they must hear. It hurts, but it does not kill; it helps shape a better leader.
Unfortunately, most of the appointment we have witnessed since elections—from Cabinet to key public positions—speaks of a leader who is shy to be his own man; in the process, seeking shelter in the same-old sycophants that failed to help his departed brother to negotiate the trap of power.
Jean Kalilani, Henry Mussa, George Chaponda, Goodall Gondwe, Patricia Kaliati, Emmanuel Fabiano, Joseph Mwanamvekha, Peter Mukhito, Bright Msaka and Nicholas Dausi were all key figures during Bingu’s troubled years.
For instance, during the academic freedom saga, Mukhito was leading the police and Fabiano was in the university. If we agree that the academic freedom saga represented Bingu at his lowest failure of leadership, unarguably, we are implicitly indicting Mukhito and Fabiano of the same. The two were leading technocrats of the two warring institutions and whatever we would be deluding ourselves to believe that they embody an enviable leadership record.
Mwanamvekha was the head of treasury when figures were sexed of stupefy Malawians that the zero-deficit budget was working. Appointing him head of any ministry invites a number of questions revolving around Mutharika’s quest to run a government of honesty and integrity.
If Mutharika goes public disdaining the civil service as ‘not functional’, you would not be wrong to think he was saying Msaka, who headed the civil service for close to a decade, failed to perform. So why a ministerial position for Msaka?
I know, from history, what being of service to your nation means. It means letting go of every comfort, even if it is ministerial, for the sake of defending what is good for your people. Isn’t this what we learnt from, among others, the Masauko Chipemberes, the Kanyama Chiumies, the Yatuta Chisizas and the Willie Chokanis who, after disagreeing with the Kamuzu Banda on principle matters, chose to resign so that their conscience was clear?
Well, without appearing to be judgmental, the Chipemberes were, so far, the last of the honest leaders Malawi is failing to find again.
In the depth of the worst that Malawians endured from Bingu’s, the worst place in hell will not be reserved for the perpetrator but the Kaliatias, the Chapondas, the Kalilanis and the Dausis that kept their silence in that moment of moral crisis.
I expected Mutharika to build his own team—it feels refreshing to have accomplished people like, among others, Allan Chiyembekeza, and Tembenu in the picture. Of course, I do accept that it would be insane for Mutharika to completely shun people who were close to him in his trying moments. But, lest we forget, Mutharika is leading a nation—not DPP. As such, he could have found other ways of honouring his old friends than making them the face of his new leadership. They are symbols of everything, many of us, hated about Bingu.
I really wish Mutharika well. I hear he is a good man. But it would be misleading the nation for everybody to join the chorus of praise-singing him without pointing out the pitfalls of the Malawian presidency.
And I can say without contradiction, here, is that his appointments, so far, reveal a patrimonial Mutharika with inherent characters of those that have misled this country for the past 50 years. I shudder to think if he, too, will take us on the same path his brother, Joyce Banda and Bakili Muluzi took us. I shudder to think.