Is there anything that makes us special as Malawians? Or we are so unremarkable that soon history will forget who we were and the nothings we achieved? Foreigners know of us less because of our innovation such as by that windmill guy and more because of our never ending struggles such as persistent hunger and exceptionally high levels of poverty. They ask how is it that a country blessed with such abundant water resources goes hungry ever so often?
Some of the challenges we face are are to be expected in the course of building our state institutions and our communities. A good example relates to the landlocked nature of our country. This feature has made it tough for Malawians to connect to global markets and made the development of our domestic market a task of Herculean proportions.
In contrast, however; many of our persistent challenges are needlessly self-inflicted. Take the one party State, for example. Many of our most brilliant patriots warned against the idea right from the outset. Some even paid the ultimate price for opposing it. Many years down the line, the collective will of Malawians consigned this monstrous caricature of the State to the dustbin of history. Or so we thought. However, the one party state and its ideas of a god-president, a leader of infinite wisdom and therefore beyond reproach linger on and continue to pervade public discourse. Listen to any current news programme on the private radio and television channels and hear government mouthpieces berating members of the press for daring to question the wisdom of personalities holding important public offices.
Another example of self-inflicted carnage relates to the misuse of State resources. Indeed we do not have plenty. However, the way we mismanage the little that we have is staggering: we buy presidential jets whilst our citizens starve; we compromise procurement rules and buy political campaign buses using public funds whilst our hospitals run out of medicines. Whereas Cashgate epitomises the rot that has blighted our public service, unexplained wealth has almost become a symbol of political office. Many of our presidents have gone into office with nothing and yet have left with billions. Funds that could have been used to ensure that even the remotest health centre has adequate medicines have too often ended up in the shopping trolleys of unscrupulous public office bearers and their kin. This cannot be right and must not go on.
One sure thread that runs through all the negative elements of our story is the lack of accountability. Kamuzu Banda’s killer state, Bakili Muluzi’s plundering democracy, Bingu wa Mutharika’s attempts to stifle dissent, and Joyce Banda’s goat-distributing reign: all of these things have happened because political office bearers have little appetite to account for their custodianship of public power.
During the recent swearing in of Cecilia Chazama as Minister of Civic Education, my President set the tone right when he cautioned government ministers against corrupt activities and urged them to foster transparency and accountability. However, this is only a good start; and we have had too many of those for the last couple of decades. There is need to back such good starts with tangible action.
At the recent National Conference on Anti-Corruption, speaker after speaker lamented at the perceived lack of action against individuals who seem to enjoy protection from the reach of our accountability institutions. To this end, the institutions that the Constitution has put in place to foster transparency and accountability must be set free to undertake their constitutional duties.
If the government is serious about tackling corrupt practices, it is not to national anti-corruption conferences we must look. Lord knows we have had too many of those already. If the President desires to be held true his call for transparency and accountability, it is not in swearing-in speeches that such vision will be delivered. Instead, it is the whole range of accountability institutions that must be unshackled to do their duty. Only then will we take the first steps to re-imagining what we are about.
Remember this: whatever happens during this presidency or indeed the next, I am certain about one thing: our story will change for the better. It will change because the one thing that this Nation does not lack is the presence of true patriots.
*The author is from Bangwe and sometimes teaches law