The setback of African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa represents victory for transparency and accountability. JAMES CHAVULA writes
The fight against corruption leaves much to be desired in Malawi. Laxity in clamping down on the vice once drained nearly 30 percent of the national budget as Malawians wallowed in poverty.
While duty-bearers slumber, parting shots from outgoing ambassadors of western superpowers have become depressing barometers of lack of willpower and firepower to turn the tide.
The donors might have closed aid taps, starving the country’s fragile economy, but coercive diplomacy is giving to tactical withdrawal.
“The cancer of corruption is the most dangerous element” said British High Commissioner Michael Nevin just before he flew away. “It undermines Malawi’s selling point as a stable nation.”
Equally candid is outgoing German Ambassador Peter Woetse, who wants security agents to apprehend killers of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) corporate services manager Issa Njaunju who died last year.
“The rule of law is a must in every country,” he says, explaining: “If the country called for external assistance in criminal investigation, for example Scotland Yard, for sure the international community would give such a request positive consideration.”
This is not just a devastating vote of no confidence in the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB). NIB director Nicholas Dausi must prove his tenure at the top of the spies’ body is not just a token of camaraderie for the mosquito bites he endured by President Peter Mutharika’s side in detention at Lumbadzi Police Station three years ago.
But the envoys put into question the entire law enforcement system as the war on corruption appears to depend on who is involved, not the costly losses it entails.
The battle to safeguard public finances has been faltering since Mutharika’s brother, the late Bingu, sacked Minister of Health Yusuf Mwawa for siphoning K165 550 in May 2005 for his wedding. Ever since, the wheels have been turning so slow when the suspects appear close to ruling elites.
According to political scientist Dr Michael Jana, the country will not win the struggle against corruption if those in power continue doing business as usual.
“Government does not seem serious to end corruption. The elite are busy centralising corruption, making sure it is in the hands of a few people in power,” says the political science scholar based at Chancellor College in Zomba.
He decries double standards in the fight against corruption, blaming the ACB of cracking down on small fish and opposition voices while big fish in power go scot-free.
Social commentator Michael Usi lamented “selective justice” when Mutharika’s press secretary Mgeme Kalirani declared that government would not be pushed by “a political comedian” to release the names of the ministers allegedly mentioned in relation to the K267 billion Cashgate.
However, Jana draws attention to the recent slump of the ANC in South Africa, telling those in power: “Don’t take people for granted.”
This could be a mend-or-end warning for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which the Economist Intelligence Unit forecast to retain the presidency in 2019. The analyst says ANC failure to win August 3 local government polls with outright majority offers numerous lessons.
No single party claimed a decisive majority, but ANC, which championed the liberation struggle against white minority rule in South Africa, suffered noteworthy failure to retain its urban strongholds. Last week, the party associated with anti-Apartheid icon Nelson Mandela lost its control over Johannesburg, Tswane, Mandela Bay and Cape Town city councils.
The outcome could be a last laugh for citizens who wanted ANC President Jacob Zuma to step down after being found guilty of using public money to enrich himself and install non-security accessories at his Nkandla mansion.
The breakdown of Zuma’s powerhouse has sent ripples of fear to parties ruling with impunity amid the electorate’s calls for transparency and accountability.
“The people rejected the ANC. The voters rejected kleptocracy,” said Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) president Julius Malema whose red-suit party polled in favour of the Democratic Alliance (DA) which he accuses of sustained white supremacist.
The “arrogant and thieving nature of the ANC” was the thrust of EFF publicist Mbuyiseni Ndlozi’s taunt when asked why his party did not celebrate the win of the party they backed in Johannesburg.
He said: “The most important thing that we were worrying of throughout the negotiations were the kleptocratic nature of the ANC, the manner in which corruption and the stealing of resources have been normalised, where they are willing at all times to protect people who steal.”
DA leader Mmusi Maimane was equally gushing.
“The lesson is very clear. Never take voters for granted,” he said, warning his party: “Let’s never arrogantly claim that we have a divine right to rule or that we will govern until Jesus comes.”
As the ANC drinks its cup of humility, Mutharika’s party, which declared its zeal to rule for the next 99 years, must listen hard and work harder to liberate Malawians from a culture of political impunity that fuels corruption, poverty and substandard service delivery.
Corruption does not only fell economies. It also knocks out political heavyweights.
ANC chief whip Jackson Mathembu underscored this when he told Parliament the ruling party was responsible for its own setback.
“The loss we suffered is not because of any party being better than ANC. The loss and setbacks in this election is self-inflicted,” he said without exactly why.
But Ndlozi’s remarks said what the ANC veteran did.
“The ANC gave up the liberation struggle long ago. Now they only care about enriching themselves, their families and girlfriends,” the EFF firebrand publicist said.
Likewise, Congress of the People (Cope) deputy president William Mothipa Madisha squarely accused Zuma and company of digging ANC’s grave by taking the path of impunity much to the chagrin of voters who want transparency, demand their leaders to always account to them and insist on the supremacy of the constitution.
“The people are telling those in power that nobody is above the law,” he said.
Jana, who did his recent studies in South Africa, says this is a warning for political elites in Malawi.
ANC’s support has been melting down since the end of Mandela’s long walk to freedom, he says.
Jana finds ANC’s diminishing political returns unsurprising as the party that enjoyed overwhelming support to the extent that South Africa was a de facto one-party state when Mandela came to power in 1994, has been losing touch with reality for 22 years.
He urges against complacency, saying it will be suicidal if political parties on the continents forget they are dealing with the electorate increasingly comprising the youth who do not care much about history and independence struggles, but transparency, accountability, rule of law, access to jobs, quality service delivery and economic empowerment.
“What has happened to ANC is a warning shot. Don’t underrate the voters. If you don’t perform, people won’t bother about your past achievements. It’s performance-based legitimacy,” he says.
Like Ndlozi, Jana has a word of caution for those in power as Malawians count down to the next election of the president, legislators and ward councillors in 2019.
He explained: “In democracy people have a voice and they will always find a way to express themselves. The means of expression can take the form of demonstrations or electoral results. Lately, we have seen demonstrations against lack of accountability, but people may decide to speak through the ballot if they are convinced calls for zero tolerance for corruption are not being heeded.”