As the nation approaches the 2012 exit, it would be interesting to explore one common feature attributable to alienation among post-independence Malawian politicians-cum-leaders.
Many political honchos, including all the four heads of State Malawi has had, as luck would have it, once they reach the heavyweight division and carry more pounds and more responsibly politically, they become alienated from their own society. Indeed, Percy Bysshe Shelley asserts that “power like a dissolute pestilence pollutes whatever it touches”.
Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda is a good starting point to consider political aliens. Kamuzu, shortly after attaining power, established a Soviet-style one-party State and took government as own fiefdom to amass wealth for himself.
But Kamuzu, perhaps, lacked real sense of belonging because he was among what George Ayittey, a native of Ghana and a distinguished economist in residence at American University, labels new African emperors imported from the marooned stocks overseas—educated abroad and assuming the paraphernalia of foreign cultures and ideologies—that invaded many African States at the dawn of independence.
Soon after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1989, however, a wind of pluralism blew across Africa and with it, agitations for political systems’ change. Thus, with the help of some Western donors, from 1990, ordinary Africans in many States managed to establish multiparty democracy though, sadly, with the same mediocre leadership.
In Malawi, the political system shift brought a new wave of alienated leaders: Bakili Muluzi, the late Bingu wa Mutharika and the sitting Joyce Banda with their coterie of sycophants.
Running in circles
Evidently, the country, politically, continues running around in circles just like mad chickens. No wonder, a sick snail’s pace seems to characterise development after 48 years of independence. The country ranks among the poorest of the world despite being a recipient of aid for almost half a century.
This is not to say poverty and inequality can be easily defeated, nor that all politicians are guilty of incompetence or fiscal irresponsibility, but that little attempt has been made to improve service delivery, especially by the three post-Kamuzu leaders because they and their cronies too, in due course, became aliens among the citizenry they purport to serve.
The swell of verbal diarrhoea or Freudian slip that emanates from faulty thinking in the country’s recent politics, among others, serves as a pointer that the leadership or governor has become an alien.
So, despite being preoccupied with pretences such as giving handouts to the poor, once the leaders lose their sense of connectivity and legitimacy to the aspirations of the local communities, they are caught in a web of flawed reasoning that manifests itself in a form of Freudian slip.
Some Malawians will remember Mutharika and Muluzi displaying a lot of what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during the 2008 campaign for the country’s Democratic Party nomination against Barack Obama, called “misspoken” indiscretion; John Tembo’s referring to himself as puludzu; Phoya’s apology for relating Malawi Congress Party to Chewa’s gule wamkulu sect; or a fresh apology by Vice-President Khumbo Kachali for a Chichewa equivalent of ‘amayenda pakhomo pa amanu?’
The purpose of language, spoken or written, is primarily to transfer experience—ideas, impressions, feelings—from one person to another. Of course, the question of whether a person thinks first before they speak or language shapes individual’s thoughts is like the chicken-and-egg question, but recent experiments with five-month-olds at Harvard University favour the conclusion that thought comes first. Thus, apology or clarification, or minus apology or clarification, the above speakers communicated their thoughts on the matter they were commenting on.
President Banda as well has already committed several cases of verbal diarrhoea that at times is a product of creativity that runs amok. Unfortunately, such slip-ups may loom large in her legacy.
Flames of controversy
An examination of Freudian slips of Banda, who is slowly casting herself in the role of someone who will go down in history as her predecessor or ‘the Malawian Marie Antoinette’, reveals that the President is taking pride in regionalism, sectarianism, nepotism, tribalism and parochialism in the pursuit of democracy.
While Mutharika in 2004 stoked the flames of controversy when at a campaign rally he reportedly said ‘nkono wanga si wa poliyo’, implying he was not mean; and Antoinette—wife of the French King, Louis XVI—is alleged to have said: “Let them eat cake”, when it was reported to her that the peasants of France were starving because they had no bread; Banda, for instance, during a rally on November 11 2012 in Zomba thought she would not climb the ladder of popularity when emphasising the gains of dairy farming to the gathering without lowering the integrity of teachers. She is reported to have said: “Kodi utagulitsa mkaka wako ndikupeza K50 000, sunapose mphunzitsi?”
Now, even if Banda at a recent rally in Bangwe claimed to have an edge in rhetoric over some of her 2014 Presidential Elections contenders, uttering a line such as the aforesaid looks risky even to a brainless automaton and unquestionably confirms that the President has lost passionate emotional feeling to the plight of one of the building blocks of development worldwide: teachers. People, including teachers, are touchy about the economic challenges they face, and it hurts them a lot if they think you are – let alone their leader – looking down on them.
The remark reflects badly on the President, whom recently the African Communications Agency honoured as the Living Legend alongside legendary Jamaican reggae heroine Rita Marley.
Again, the pronouncement ‘ndi nthawi yathu amayi titakate’ the President fondly and continually makes smacks of parochialism, and that attitude is old-fashioned and must be consigned to the past. Even the word ‘titakate’ is semantically loaded in this context as it could also mean that women are set to use even fraudulent means to achieve their goals.
Banda, however, can still win herself popularity by refraining from such utterances that derail the full potential of other sectors of Malawi society. And she can only avoid verbal diarrhoea if instead of alienating herself from the public; she works with them in the consolidation of democracy and governance; and the promotion of peace and unity. That should be the political viewpoint to take to 2013 if the country is to register significant change.
It is apparent that verbal diarrhoea or Freudian slip that characterises leaders who have become aliens has the potential to even end careers of lesser mortals.