Hon Folks, I learned in primary school that democracy is a “government of the people, for the people and by the people.”
It’s a definition that gained currency during the transition from one party to a multiparty system of government. The champions of change argued that the multiparty system would give back to the people their government.
Under the one-party system, our destiny was in the hands of one person—Kamuzu. He was more like a deity of that primitive era, leading by dominating—if not outright monopolising—the decision-making.
Cronies wove a lie that Kamuzu was infallible; that everything in Malawi including its people belonged to him; and that his leadership was “pragmatic, dynamic and foresighted,” hence, no one was fit to question Kamuzu.
The pro-change side touted multi-party as an established and tested political system behind the affluence of western democracies. Inherent in their argument was fact that a person caged by a restrictive political system such as Kamuzu’s one party dictatorship, is unlikely to be innovative.
A whopping 64 percent of voters in the June 14 1993 national referendum chose multiparty, a system that allows for the diversity of opinion, including dissenting views. Leaders of the pro-change side made us believe that the system would enable Malawians to unleash their collective genius as they “scoop and polish” a better Malawi.
In reality, though, we are no nearer to the Malawi of “milk and honey”, envisaged in our Vision 2020 than we were at any point in time since independence in 1964. We’re an agricultural economy yet 8.4 million of our people—half the entire population—lack food.
Tobacco is the mainstay of our economy yet its rejection rate at the Auction Floors this year was in the north of 70 percent!
Escom is failing to adequately serve a mere 10 percent of the population connected to its grid (the lowest in the Sadc). Instead, it’s providing huge amounts of revenue to Mera—so much that Mera can afford to give Admarc a K3 billion grant!
Water taps are dry most of the time in many parts of the country yet over and above sky-rocketing tariffs, government has slapped the consumer with a 16.5 percent VAT. Admarc is a parastatal which is not supposed to be profiteering yet this year it’s shamelessly selling maize at a price much higher than profit-seeking vendors.
Virtually every aspect of the public sector is deteriorating, limping under the weight of corruption, inefficiency and gross underfunding.
All this happening when the 2020 target for our “milk and honey” dream is only four years away. Has multiparty failed?
My take is that what has failed in Malawi is not the system but the leadership. All leaders after Kamuzu only used multiparty as a gateway to the presidential palace. When power began to corrupt, they tried to consolidate their grip on it by ensuring that the system does not yield a government of the people, for the people and by the people.
They all looked to Kamuzu as a great, strong leader worth emulating. But had Kamuzu felt he was great enough for the new system, maybe he’d not have stepped down and called for “new blood” to lead MCP.
Multiparty is a rejection of the warped thinking that one person, the President, or few people—the President and his Cabinet—have the monopoly of wisdom.
The ideal multiparty leader should seek to unite the nation after elections, embrace all of us, including those with dissenting views. As Bill Gates said elsewhere, great leaders “collaborate, delegate and negotiate”, recognising that “no one person can or should have all the answers”.
The executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary, the media and civil society all have key roles to play to make multiparty work. A President who wastes time underrating the power of others, will have no choice but to waste even more time managing demonstrations and nursing a headache if not hypertension.