Hon. Folks, if indeed Malison Ndau got fired from Cabinet for welcoming the passing of Access to Information (ATI) Bill, then his detractors have quite a job cut out for them.
ATI could not have easily passed without the help of MPs from the government side who “voted” aye simply by tactfully staying away from the Chamber at the crucial moment.
That act—an apparent dishonourable act of betrayal of public trust under normal circumstances—enabled the people of Malawi, including the media, to get closer to accessing public information against the avowed wishes of President Peter Mutharika’s government to retain, albeit through the constitutional backdoor, discretionary powers to arbitrarily choose what public information to release and what public information to keep under wraps.
If the ultimate price for fighting for the greater public interest of the 17 million Malawians against the wish of the powerful few to protect skeletons in the cupboard is the removal of Ndau from Cabinet, then victory has come our way with minimum collateral damage, again thanks to MPs on the government side.
I bet government took their support for granted. It’s been like that since the days of Kamuzu—expecting zombie-like unflinching, blind support even when the agenda of those demanding it is bad and self-serving.
There are always rewards for such support—brown envelopes, prospects for positions in the Cabinet, business deals with government, support in election times, etc.
There are also sanctions for intra-party dissent—vilification, demonisation, dismissal, withdrawal of political backing, no access to government deals, etc.
MP Bon Kalindo (DPP) is being ostracised for telling a sleepy government to wake up to the plight of people with albinism who are hunted like animals, murdered and dismembered in what many believe to be acts of ritual killings.
It takes a discerning eye to realise that even in politics there’s always the red line which if crossed by those demanding loyalty from others yields dissent instead.
The colonial masters crossed that line and turned a peaceful man of God, John Chilembwe, into a nationalist warrior who fought them with the gun and died in the process.
Kamuzu Banda crossed the red line and sparked off the Cabinet Crisis of 1964. He again crossed that line in 1983 and sparked off dissent by the Mwanza Four—ministers Dick Matenje, Aaron Gadama, Twaibu Sangala and MP David Chiwanga–who were bludgeoned to death at Thambani in Mwanza.
Bakili Muluzi crossed the red line when he made a futile attempt to change the constitutional provision limiting a presidential tenure to a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms to allow for open terms and when that failed, a third term.
Both attempts failed, thanks to dissent from within his own UDF–MPs quietly thwarted the shenanigans in Parliament while Ministers and other senior party officials silently fought him in the Cabinet and the party.
In blind anger Muluzi ended up hand-delivering the presidency to an outsider Bingu wa Mutharika who later turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s skin, baying for the blood and carcass of UDF and its leadership.
But crossing the red line doesn’t only yield dissent of political leaders in the lower echelons of power. Bingu garnered 66 percent of the votes in 2009, the highest rate in the multiparty dispensation.
Within two years of bad governance he turned out to be the most loathed leader by the same electorate who had supported him. On 20th July 2011, on his watch, trigger-happy police gunned down 20 Malawians who were out on the street, protesting his dictatorship.
By the time Bingu succumbed to cardiac arrest in April 2012, the civil society, under the leadership of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), had already slapped him with a 60-day ultimatum to step down or face demonstrations of Arab Spring proportions.
APM rose on a miserable 36 percent of the votes, just a percentage point above the 35 percent Bingu garnered in 2004—the worst ever in the multiparty dispensation. The only difference between the two is that Bingu was more strategic—ditching UDF and endearing himself to the majority who had denied him the votes. He did that by embracing the wishes of the majority.
APM’s first term is the most troubled of them all—ditched by donors, haunted by Cashgate dating back 2009 and ruling over a population half of which is hungry and therefore more sickly and less productive.
Yet he makes enemies easily. Chiefs are up in arms following the enactment of the Land Act, threatening to deny him support in 2019; the media are up in arms protesting the withholding of public information and the tendency to fill presidential press conferences with noisy party supporters.
Civil society laments the rise in corruption and nepotism as well as the shutting down of public universities. Business captains lament the cost of power black-outs and water shortage among other ills. Farmers lament the virtual collapse of the tobacco market.
Yet despite all these and other woes, APM wants to remain a strong leader who gets his way by bulldozing everybody else. Now MPs have shown him others too have powers to stop playing god, at least on ATI. n