What we want after May 20 is a great leader. We have had mediocrity and that is why, after 50 years of self rule, we are still absolutely poor and pathetic.
The question, then, is: how do we, in the chaos of aspirants, identify and vote that leader into power? The wiser ones today have shown us the way: issue-based campaign. They are saying aspirants should woo our votes by articulating their policy positions on real issues affecting us. Not on handouts. Not on insults. Not manipulations.
That is why everybody is talking about issue-based campaign. In fact, the UK’s Department for International Aid (Dfid), through the National Democratic Institute (NDI), is even funding various civil society organisations (CSOs) to sensitise voters to demand issue-based campaign from aspirants.
However, there is something about the country’s politics that makes issue-based campaign not so much a better way of identifying a good leader.
The experience with Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda has taught us that the country’s direction is not being driven by how conversant and articulate our leaders are on issues affecting Malawians, but rather, on the character of the person holding the presidency.
We often—for fear of being purged with unexplained words such as ‘character assassination’, ‘mudslinging’ and ‘libel’— shy away from debating the character of the people we vote into the high office.
We do not take time to debate personal histories of people we vote into the presidency, quite a critical office, to gauge their character in areas of integrity, temperament, patriotism, dedication and values, just to mention a few.
We hardly find it critical to dig into leadership histories of people we elect into office to get a glimpse of what they are capable of doing when given power.
Muluzi, for instance, had a history of ‘stealing’ six pence in the 60s. In fact, in the early 90s his history of ‘stealing’ was authenticated by the ‘wakuba yemweyo’ adage. This history, a window into his character, speaks volumes of what Muluzi is capable of doing when given keys to the Treasury.
He was fired as chairperson of Comesa in 1997 for abuse of office. In fact, if you read the 1997 Comesa Report, the charges against Bingu are similar from the one the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) made in the letter they gave him 60 days to either solve Malawi’s challenges or resign in 2012.
It is not that I am trying damn politicians. But there is much in the character and leadership history of aspirants that can help Malawians separate wheat from chaff.
That is why in the chaos of this campaign period, it would help a great deal if, as a nation, we can move beyond probing our leader’s capacity to articulate issues. We need to start debating their character to gauge what they are capable of doing when given power.
Yes, Lazarus Chakwera has a leadership history of being a president of a church of God. But how, as a leader, did he relate with the people? Was he a man who was close or far from the people? How could he react when crossed by some in the church? And again, as a person who was privileged, how did he use his position to better the lives of the less fortunate? Does he have a foundation to support the weak?
Peter Mutharika, after years abroad, came home in 2006 to help his brother sail through the jaws of Section 65. Does this mean if it weren’t for his brother’s plight he would not have come to Malawi? As somebody who has been privileged, why did he fail to buy land and build a house in Malawi while in the US? Did he really have plans for Malawi?
After returning, why, again, did he have to involve himself in buying small houses at cheaper rates when he had all the money to buy land and build a mansion? Why? What is his temperament factor?
Or take Atupele Muluzi. He has been a son of a president, how much has he helped unfortunate sons and daughters of Malawi, for instance, having a scholarship scheme for the needy? What is he capable of doing when given power? Why, during the convention, did he allow delegates to change the law just for him to stand as a president?
There a number of questions that we need to ask to gauge the character of people who want to lead us. Dwelling on ‘issues’ is, to me, a politicians’ dinner to get away from personality iniquities that continue to trap this country in a vicious cycle of poverty.
I strongly believe that some challenges this country is facing stem from the personality problems of people we vote into power. Come on, why should a leader, in her right frame of mind, go all out distributing cows and goats to villagers?
Seriously, we need to entrench character-based campaign. I hope those organising public debates will consider this topic one of these days.