Most Malawians were relieved when Joyce Banda took over as President after the death of former president Bingu wa Mutharika in April this year.
People were hopeful that there would be an end to the suffering they had endured under Mutharikaâ€™s leadership as characterised by human rights abuses and the never-ending shortage of foreign exchange and fuel, among other things. They saw a country where people would no longer be arrested for political reasons.
President Bandaâ€™s public declaration that there would be no room for vengeance on those who worked closely with her predecessor made people even more confident that Malawi had left the past behind and that it was time to look to a brighter future.
This point was driven home further when Banda declared that the police would no longer be used to intimidate people in the country.
However, events of the last few weeks have left Malawians wondering whether the President only paid lip service when she declared no vengeance on Mutharikaâ€™s former close allies.
A brief recap
On 28 June, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director Alex Nampota was arrested on allegations of abuse of office. He allegedly pocketed K1.5 million (about $6 000) for a trip to Europe which he never undertook.
Nampota is one of the few people the Joyce Banda-led administration has not found easy to remove from office. It appears he is bent on ensuring that the Peopleâ€™s Party (PP) government sweats to have him kicked out of office.
Then, followed the arrest of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regional director the Reverend Christopher Ngwira, for misappropriation of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). Again, here is a man who caused a lot of havoc in Parliament over Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Bandaâ€™s dismissal of the first petition on Section 65, describing it as an empty ruling.
Adding to the list of recent arrests is Matilda Katopola, Clerk of Parliament who was arrested without any clear charge and given bail on the same day; Lilongwe City Council chief executive officer Kelvin Mâ€™mangisa and deputy Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Disability and Elderly Affairs Chikumbutso Mtumodzi, who once served as press officer to the Bingu wa Mutharika regime.
No one applauds the criminal offences that these people committed. In fact, the police must be commended for their efforts in ensuring that justice prevails.
But the arrests have led Malawians to speculate that the people are just victims of political witch hunting.
The controversy gets deeper when one considers that Finance Minister Ken Lipenga was recently cleared of his involvement in the K14.3 billion (about $57.2 million) Ministry of Finance borrowing scam. His defence was that he had no idea of what was happening despite the fact that he was the one heading the ministry at the time
Niccole Machiavelli says in his book The Prince that leaders need to humiliate their enemies or those who seem to be a threat to their leadership. This was seen and experienced towards the end of the DPP administration, when Mutharika increasingly became authoritarian.
Could the Banda administration be sending a message of its own?
Not learning from past mistakes
University of Malawi Chancellor College political scientist Blessings Chinsinga said these arrests are not surprising although there were expectations that the Banda administration would act differently from its predecessors.
He said this then raises a broader question about the apparent failure of each administration to learn from the past which is full of rich experiences or lessons.
According to Chinsinga, it is not that people in each administration are inherently bad but rather that they fall prey to the dictates of the countryâ€™s perverse political culture, making them prone to the same mistakes that their predecessors were accused of without any shame and remorse.
â€œIt is indeed tempting to think that the arrests of these two public officials are politically motivated, especially since they have fiercely resisted their removals from their positions simply on account of governmentâ€™s failure to follow rules and procedures.
â€œThis, in my view, is a sober reminder to us as a nation that we need to take the task of re-engineering our political culture seriously. It is a perverse culture that condones impunity with reckless abandon,â€ says Chinsinga.
He observes that these problems arise because of the failure of governments to observe rules and procedures that are clearly stipulated.
â€œPeople in positions of power often think they can get away with transgressions since they are the ones calling the shots. They are inclined to do so because they have perfect examples of their predecessors doing the same and getting away with them.
â€œThis erodes that culture of respect for established rules and procedures and often creates more problems for the government than it solves. The Nampota and Katopola cases suggest that there is need to follow rules and procedures in order for government to bolster its integrity,â€ said Chinsinga.
â€˜We act on complaintsâ€™
But Police Inspector General (IG) Lot Dzonzi, says the police do not arrest anyone on political grounds. He says the police receive complaints from individuals or corporations and it is their duty to look into the complaints.
â€œWhen we receive a complaint, we can only make judgement about it when we have investigated that matter. Investigations will reveal evidence or no evidence in the matter. Depending on that particular allegation, once we have done that, the beauty on our side is that we can cross-check with the opinion of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
â€œWhen we received the complaint of Nampota, we called him, asked questions and gave him bail as procedure, while looking for additional information. There is no political influence. The onus is on the complainant, the one who complains will help us supply efficient evidence against the accused, and he has the onus of saying this is what I know. What I would really say is that as a police, we cannot refuse to receive complaints. We will receive complaints against anybody,â€ says Dzonzi.
Only time will tell if this does not spell the beginning of another fearful nation.