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If Only Mutharika Carefully Chose His Battles, Words

If Only Mutharika Carefully Chose His Battles, Words

New Year is usually associated with new beginnings. But this is only true for some, not all. 

The recent verbal bickering between President Peter Mutharika and the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leadership, in particular Chairperson Timothy Mtambo, is illustrative. 

It came a few days after many peace-loving Malawians welcomed the feet washing ritual between Mutharika’s Advisor on NGOs, Mabvuto Bamusi and Mtambo.

If I were Mutharika’s advisor or speech writer, I would have insisted on capitalizing on the event seen as endearing by multitudes to escape the confrontational approach in the New Year. I would have implored on my boss to build on the symbolism of peace the Photo OP between Bamusi and Mtambo represented. Given a chance, I would have said something like:

“After months of political disagreements that led to unnecessary loss of life and property, we recently saw images of hope. Leader of the HRDC Timothy Mtambo and my Advisor on NGO Affairs Mabvuto Bamusi washed each other’s foot at a church event. These photos are real. They epitomize hope. That no matter our differences, we all have a common desire for peace. No matter who we are accountable to, we have a God we serve.

As we open a new chapter in 2020, I call on all Malawians to embrace each other in peace and oneness regardless of the political diversity. Politics should not turn us into sworn enemies. 

Later in the month, there will be a court ruling on the elections case. This will be a trying moment for us all. But l urge all Malawians from across the political divide to be prepared to respect the Rule of Law …”

This narrative, in its imperfect form, would have  still been less venomous. It would have built on common understanding. It would have pitted Mtambo and his HRDC cronies against Bamusi, their peer, leaving Mutharika to sort out more serious national issues.

Word from the gutters indicates that President Mutharika didn’t amuse many with his New Year’s address. He blew up an opportunity to bind together a country he leads in the wake of deafening calls for him to step aside because – some allege – he stole the election. 

The mere mention of Mtambo’s HRDC and how the organization is gaining traction to, allegedly, becoming a “terrorist organization” instills fear in the people. Not only that. It also validates their being and will prompt people to quiz if the HRDC is a rebellion with or without a cause. I doubt many would fail to see justification in their being! Once this happens, Mutharika’s words would come back to bite him.

Symbolism Allowed to Waste: Bamusi Washes Mtambo’s Feet

APM’s remarks also give credence to continued volatility between not only the HRDC but opposition political parties and his sympathizers. It could – albeit wrongly – be understood as an invitation to vilify those earning the President’s mention. There have been incidents of daylight assault, claims of shootings and alleged arson targeting the HRDC leadership. None of these has earned the condemnation of Mutharika in his New Year address. This is a wasted opportunity – not missed!

The president could be a victim of cooked up and partisan intelligence. If this is true, be assured, it will return to bite.

Any statement agitating for further animosity between the peoples of Malawi ahead of the court ruling should be seen as the real threat to the country’s peace. Right now, Malawi needs speeches building on peace. 

Instead of always towing a partisan line, a leader should oftentimes be seen to value the interest of what a nation stands for than what his party stands for. 

For example, while the court is still out working on a ruling, the president used the New Year address to advance a narrative that he won the elections, fair and square. This is similar to arguments made in court so no big deal, one would opine.

Mtambo Takes Turn to Help Bamusi to Make Ablution Recently

But in addressing the nation, Mutharika should have at least pretended he was in control and very much secure. He should have been more concerned in urging his subjects to respect the rule of law than buttressing and forcing his biased, partisan narrative to a doubting nation looking up to the courts for an answer. 

Word from the gutters indicates that President Mutharika didn’t amuse many with his New Year’s address. He blew up an opportunity to bind together a country he leads in the wake of deafening calls for him to step aside because – some allege – he stole the election. 

Trust me, Mutharika did well in highlighting his successes. In the very New Year speech, he lambasted some unnamed officials of favoritism in free food distribution exercise, advising them to rise above partisan politics. This is exceptional. But yet here we are – focusing on his most prominent political gaffe made because he chose to go over-drive on matters that should have been dealt with with some semblance of sobriety, oneness not political divisiveness.

Mr. President should realize sooner that labelling HRDC a political grouping will not grant him any political leverage or earn him sympathy. It will not discredit the organization in any way and neither does it falter their cause. If anything, his utterances could only render credence to the HRDC. It is obvious Malawi faces a political problem being dealt with through legal political means – protests or demonstrations.  

Politics, Mr. President, is not only about partisanship. It’s about participation for all as you rightly stated on matters of food distribution. 

President Mutharika should be aware that “stooping low” to engage in “David vs Goliath” kind of battles with the likes of Mtambo will only expose his insecurities as a leader whose grip on power might as well be on the wane. Or did President Mutharika deliberately avoid MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera and UTM’s Saulosi Chilima to deprive them of free publicity? Well, whatever the case, his choice of “enemies” pushes him to the gallery – or into the wrong battle arena.

APM Blew Chance for Better 2020

Mutharika’s focus should be on legitimately maintaining his grip on power or if all else fails, leave a legacy people will always be proud of. After all, then MCP President Kamuzu Banda, UDF’s Bakili Muluzi and PP’s Joyce Banda all left office half-heartedly.

Hear this brutal truth, Mr. President. Your number one objective should be to, at least, sustain the peace Malawi currently enjoys. This will help you continue to govern the country better in the probable event that the courts rule in your favor.

However, in the probable event that the courts decide otherwise, Mr. President, you will still need to validate your victory in a peaceful environment during the fresh elections (or whatever, as the case may be). Or if things come to worst, Your Excellency, you should be prepared to hand over power to another leader while the country is still in a “governable state” as it was when you assumed power.

Pardon my manners, Mr. President. Happy New Year to you. You need and deserve nothing but happiness in 2020. So do millions of Malawians. All of them, including loud mouths like myself!

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